Sustaining gains of 2015 general elections: Perspective of Nigerian Bar Association Election Working Group

Amina Zakari, INEC acting chairman

Amina Zakari, INEC acting chairman

IN every democracy, elections are important as they afford the citizens the opportunity and power to either express their satisfaction or display their displeasure with any incumbent leader or political party.

Elections have been recognized as a means through which smooth leadership change can be effected. However, in most of the fledging world democracies of Asia, Latin America and most especially Africa, election as an instrument of resolving leadership choice tussles has itself become an issue of acrimony, often attended by violence and blood-letting, following the inability of such emerging democracies to conduct free and fair elections.

For an election to be said to be free and fair, it must by all universally acceptable standards or measures represent the popular will of the people or electorate. Sadly, Nigeria continues to grapple with challenges caused by an underlying failure to establish and sustain a credible electoral system.

Over the years, Nigerian elections have been fraught with lack of transparency associated with the use of violence, thuggery, hijacking and illegal seizures of ballot boxes, inflation of election results at collation centers, voting by unregistered persons, refusal to conduct elections at certified polling stations and the creation of illegal polling stations at unrecognized venues. The method of rigging election is inexhaustible for no sooner have the legislature plugged existing loopholes in new legislation than election riggers would have invented new means of circumventing the new laws.

The 2015 general elections in Nigeria, the 5th round of general elections to be held since the return to democracy in 1999 took place on the 28th of March 2015 and 11th April for the Presidential and National Assembly Elections and the Governorship and States House of Assembly Elections respectively. Election management which is core to the success of the any elections required INEC to be well-positioned in terms of readiness, personnel capacity and funding so as to better perform its duties with credibility and avoid the challenges of the past general elections.

Elections so far conducted in Nigeria since 1999 have been fraught with reported cases of malpractices, rejection of results from the opposition, prolonged legal battle and diminishing trust on whether or not the wish of the people who turn out to vote will ever be reflected. The 2015 general elections promised to be historic for many reasons. It was expected to be a remarkable improvement from the 2011 elections, which was considered the most credible elections since the return to democracy in 1999; it was also going to be a keenly contested election; the situation in the north east was also to be a focus of attention as Nigerian watched to see how INEC intended to deal with the issues of IDPs and whether or not the security challenges would affect the conduct of elections in the north east. It would be a bold statement that Nigeria’s democracy was consolidating if not deepening.

Brief History of Elections in Nigeria
A cursory look at democratic history of Nigeria since the return to democracy in 1999 reveals a history of electoral and political violence that sometimes threatens the country to its very foundation. This development in part has made democratic consolidation somehow problematic. This is not unconnected with the recurrent incidences of electoral fraud, intimidation and violence prevalent in the country. In the run up to the 2007 general elections, it was widely reported that there were attempts to bomb the headquarters of INEC using a petrol tanker laden with fuel. Again in 2011 while preparations were being made for the general elections, a bomb exploded at the INEC office in Suleja killing innocent poll workers. More worrisome was the extensive post-election violence that engulfed a number of States in Northern Nigeria in 2011, in which innocent citizens were killed, particularly nine young Youth Corps who were working for INEC.

In 1999, Election-related violence occurred, though not as extensively as some had feared. The Carter Center and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, which jointly observed the 1999 elections, concluded that “the transition from military to civilian rule was generally conducted without violence,” reserving their sharper criticism for the “electoral irregularities” and “outright fraud” that their monitors reported#. Incidences of violence during the 2003 election cycle were more blatant and widespread. Intra-party clashes, political assassinations, and communal unrest in already volatile areas such as Nigeria’s oil-producing Niger Delta, characterized these elections. This cycle also marked the unchecked proliferation of another worrisome development, the hiring and arming of militias to serve narrow political ends. One concerned non-governmental organization (NGO) monitoring the elections characterized them as “a low intensity armed struggle#.” As a result, these young men comprised a significant percentage of the lives lost leading up to the 2003 polls#. The 2007 general elections saw the same patterns of violence and intimidation from earlier elections. Merely declaring oneself a candidate was enough to put one’s life at risk. In fact, by 2007, electoral violence had become such a credible risk despite Nigeria’s return to democracy that the mere threat of it was enough to keep large swaths of voters away from the polls, as in Rivers state, where absent ballot materials and violent threats contributed to low voter turnout. When statewide tallies nevertheless boasted votes cast in the millions, violence surged in the post-election period.

Weapons and firearms still circulating from the 2003 election cycle not only increased the likelihood of violence but also afforded militias new leverage through which to influence the very powers that had armed them in the first place#. Unlike in 2007, analysts and observers considered the April 2011 elections the most credible since the return to democracy, but over 1,000 people were killed in post-election protests.

The heat and passion associated with elections in Nigeria often make elections appear like war. Pre-election violence has led to the death of many politicians, their supporters and innocent citizens. Widespread intimidation of voters persists and organized thugs spread fear across communities in the build up to elections. In any case, elections in Nigeria are a winner takes all situation in which loser lose everything and winners win everything, akin to payment of reparations by an enemy defeated in a war. It is not therefore surprising that elections in Nigeria pose serious security challenges, not only in terms of security of the men and materials deployed for the elections, but also in terms of protecting the voters and candidates.

The 2015 General Elections were held on the 28th of March 2015 and 11th April for the Presidential and National Assembly Elections and the Governorship and States House of Assembly Elections respectively. The elections were scheduled to be conducted in about 150,000 polling units in the 36 States of the Federation and the FCT. A total number of 67,422,005 were registered to vote out of which only 56,431,255 representing 81.98 percent had collected their PVCs for the election. Of the 56,431,255 who had collected their PVC only 31,746,490 were accredited to vote. Over 100 observer groups were accredited for the 2015 general elections, one of which was the Nigerian Bar Association. The NBA observer group, comprised of 780 INEC accredited observers which were deployed across the Country, in addition to over 10,000 lawyers who observed the elections in their units in all the States of the Federation. In the preparation for the 2015 general elections INEC had informed Nigerians that it would no longer allow the use of the temporary voters’ card and it also introduced the use of the card readers to authenticate the permanent voters’ cards used by voters for the 2015 elections.

Preparation for the Election
The pre-election environment was relatively peaceful though members of the two major parties, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and the All Progressives Congress, APC, engaged in mudslinging and character assassination. However, there were no violent clashes between them and no death was reported. Prior to the election, INEC had several meetings with political parties, security agencies and other stakeholders to ensure that everyone adhered to the electoral guidelines and regulations to ensure a hitch free election devoid of violence and other electoral malpractices. To forestall the eruption of violence during the elections Presidential candidates of political parties vying for political office signed a peace accord in Abuja. The environment was however tense after the Presidential and National Assembly Elections which experienced a lot of logistic, technical and security challenges. There were fears of violence following the March 28, 2015 Presidential elections, where it was reported that there were eruptions of violence and security breaches leading to loss of lives in Akwa Ibom, Borno, Bauchi, Edo, Gombe, Lagos, Osun, Rivers, and Yobe States. This led to some States being declared hotspot States ahead of the Governorship and State Houses of Assembly elections.

Setting Up and Accreditation
The voters’ accreditation exercise was scheduled to commence at 8:00am. The accreditation process was generally peaceful and orderly. Copies of the register were pasted on the walls of some of the polling units visited by our observers across the country. This allowed voters confirm their names on the list and it helped speed up the process of accreditation.

During the Presidential and National Assembly Elections, in most of the polling units visited by our team in Abuja and other parts of the country, accreditation did not start on schedule.

Indeed, in most polling units visited in Abuja accreditation commenced at about 9:00am, in some cases it did not commence until about 10:00am. Reports from various states also confirmed the late arrival of INEC officials, resulting in the late commencement of accreditation. There were also rampant reports of the failure/malfunctioning of the card readers across the States.

Despite the fairly high rate of the failure of card readers to read the fingerprint of registered voters, accreditation was completed fairly quickly, with the INEC ad hoc officials using the Incident Forms to document the incidences of the inability of the card readers to verify voters. Challenges encountered during the accreditation exercise led to the postponement of elections by INEC to Sunday, 29th March 2015 in some States.

There was substantial improvement during the Governorship and States House of Assembly Elections, especially in terms of timely arrival of electoral officials and materials, as well as in the functionality of the card readers. Accreditation of voters was also generally orderly and peaceful, devoid of hitches associated with the Presidential and National Assembly elections. Despite these improvements, the NBA observed the late arrival of electoral officials and materials in some polling stations in Rivers, Delta, Abia and Imo States.

There were also still reports of the failure of the card readers to verify voters. This was as a result of the card readers not being reprogrammed from the previous election.

Voting Process/Voters Turnout
The voter turnout for the election was relatively impressive during the Presidential Election but considerably lower during the Governorship elections. However, the total number of voters was still a far cry from the number of registered voters on the INEC voters register. Voting commenced almost immediately after accreditation in most of the Polling Units visited by our team. In States where accreditation commenced on schedule, voting began at about 1:00 pm, whereas in places where accreditation commenced behind schedule voting started at about 2.00 pm. There were incidents of persons registered in one State wanting to vote in another. The affected persons complained that they had applied to have their registration moved to their new States of residence but this was not done. In all, voters conducted themselves in an orderly manner during the exercise.

Counting Process & Results Declaration
The counting process was done in a participatory manner in all the locations we observed. This method helped in showing some level of transparency in the different polling units observed. Ballot papers were sorted out according to political parties and the invalid ballot papers were separated. Afterwards, counting was done and witnessed by all. The results were declared after the counting of the ballot papers by the Presiding Officers in the various polling units. There were reports of the non availability of result sheets in some States.

Akpedeye presented this paper at the 2015 Nigerian Bar Association Annual General Conference in Abuja recently.

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