First, we want to commend the general public and residents of Rivers state who came all out on Saturday- the 25th day of February 2023 to participate in the electoral process of electing those who will steer the leadership of the nation and their various constituencies to the anticipated destination.
We commend this feat because as a nation ruled by law, it is only through this civic process that we can express our shared determination and collaborative effort to build our nation, which no one else can build except us. The massive turnout for the election on Saturday although not the best that we can have was an appreciable improvement from what has always been the norm. And it is worth commending because it shows the faith and belief that we all have in the Nigerian project.
We would also like to commend all the stakeholders who performed one task or the other in making the process holistic and complete whether positively of otherwise. And these include the people who all came out to vote, the INEC ad-hoc staff who conducted the process, the security officials who were on the ground to enforce law and order, and the election monitors and observers both local and foreign.
However, RIVCSO as the foremost CSO Coalition in Rivers State and a frontal advocate for the consolidation of our democratic process would like to use this medium to point out our observations, reservations, and a general overview of what we saw during the process and the grey areas which ought to improve upon as we journey on to the next round of the gubernatorial and State houses of assembly elections.
- The election came with enthusiasm among Nigerians since the advent of the current democracy process in 1999. We saw young and old Nigerians coming out in their numbers to participate in the election. Some traveled across states and regions just to come to participate in the process and this is commendable.
- The process started relatively peacefully from the process of accreditation to the point of voting, but later cascaded into rancor at the point of transmission of the polling unit results.
- The electoral umpire (INEC) did not live up to our expectations and that of many Nigerians who reposed so much confidence in them because of the numerous promises they gave to Nigerians in the build-up to the election. This is because the ad-hoc staff was not properly orientated on the possibility of a rancorous situation and how to deal with it should it happen. Hence they were overwhelmed when the situation aroused.
- The Bimodal Verification & Accreditation System BVAS has significantly changed the regime of ballot box stuffing, and manipulation of voting figures as can be seen in the just concluded elections. As states that usually post millions of figures could not get up to a million, showing that the BIVAS has drastically filtered away that regime.
- The INEC fell short in keeping with its own rules and regulations and guideline for the process (Failure to Transmit Unit Results to the Server), and this led to the chaotic situation witnessed in various voting centers across the state. As the INEC RACTECHs, SPO’s and POs claimed not to have access to the BVAS machine result transmission codes. And this complaint was almost general across the board, especially for the transmission of presidential election results. INEC equally promised to publish results in real time using its iREV portal. Unfortunately, the application didn’t work on the election day and when it managed to come up, it was showing results with discrepancies.
- The challenge of “VOTE BUYING” was also witnessed at the polling units, although not as fragrant as seen in the past elections, this time foreign currencies like the US dollars were used in place of the Nigerian naira. And we believed it was due to the current naira scarcity emanating from the CBN cash policy. The INEC ad-hoc staffs were also part of this financial inducement and the schemes at the polling unit.
- We saw some level of harassment and intimidation of the INEC staff. In some cases, they were bullied and carried away against their will to unguarded and compromising locations where they were forced to tamper, alter the results, and in some cases mutilate already signed result sheets
THE POLITICAL ACTORS
- The political actors (residents accuse members of the ruling political party in the state), led the charge in the above regard to disrupt the smooth process (Violent hijack of INEC personnel and voting materials). A situation we thought would have been a thing of the past, considering the long-term preparation by both INEC and all critical stakeholders. Unfortunately, INEC accepted results from places accused of result mutilation.
- The leadership of the security agents in the State, especially the Police made attempts to respond to some crisis. For example, they responded to the cases in Rumuigbo, Rumuomasi, Asari toru, Isiokpo and others. However, security agents attached to VIPs in the State were not professional in the management of the election process. This is because, most of them took sides with the political actors against their natural role of maintaining order, enforcing strict compliance with the electoral guidelines, and protecting of the lives of the electorates. The biggest culprit in this regard, are security details of Politicians of the party in government in the State. Apart from few arrest, the leadership of the Police in the State, failed to arrest their officials who were openly engaged in the illegal act of joining those they’re protecting to snatch electoral materials.
The success or failure of our electoral process lies solely in the hands of INEC as the electoral umpire, and this is hinged on two basic fundamentals which are:
a. The Determination of INEC: INEC must be determined to produce an election that will be free, fair, and credible. And this assertion again hinges on the fact that INEC have some level of independence that it can tap into to birth a near flawless process that will usher in a new Nigeria if they are determined to do so and we believe strongly so. But this has not been the case over time and it was seen once again in this election, as INEC still went ahead to bend its rules midway into the election (None transmission of unit results), paving the way for several irregularities that breed loss of confidence in the process. If our electoral system must grow, then INEC must assert itself on the system, and be firm and committed to its promises to Nigerians to inspire more hope and confidence.
b. Voters Education: this is one critical aspect of the electoral process that remains seriously underplayed. And this is because, if a well enlighten electorate is involved in the process, a lot of the anomalies associated with our election today will automatically solve themselves.
The INEC needs to invest and collaborate more with other critical stakeholders to educate the general populace on the dos and don’ts regarding our elections.INEC should also make this education trickle down to the lowest cadre of society. That is, voter education should not only start when someone turns eighteen (18). It should be something that should be made to sink into our national subconsciousness.
c. Enforcement of its laws against Electoral offenders: the situation as observed by RIVCSO is that the political actors have become very conversant with the shortcomings of INEC and its inability to wield the big stick against electoral offenders. Hence the deliberate practice of circumventing the rules and guidelines of INEC by the political actors continues.
This was also witnessed in this election, as known politicians were again captured on camera aiding the disruption of the process by hijacking sensitive electoral material without fear of consequences . For the electoral system to stand firm, INEC MUST move a step further beyond just presenting evidence at the tribunal, to taking up the task for prosecuting those who are seen to have violated its rules and regulation. That way, more sanity and decency from the political actors will be seen in our elections.
Finally, the process was not the best as was highly anticipated by many Nigerians because it was nothing different from what we have seen in the previous elections. However, there were certain positives we could harp on as a nation and encourage the electoral umpire to consolidate upon as we journey forward.
The electoral process of 2023 is never a sprint and would never be, but a marathon journey that must continue in its improvement until we get it right. Although, we encourage INEC to consolidate on its gains with the BVAS accreditation and also improve on its technological imputes as there are a lot of benefits there is to gain therefrom.
We call on INEC to immediately make sure it’s iREV, BVASAnd website is fixed to enable Nigerians access the facility in the fourth coming gubernatorial and houses of assembly elections in Rivers State and Nigeria.
Comrade Solomon Lenu
PRO RIVCSO reporting.