IDEAs Episode 113 – 6th January 2023
Samson Itodo of YIAGA on INEC’s preparedness for the 2023 elections
Ezugwu Chukwudi introduced the programme by saying that many Nigerians would be optimistic about 2023 and looking forward to the elections of February 25th and March 11th. He said that we would be discussing all that listeners need to know about INEC’s preparedness so that they can be confident about the elections and why it is important to participate. He said that the programme would be joined by Samson Itodo of YIAGA Africa which is doing great work in relation to citizen participation and accountability.
Ayo Obe wished listeners a Happy New Year and said that the reason IDEAs was back was because as we approach the 2023 elections, we want to hammer home our ideas about Integrity, Democracy, Ethics and Accountability and why they are important in the Nigerian polity. She expressed thanks to the MacArthur Foundation and CITAD for supporting the programme to return for a final series in the run up to the elections.
Ayo said that the IDEAs principles make Samson Itodo of YIAGA a good fit, because YIAGA also is concerned with Integrity in the electoral process and Accountability of public officers. She remarked that there has been a lot of talk about vote buying, attacks on INEC facilities, plots against the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System etc. etc., but that the main thing one notices about the results of Nigerian elections is the extremely low turnout of voters. She suggested that this might be due to lack of confidence in the electoral system and the feeling of many voters that the vote will be rigged, and so they may as well not bother to vote. She therefore wanted Samson’s assessment of how prepared INEC is for these elections and whether voters can have confidence in the process.
Samson said the elections were a short time away and INEC has said it is prepared to conduct the elections. INEC has been able to undertake key activities in accordance with the election timetable, such as voter registration, procurement of election materials and training of officials. He said that the new Electoral Act would enhance the credibility and transparency of the electoral process, and that these should inspire confidence on the part of Nigerians that their votes will be counted.
But, he said, there are also concerns like those highlighted by Ayo: attacks on INEC facilities, resistance to BVAS, padding of the voters’ register etc. However, there are mechanisms in place to safeguard the process and ensure that the votes will count. For example, the Electoral Act that allows electronic accreditation using BVAS, and the publication of polling unit level results on the INEC election results portal are tools for enhancing the process. The latter circumvents manipulation because since the result from the polling unit is already available to Nigerians on the INEC portal, politicians or mischief-makers can no longer rig the process at the ward collation level. He reminded listeners that this was the process used in recent governorship elections and it had not only increased the openness of the process but it had also enhanced the credibility and acceptability of the outcome of those elections.
The second critical tool is electronic accreditation using BVAS. Previously, the Smart Card Reader was used, but with BVAS, voting by proxy or multiple voting is near impossible. So as long as the BVAS functions effectively, Nigerians should rest assured that the voting will be credible.
Samson referred to other provisions in the Electoral Act, such as those which give INEC power to deal with a situation where returning officers had been held hostage at polling stations or forced to declare results – especially false results. INEC can now withhold results declared under duress, and even withhold the Certificate of Return to a candidate who emerges through such a flawed process.
However, Samson said, these mechanisms will not be meaningful if there is no buy-in and support from Nigerian voters who also have a responsibility to be vigilant. So when people go to vote next month and in March, they should stay at the polling station to watch over the process in a peaceful manner.
Ayo said that we should go back a bit, because before you get to watching the poll, you have to be able to participate as a voter with a PVC, and the collection of these is a process that you have been monitoring. Concerns have been raised that certain areas are not getting PVCs or that some areas were being favoured over distribution of PVCs, that INEC officials are making it difficult to collect cards etc. etc. etc., so she wanted to know what Samson and his colleagues at YIAGA and in civil society had observed with regard to collection of PVCs (since we have now passed the stage of registration for this election).
Samson replied that PVC collection has been on since December 12th, and has now been devolved to collection at ward level. He commended INEC for this, although he wished that it had gone even closer to the people to allow collection at the polling unit, but he realised that there are some plausible reasons why that could not be done. He said that they had observed different categories of people collecting their PVCs – those who did transfers, who asked for replacements or first-time voters.
Ayo asked whether this meant that we shouldn’t be unduly alarmed at reports that INEC said it had found a lot of double registration …
Samson said the important issue on ground now is that there have been cases where one or two voters have showed up with their slips but their PVCs were not ready. There is an INEC Help desk where those affected have to register their complaint, and INEC had assured that if they do that because their PVC is not ready, the PVCs would be made available before the exercise ends on January 22nd, by which time it is expected that all PVCs will have been produced for collection.
Samson said however, that INEC needs to do more about informing people that their PVCs are ready for collection and the venues where they can be collected. A third challenge is understaffing. There are collection points where there are 10,000 cards for collection yet INEC deploys only two staff.
Ayo wondered whether the PVCs were kept in any order that would make it easy to locate a voter’s card, e.g. alphabetical, chronological or what was the order in which they are kept so that the cards can be located quickly?
Samson said that the PVCs are supposed to be kept alphabetically according to polling units, according to wards and according to local governments, but on the ground, what they have seen is that when looking for an individual’s PVC, all the cards get reshuffled. He felt that this was something of a training issue that needed to be fixed.
Ayo regretted that we only have 15 minutes, and that our time is up; unlike the collection of PVCs, for which there is still time up to January 22nd. She said that voters should be ready with patience and not let anybody frustrate them, stressing as usual, that whatever fears voters may have about elections, the vote that definitely cannot be counted is the one that you don’t bother to cast. Ayo also reminded voters that there is nothing like a wasted vote.
Lastly, Ayo thanked Samson for all the work he and YIAGA are doing to oversee the electoral process and enable voters to have confidence in it and that we can have elections that are acceptable, credible, free and fair and all the adjectives we like to use about elections.
If you want to join the conversation, let us know what your experience has been so far. Are you confident about the Integrity of the electoral process as managed by INEC? We look forward to hearing from you!