“These were not the elections Nigerians wanted; they were not the elections Nigerians expected; and, most importantly, they were not the elections Nigerians deserved. Our election commission must improve its capacity to deliver credible elections and our political parties must play according to the rules. Failure to do so could fundamentally threaten our democracy”. These are the words of the YIAGA AFRICA’s Watching the Vote Board Chairman at a press conference on the preliminary findings from the 2019 Presidential and National Assembly elections.
Nigerians continue to ask the questions on when an election can be conducted with a 100 per cent early deployment of materials and zero per cent violence as delays in logistics deployment along with the perennial electoral disruptions reportedly featured in Saturday’s Presidential and National assembly elections. Having been postponed for one week due to logistic reasons, expectations from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and security agencies were upped with the believe that everything must have been fixed before the new date.
Delay in deployment of election materials and issues relating to ballot box snatching, attack on polling officials, disruption of election materials seem to remain in constant competition for prominence in virtually every major election in Nigeria. The hydra-headed issues bedeviling Nigeria’s elections always feature even after all stakeholders declare their readiness to ensure the elections are hitch-free. This leaves several questions regarding the competency of agencies responsible for ensuring peaceful and credible elections in the country.
For instance, credible elections data released by arguably the largest movement committed to credible elections, YIAGA AFRICA says as at 12pm on Election Day, at least 110 critical incidents across the country primarily concerning late arrival of election materials to polling units. While electoral officials are expected to be at polling units by 7.30am so that set-up can commence ahead of the 8am commencement of simultaneous accreditation and voting, statistical reports by YIAGA AFRICA’s #WatchingTheVote observers reported that INEC officials arrived at only 31% of polling units as at 7.30am. Furthermore, statistical reports say as at 10:00 am, only 41% of polling units had opened across the country while even as at close to 12pm in the afternoon, INEC has not achieved 100 per cent logistics deployment as statistics say 74% of polling units had opened nationally. This is even trying to overlook the seven percent polling units where YIAGA AFRICA reported that the card reader was not used for accreditation either due to lack of availability or deliberate violation of the electoral guidelines.
In this vein, elections went into the nights in a handful of polling units with apparently no proper preparation for logistics for a conducive environment which leaves the credibility of the process in jeopardy. In addition to logistics challenges is the security issue which has marred Nigeria’s elections overtime. Report has it that at least 90% of polling units recorded presence of security personnel which in itself is not a complete standard when it comes to conducting credible elections as it is expected that security agents will be seen at all close to 120,000 polling units across the country.
But despite the presence of security checkpoints across the country, reports of political thugs moving in motorcycles in Lagos disrupting the process at will leaves a lot to be desired. A lot of questions are being asked on how political thugs accessed polling units, collation centers and registration area centers to either cart away ballot box, destroy election materials and assaulting voters and election materials. Verified reports from media and election observers show that citizens, observers or election officials were harassed, beaten, intimidated or even killed in some states across Nigeria. More so, at the risk of propagating unverified reports, social media footages of injured citizens and burning of electoral materials remain a real cause of security concerns.
It is difficult to understand if security officials deployed at polling units gave way for hoodlums to execute their heinous plans or this was done with the support of security officials as alleged at some quarters. While it remains surprising that the Police Inspector General, Muhammed Adamu confidently reiterated the force readiness to protect every life especially during this period, Nigerians are yet to see major arrests of these electoral offenders.
Recommendations are not always far-fetched but its implementation to the later remains a major challenge the nation has faced overtime. Election and security analysts have called for comprehensive framework for the prosecution of electoral offenders in the country. Unfortunately, just as Nigerians have hardly seen arrest of electoral offenders, it becomes impossible to prosecute them. Thus if heads do not role and people in the position of authority do not account for the happenings in their jurisdictions, then the vicious circle of logistics and security issues will continue to feature in every electoral process.
Moshood Isah is the Media Officer of YIAGA AFRICA