As Kogi, Bayelsa decide: What civil society is doing to make votes count

Professor-Mahmood-Yakubu INEC Chairman

NEC Chairman Mahmood Yakub

AFTER the euphoria that greeted the largely successful outcomes of the 2015 general elections, the next question that arose in civil society circles was how to ensure that the substantial gains recorded in 2015 are built upon. While it is true that Nigeria managed to prove the predictors of its demise on account of the polls wrong, there were fundamental challenges that could not be overlooked.

The introduction of technology in the form of the card readers, and the nightmarish realities as it concerns the production and distribution of Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) were areas that demanded further scrutiny. There was therefore an interest in exploring ways to evolve a less challenging electoral process. Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) backed by international development partners have started brainstorming on some of these thematic issues around electoral reforms.

Specifically, the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Partners for Electoral Reforms (PER) and Youth Initiative for Advancement and Growth (YAIGA) in October attempted to ignite a debate on the imperatives of reforming Nigeria’s electoral system, both from the administrative and legal purviews. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which was present at the dialogue, also reeled out extant legal challenges tying its hands.

These valiant efforts to put the discourse around reconfiguring the nation’s electoral architecture notwithstanding, the next set of elections are upon the nation. On November 21, 2015, when voters in Kogi State go to the polls to elect a governor, they will be raising the curtain, marking the starting point, as the nation gradually marches towards 2019. Two weeks later on December 5, voters in Bayelsa State would also go to the polls to elect a new helmsman. These two gubernatorial elections are coming at a time of fundamental changes in the political dynamics.

At the federal level, there is a new political party holding power for the first time since the advent of Nigeria’s current democratic dispensation in 1999. From a practical analysis of how the two major political parties would engage, it is apparent that while the All Progressives Congress (APC) would be interested in expanding its coast, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) would be digging in to hold on to its current ground.

This is where the role of civil society groups with strong and impeccable credentials to serve as watchdogs to ensure transparency in the electoral process, becomes critical. For instance, TMG, a coalition of over 400 civic organizations across Nigeria, has again picked the gauntlet by putting all relevant structures in place to meticulously observe the two governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa States. To observe these elections, the coalition will again use its globally recognized and tested Quick Count methodology, which was earlier used to verify the outcome of the 2015 Presidential election.

TMG’s innovative Quick Count observation effort is intended to help promote credible elections in Nigeria which are conducted in accordance to international and regional standards as well as the law of the country by providing real time independent non-partisan information on the conduct of Election Day processes – setup of polling units, accreditation of voters, voting and counting. TMG has successfully trained all 300 Quick Count Observers to be deployed for the Nov 21 Gubernatorial election in Kogi state. The observers were trained in all 21 Local Government Areas (LGA) in the state

Earlier on, a refresher course was conducted for a total of 35 members of the Quick Count State Coordinating Committee (SCC) members and Quick Count LGA Supervisors.

The Quick Count otherwise known as Parallel Vote Tabulation is a time tested way of testing the credibility of elections by detecting and deterring fraud in the electoral process. It is a method that uses the science of statistics and generates data through the help of non-partisan citizens’ observers, who use mobile forms to text in data on critical Election Day processes. At the moment, the Quick Count National Information Centre (NIC), the hub for data processing and information dissemination on Election Day has been set up in Lokoja. For Bayelsa, the NIC will be located in Yenagoa, the state capital.

In the two states, TMG Quick Count observers have been passing through a rigorous and painstaking process of training on how to text in their answers to a comprehensive Election Day checklist of questions. A few days before the elections, a dress rehearsal in form of a simulation will be conducted to ascertain the readiness of all observers on the field.

By Election Day therefore, the data that would be coming, would provide an accurate picture of how the process is unfolding. A blow by blow account of processes such as set up by INEC officials, accreditation, voting, counting would be provided on the Quick Count social media platforms. However, for the component of the results, the Quick Count would only verify what is announced by the electoral umpire, after that announcement is done.

The beauty of this method is that there is a credible and nonpartisan eye watching the electoral process. And because the effort is driven by data, political parties, candidates, and the electoral would have the opportunity to cross check, and reference another set of data beyond what INEC puts out. As such it would be good strategy for the political parties, and the politicians to have an understanding that there is an independent effort aimed that ensuring the votes count.

Consequently, it is important to add that while the Quick Count serves to police the Election Day processes for the purpose of transparency, TMG has also been observing the pre-election period. It goal is to spotlight early warning signs in order to prevent violence. For the Kogi and Bayelsa election, TMG Long Term Observers across the 21 local governments in Kogi, and the eight Local Governments in Bayelsa have been reporting on the pre-election environment.

In the third reporting period of our pre-election observation, the TMG pre-election report spotlighted the issue of proliferation of small arms and light weapons in Ofu Local Government of Kogi. In Bayelsa Kolokuma/Opokuma and Ekeremor in Bayelsa have been flagged as potential points of interest for electoral violence.

All these efforts notwithstanding, there is a realisation within civil society that there is a need for massive awareness to get the electorate, the politicians and the INEC to buy into these very laudable efforts at peace building, and guaranteeing free and fair polls. To achieve these objectives, the TMG Media Department is currently running weekly radio programmes, and daily jingles in local languages in Kogi and Bayelsa States. Again, the goal is to educate all stakeholders on the need to collectively work for free, fair and violence free polls in these two states.

Added to the above efforts are the other laudable campaigns being run by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) in Kogi and Bayelsa States. They include the Stop Violence Against Women in Elections (VAWIE) campaign, which is being headlined by delectable Nollywood star actress, Stepanie Okereke Linus. There is also the youth driven Vote Not Fight Campaign which has continental hip hop icon, Tuface Idibia as its ambassador.

In the end, all of these projects and campaigns are about giving a voice to the ordinary citizen. And heading towards 2019, it is hoped that the democratic culture in Nigeria would begin to move in the direction in which ordinary Nigerians, men and women, irrespective of ethnicity would have a voice, and would be able to determine the direction in which their country goes.
• Ajanaku is Media Manager at the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG)

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