The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) conducted elections into the six Area Councils of the Federal Capital Territory Abuja on Saturday April 9th 2016. The elections had 31 candidates from 10 political parties contesting for the chairmanship elections and 164 candidates for the councillorship elections. The FCT has a total of 1,020,000 registered voters with an estimate of 646,883 recorded to have collected their Permanent Voter Card as at April 6, 2016. The election was conducted in 562 polling units, 2,207 voting points and 264 voting points settlement totaling 3015 voting stations.
YIAGA, as one of the accredited observers for the elections, deployed observers across the six area councils of the FCT. This report highlights some of YIAGA’s observations on the conduct of the elections:
The election commenced averagely in most of the observed polling stations by 9am. The general atmosphere during the elections was peaceful with the exception of few skirmishes mostly occasioned by party agents. However, the voter apathy experienced in the just concluded election was abysmal. This is worrying considering the fact that local government elections are important because of its direct connection to the citizenry and development. The security agents largely conducted themselves in an orderly manner with no flagrant disregard for human rights even though few skirmishes recorded in Kuje Area Council where the over zealousness of some military men prevented observers from performing their lawful duties.
On the average, INEC was able to manage the logistics of the elections. However, there were challenges of late deployment of election materials, mix up in the distribution of election materials as well as rampant non-authentication of fingerprints by the card readers. YIAGA notes that the election was conducted in a peaceful and temperate atmosphere. YIAGA also commends INEC for the introduction of the simultaneous accreditation and voting exercise, this ensured a seamless voting experience for all voters.
INEC and the Management of the FCT Elections
YIAGA observes an improvement in the management of the just concluded elections. However, there were challenges in the following areas;
- Commencement: Accreditation commenced in most polling units between 8:30am – 10:00am. There were significant cases of late commencement in several poling units such as Karshi and Kabusa wards in Abuja Municipal respectively and some polling units in Kwali and Bwari Area Council. Accompanying the late commencement was the late deployment of election materials and personnel from Registration Area Centres to the polling units. This delay was explained away as the refusal of members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers to convey election materials due to non-payment by INEC.
- Compliance with electoral guidelines: Deployed electoral officials displayed a fair understanding of the electoral processes. They, in particular, ensured compliance with basic electoral guidelines like only PVC holders were allowed to vote, no manual accreditation, simultaneous accreditation and voting etc. Notwithstanding the foregoing, there were several instances where polling officials did not comply with the issued electoral guidelines. Top on the list is the failure to paste the official results at the polling unit. The chain of command was also severely affected, with inaccessibility of the Supervisory Polling Officers constituting a major challenge, as they were inaccessible when needed or issued instructions to polling officers and APOs contrary to the guidelines for elections. In general, there was a poor understanding of the electoral guideline. In particular, there seems to be confusion between the 2015 guidelines and newly issued 2016 electoral guidelines. The challenge of inadequate training of ad hoc staff again reared itself up during the elections. In several of the observed polling units, the ad hoc staff on duty could not operate the card reader. In some parts of Kuje and Gwagwalada Area Council, the card reader was completely jettisoned. All these contributed to the declaration of the election as inconclusive. There was also mix up in the result sheets for PU 025, Zeiko Special Hospital, Maitama and PU 012, Maitama, Wuse Ward. In Ceceyi Primary School, Pai Ward, Kwali the polling officials failed to report to the polling station with the card reader machines. Also elections had to be suspended due to the shortage of ballot paper in Dabi village, Kwali.
- Card reader machines: The non-authentication of fingerprints by the card reader was a recurring decimal in most of the reviewed polling units. YIAGA emphasizes that these cases are not isolated incidents but widespread. Our investigation reveals that some of the card readers were not reconfigured after the 2015 general elections. In the same vein, there were several incidents of the card readers not been charged nor extra batteries deployed to the polling station as well. This posed a challenge for the ad hoc officials who were left with no choice but to request members of the community to assist with alternative power supply to charge the card readers. In PU 002, Sharite Village centre, Kabusa Ward, AMAC for instance, voters provided generator set to charge the card reader machines deployed to the polling station. We however categorically state that the card reader machines did not record any failure in verifying the Permanent Voter Card presented by voters.
- Creation of new voting points: YIAGA observed INEC created new voting units to facilitate a stress-free voting exercise. This is a commendable feat. However, it is odious that some of these voting points have extreme low voters. For instance, in Kiama II, IGU; Guto Village, Kuduru in Bwari Area Council, there was only one voter in each voting point. However, an average of five officials were deployed to conduct the elections. This mismanagement of resources is worrisome considering some polling units had inadequate ad hoc staff to conduct the elections.
Voters turn out
The elections witnessed dismal voters turn out across all the Area Councils. This is challenging considering the fact the Local Government is the closest tier of government where citizens feel the impact of governance. In particular, the Abuja Municipal Council witnessed low voter turnout. Some polling units in Bwari also witnessed no turn out e.g. New Market Extension by SCC Road, Bwari Central. Accompanying this ugly development is the waste of taxpayer’s money for producing electoral materials. This is also suggestive that voter education was inadequate in the build up to the elections.
There was a remarkable participation of women as voters in the election. In all the units covered by our observers, women exhibited a high sense of civic responsibility in exercising their franchise. For instance in Bwari Kuduru 007, Security Post, women turned out en masse to vote and also stayed behind to protect their votes. However, there was widespread report of underage voting across the six area councils.
We commend the men of the security agencies especially the Nigerian police for the professionalism and civility displayed in the course of performing their duties. We, however, observed the uneven deployment of the men of the security agencies in several polling stations and enjoin INEC to take cognizance of this in future elections.
There were rampant cases of vote buying across all the polling stations covered by our observers. In several instances, votes were sold between N200 and N2000 per vote. Some party agents also provided refreshments for voters on the queue and election personnel. For instance, in Gwagwalada Area Council, the incumbent Council Chairman, who is also a candidate in the election was busy moving around and paying for votes in polling units visited.
While the elections in the FCT Area Councils were largely peaceful, there were skirmishes in several areas. Party agents and thugs largely orchestrated these skirmishes. Worthy of note is Dabi Village in Kwali, where two people were severally injured. In Tunga Karshi, INEC had to evacuate its personnel due to intimidation and violence.
Independent National Electoral Commission
- INEC should ensure proper planning in the management of election logistics. There is need for due diligence and strict monitoring of the distribution of election materials;
- The supervision and oversight of electoral officers and supervisory polling officers (SPOs) should be intensified;
- The commission should ensure clarity and simplicity in the guidelines for elections. Electoral officials should be properly equipped with adequate information and capacity to conduct elections;
- There is need to review and audit the voter register and card reader machines as the voter register reveals some inconsistencies in voter registration details;
- Whilst the creation of voting points is laudable, INEC should ensure even distribution of voters per voting point;
- INEC should sustain the policy of simultaneous accreditation and voting in subsequent elections as the policy eases the voting process;
- A multi-stakeholder approach towards intensive, timely and robust voter education should be adopted.
- Parties should perform their primary function of political socialization and mobilization of citizens;
- Parties should exercise due diligence in the selection of polling agents. Only individuals with character, integrity and decorum should be deployed for elections;
- The legislature should fast-track the process of electoral and constitutional amendments to deepen the electoral process and reduce the incidence of inconclusive elections;
- The welfare of security personnel on election duty should be prioritized and given adequate attention;
- Electoral offenders and suspects arrested during the election should be thoroughly investigated and prosecuted accordingly.
- Security agencies should ensure even deployment of security officials for elections. Flashpoints of violence should be given special attention;
- Early warning and intelligence gathering should be strengthened before, during and after elections.
Head of Research, Policy & Advocacy
The Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement (YIAGA) is an accredited observer of FCT area council elections. YIAGA has been observing elections since 2007 both locally and internationally.