On Saturday, February 25th, 2023, Nigerians across all thirty-six states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) will go to the polls to elect a President and Federal lawmakers nationwide. The date is symbolic as it will be exactly one year since the new Electoral Act 2022 was signed into law. While the law has been tested in two off-circle elections, the 2023 elections will be the first national elections to be conducted under the new electoral legal framework. Thus the 2023 Presidential elections is a litmus test for the new electoral law, especially on the deployment of electoral technology, and INEC’s power to review election results declared involuntarily or in violation of electoral guidelines. With the competitive nature of the Presidential elections, the threshold for assessing the quality of the election will be higher as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Nigerian Police Force and other election stakeholders cannot afford to fail Nigeria in its effort to deliver credible elections.
Evidently, there are high expectations from Nigerians, Africa and international community for Nigeria to consolidate on the gains from recent electoral reforms. INEC and other stakeholder bear a huge burden to conduct an election that inspires public confidence and renews hope in the power of the ballot.
Yiaga Africa commends the political parties and candidates for signing the National Peace Accord, an initiative of the National Peace Committee, headed by the former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar. We call on the parties, and candidates to uphold their commitment in the peace accord and urge party supporters to maintain the peace during and after the elections.
This briefing is the first in a series of planned press conferences to be hosted by Yiaga Africa. We equally invite you to join us at the same location on Saturday 25 February 2023 when Yiaga Africa will share its Mid-day Situational Statement on the opening of polls. On Sunday 26 February 2023 at 10:00 am Yiaga Africa will share its preliminary statement on the conduct of the Presidential election process. Yiaga Africa will follow up with a final press conference to share its own statement on the accuracy of the election results and will publicize these projections.
Summary of Key Findings from Yiaga Africa’s Pre-Election Observation
Yiaga Africa deployed 822 Long Term Observers (LTOs) in all 774 Local Government Areas (LGA) of Nigeria from November 2022 to February 2023 who monitored political developments and preparations for the general elections. A detailed report from the 6 observation periods is available on Yiaga Africa’s website www.yiaga.org. The pre-election observation revealed marked improvement in the logistics planning as it relates to the production and deployment of election materials by INEC amidst perennial challenges like insecurity and emerging threats like the scarcity of the Naira notes. Notably, INEC’s decision to produce election materials in-country is commendable. A summary of the highlights of the findings from that observation includes;
- INEC Preparedness for the election: In the week leading to the elections, Yiaga Africa WTV observed ongoing activities by INEC across the local government areas in the state. The long-term observers reported the deployment of nonsensitive materials across the LGAs observed and the training of election officials. In addition, the observers reported the commencement of the sorting and deployment of sensitive materials from Central Bank of Nigeria offices in the State capitals to the LGAs in respective states. As of 22 February 2023, Yiaga Africa received reports from; Ondo, Oyo, Ekiti, Yobe, Enugu, Ekiti and Zamfara states where the deployment of sensitive materials from CBN to the LGAs had commenced. Compared to previous general, this is a marked improvement. Reports from other states indicate the deployment of sensitive materials to the LGAs will commence on the 23rd February 2023.
Matters Arising on the 2023 Presidential Elections
Yiaga Africa notes some developments that could impact the conduct of credible elections on 25th February 2023:
- PVC Collection Challenges and Data for Polling Unit level Collection rate : Yiaga Africa notes that the litany of complaints about uncollected PVCs largely due to the unavailability of the cards are worrisome. Yiaga Africa is concerned that a good number of eligible voters may be disenfranchised for no fault of theirs. In addition, the delay in releasing the final figure of collected PVCs is per polling unit nationwide. The data on PVCs collected per polling unit is important in determining the conclusiveness of the election as INEC expects to use the data in the application of the margin of lead principle.
- Relocation of Voters to New Polling Units May lead to posible disenfranchisement: The mock accreditation revealed that, in an attempt by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to decongest some of its oversized polling units, the commission relocated voters to new polling units. However, voters approached their polling units for mock accreditation before realizing they have been relocated to new polling units. While we commend the commission’s recent efforts by providing information on how voters can identify their polling units, we are concerned that some affected voters may not identify their voting locations on or before election day. Yiaga Africa is concerned that, this will constitute panic, agitations and potential disenfranchisement on election day.
- Economic Hardship May Impact on Citizens' Participation: Barely 48 hours to the Presidential elections, Nigerians are experiencing untold economic hardship caused by the recent scarcity of new naira notes and unending fuel scarcity. This has led to a series of protests in different parts of the country. This growing discontent amongst citizens may lead to voter apathy in the form of “protest” which will eventually lead to low voter turnouts. We are also worried that citizens facing these forms of adversities going into the election may be unable to make informed choices at the polls.
- Addressing Challenges Experienced During Mock Accreditation: Although turnout for the process was low, we commend the Independent National Electoral Commission for conducting a mock accreditation to test the functionality of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS). The commission should urgently address the challenges witnessed during the mock accreditation to ensure the BVAS device functions optimally across the country on election day.
- Security Concerns and Threats to the Conduct of Election: All through the pre-election period, security challenges persisted across several locations. Beyond insurgency, banditry and kidnapping, the prevailing security situation leading to the 2023 Presidential election has been exercerbated by the tense political atmosphere.
- Possible Vote Trading: The current Naira redesign policy aimed at eliminating vote buying on election has resulted in a shortage of cash making it difficult for citizens to meet basic domestic needs. Yiaga Africa is concerned the negative impact of the policy may encourage voters to sell their votes in exchange for the scarce Naira notes.
Yiaga Africa’s Observation of the 2023 Presidential Election
For the Presidential election, Yiaga Africa will deploy a total of 3,836 observers throughout the country. This is comprised of 3,014 stationary Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT) observers deployed to a random representative statistical sample of 1,507 polling units; 822 roving observers across the 774 LGAs and 36 states; and 8 Working Group members who run real-time election analysis. Yiaga Africa will also deploy observers to the LGA and State Results Collation Centres in every state. Our observers will observe the entire election day process from set-up of the polling units through the announcement, posting of the official results and uploading of the polling units to the INEC Result Viewing Portal. The observers will send in periodic reports to the Watching the Vote National Data Centre located in the Transcorp Hilton in Abuja where they will be processed and analysed.
This deployment will enable Yiaga Africa to provide the most timely and accurate information on the election process. Based on reports from its observers in the sampled polling units Yiaga Africa will also provide an independent projection of voter turnout and will be able to project the vote shares that each party should receive within a narrow estimated range. If the official results fall within Yiaga Africa’s estimated ranges, then the public, political parties and candidates should have confidence in the ballots cast at the polling units. Only INEC, however, has the legal mandate to announce the election results. As soon as INEC announces the official results, Yiaga Africa will follow up with a result verification press conference to share its own statement on the accuracy of the election results and will publicize these projections.
Utilizing information communications technology and statistical principles, PVT is the gold standard for citizen election observation and has been utilized throughout Africa and the world. Yiaga Africa has also deployed this methodology in the 2019 presidential election and in eleven (11) off-cycle gubernatorial elections in Nigeria.
Yiaga Africa restates its commitment to the objective, non-partisan and credible observation of the election. The Watching The Vote is “Driven by Data – For All Nigerians – Beholden to None!”
Thank you and God Bless the people of Nigeria!
Yiaga Africa’s Watching the Vote is “Driven by Data – For All Nigerians – Beholden to None!”
Dr Hussaini Abdu Samson Itodo
Chair, Watching The Vote Working Group Executive Director
Yiaga Africa Yiaga Africa
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