The much awaited February 23, 2019 presidential and National Assembly elections have held with incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari most likely to retain his seat going by the already collated results as of the time of writing this piece. I was a Nigeria Women Trust Fund accredited domestic observer in the elections and have been doing media rounds commenting on the elections. I have mixed feelings about the polls but first, what are those things that went well during the polls?
Nigerians were enthusiastic about the elections and turned out in large numbers to cast their ballot. In many polling units, they were even there before the opening of polls at 8am. There was priority voting for the Persons with Disabilities, the elderly people, pregnant women, and nursing mothers. In order to guarantee an inclusive electoral process, there was braille ballot for the visually impaired who can use it, and, there were also magnifying glasses for persons with albinism. Internally Displaced Persons also had an opportunity to vote. Furthermore, there was a strict enforcement of the restriction of movement order as major streets were deserted with economic activities regrettably shut down. In spite of the orgy of violence in some of the polling units, the elections were largely peaceful.
It is also significant that the outcome of the elections reflected the will of the people. The results of the National Assembly elections so far published showed that a silent revolution is on with political dynasties being dismantled. For instance, the hitherto impregnable Saraki political dynasty in Kwara State suffered electoral misfortune when the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, could not win a re-election back to the Senate. This is a dent on an otherwise illustrious political career which has spanned over 30 years as the Senate President’s father, Oloye Olusola Saraki, was a senator, and indeed the Senate Leader in the Second Republic. In 2019, the “O to gee” i.e. Enough is Enough movement was able to vote out Bukola Saraki.
That was not the only major political upset that the 2019 elections have recorded. Governor of Gombe State, Ibrahim Dankwambo and his Oyo State counterpart, Abiola Ajimobi, failed to win election into the Senate, even as sitting governors. There were reports that several other notable senators including former Senate Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio, and some House of Representatives members lost their re-election bids.
On the flip side, a number of things did not go well at the polls. There was no strict adherence with the Regulations and Guidelines for the elections by many of the poll workers. For instance, there were reported cases of manual accreditation of voters without the use of Smart Card Readers. This is a clear breach of provisions of Section 13 of the Electoral Guidelines. Also, the partial ban on the use of mobile phones inside the voting cubicle was also largely observed in breach. Many people went with their mobile phones and even took pictures of their ballot papers.
Many polling units did not also open on time as the poll officials arrived late. This has been a nagging challenge that was not expected to rear its ugly head in this sixth general election in this Fourth Republic. The Independent National Electoral Commission has largely blamed the National Union of Road Transport Workers Union and the security agents for the delay in moving election personnel and materials to the polling units. The excuse was that these two support groups were late in coming to the Registration Area Centre. While that may be true to an extent, INEC should also be courageous to admit its failure to sort out the election materials on time for prompt movement. There were several reported cases of mix-up of polling materials which took long time to sort out.
While it was initially thought that there was a large turnout of voters, the results so far officially released have shown that the overall voter turnout may be less than 40 per cent, which is poor compared to about 44 per cent recorded in 2015. This may not be unconnected with the one-week postponement, late opening of poll as well as the inability of many of the voters to find their names on the Voter Register. There were also several cases of poor crowd control by security agents.
Quite unfortunately, last Saturday’s polls also recorded a number of deaths and pockets of violence. About 39 deaths were reported. It is inexcusable that lives are still being lost during a civic exercise like election in Nigeria. It is also very condemnable that poll workers were abducted while performing their official duties. Eighteen electoral personnel were allegedly kidnapped in Akwa Ibom State while one case of abduction was recorded in Katsina State. The day after the elections, political thugs reportedly set ablaze INEC office at the Isiala Mbano Local Government Area of Imo State. A similar attempt was made at the INEC office in Ijebu-Jesa in the Oriade Local Government Area of Osun State last Sunday.
As a result of violence, over-voting and inability of polls to hold in some polling units, some of the elections were declared inconclusive. They include the senatorial elections of Imo North, Ondo South, Kogi East and a few others. There were also reported allegations of vote-buying.
My overall impression is that INEC did not live up to the expectations of many Nigerians in the conduct of the elections. Some exogenous variables may have warranted that as earlier highlighted. However, the buck stops at the table of INEC. The success or failure of the elections will be attributed to it. However, the good thing is that the commission has another opportunity to redeem itself next week when it will be conducting the governorship, state Houses of Assembly and the Federal Capital Territory Area Council polls. All the aforementioned operational challenges must be taken care of to ensure a seamless exercise on March 9. For instance, logistic challenges that led to the opening of polls late must be seriously tackled.
Serious allegations of rigging being levelled by some of the contestants and their political parties should be thoroughly investigated by the INEC leadership and the masterminds and arrowheads of such malpractices brought to justice. About 128 electoral offenders that have so far been arrested should be diligently prosecuted. Security agents should also come up with a better security plan for the March 9 polls. Finally, I enjoin the losers in last Saturday’s elections not to resort to self-help but rather go to the already inaugurated Election Petitions Tribunals to file their complaints for redress.
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