IDEAs Episode 121 – 3rd March 2023
YIAGA’s Samson Itodo on the National Elections
Chukwudi Ezugwu introduced the programme by saying that IDEAs today would be looking at the everything to do with the last election, for which he greeted Ayo Obe in Yoruba, and looked forward to the coming elections on the 11th of March.
Ayo welcomed Samson Itodo, the Executive Director of YIAGA, to the programme and referred to YIAGA’s Press Statement on the 2023 Presidential elections. She said that looking at the Report and the election, she wanted to distinguish between the actual voting process and the Integrity of that – because the ‘I’ in IDEAs is for Integrity, while the other side is Accountability (the ‘A’ in IDEAs).
She asked what the overall position was with regard to whether people could even vote at all. Samson said that said that YIAGA deployed the Parallel Vote Tabulation with over 3,800 observers across 1,507 sampled polling units, and based on that methodology, they found that the BVAS was deployed in 98% of the Polling Units (PUs) that they covered, and that of the voters who turned up, 88% were accredited with the BVAS. So the BVAS did function for accreditation. However, there were about 8% of PUs where the BVAS malfunctioned. In those cases the BVAS was fixed, and voting continued.
Ayo then asked about election materials turning up late, and Samson said that this really affected the entire election because it led to long hours of voting, and in some cases, the voting continued the next day. In his view, if there was a drawback in this election, it was the logistical challenge, which was widespread. At 7.30 a.m. on Election Day, only 27% of PUs recorded early arrival. That meant that some people were discouraged and left the polling unit although it was impossible to say how many people left because of this. There were also shortages of election materials. These logistics issues had not been addressed and this was a major disappointment in our electoral process.
Ayo said that she was lucky because her own PU was just outside her compound, and she could easily check if voting had started and go back to her house if it had not, but that her daughter’s PU was a 5 or 7 minute walk away, and it was not possible to come and go from such a PU.
Samson said that another issue was that people could not locate their PU, because INEC migrated people from some congested PUs, but not all of them received a text message telling them where their new PU was, and some got discouraged and gave up. Ayo mentioned helping some people who were searching for their PUs while waiting for her daughter to vote, and that very near to that place was another PU which had only about 10 people and the polling officers there were jobless.
She asked – apart from those logistical issues – about the issue of violence and people being chased away or violence preventing people from voting, and what YIAGA had observed in that regard.
Samson said that they had confirmed about 135 reports of violence preventing people from voting. YIAGA was finalising its data and cross-referencing with other civil society organisations on this, but most of such reports came from the southern part of the country.
In response to Ayo’s question about what INEC had done in response, and the published list of places where voting would take place on the following Sunday, Samson explained that the PUs where INEC conducted elections the following day were ones where INEC couldn’t deploy or the BVAS malfunctioned, and that INEC still failed to conduct elections in some of those PUs, so those voters were disenfranchised. From the YIAGA sample, about 18 PUs had no election the next day. Ayo remarked that the unfortunate thing for such voters was that they personally did not have the right to challenge an election result – it is only the candidates or parties who can do that.
Moving on, she asked about the outcome for those who were able to vote. Were the votes properly counted? Did the result reflect the votes as counted, or were there results that did not reflect some votes, or some results that invented votes from nowhere?
Samson said that all those scenarios had been observed. As to the votes from the 34 states, there was some consistency with the result that INEC declared and the results YIAGA saw from its sample units. However, results from Imo and Rivers were inconsistent and showed prima facie evidence of manipulation and fraud at the collation level, because those results didn’t match what happened at the PUs at all, because votes for one of the candidates were deducted and added to the votes for another candidate. YIAGA had called on INEC to investigate and resolve the inconsistency because it cast doubt on the outcome of the elections.
On the transmission of results, Ayo said she wanted to distinguish between the actual proper counting of the votes, and then how that result got to INEC, because as an ordinary voter she had been hoping to be able to check the result declared at her PU, but the result was not posted, which according to the regulations was to be treated as a dereliction of duty, though she did not know what would happen to those responsible.
Samson said there were a lot of infractions. Once votes were counted they were supposed to be entered into the Form EC8A – the primary results sheet. The presiding officer was then required to take a photo of the result sheet. He confirmed that it was actually a photo of the result sheet, and not that the figures were typed in at the PU – an image of the result sheet itself. This was supposed to be uploaded online so that anyone could see it by means of the portal. YIAGA had seen this done in about 68% of PUs, but what was concerning was that those results never made it to the INEC Election Results Viewing (IReV) portal in due time. In fact, by 10pm on Saturday there were no results for the Presidential election on the IReV, and this raised questions.
However, in addition to that, the presiding officers were required to take the results sheets to the collating centres. Ayo noted that INEC had told the nation last year that the actual collation process would be manual. Samson agreed, but said that it was at the collation level that the manipulation took place, and that that was why they had been able to detect the manipulation in Imo and Rivers. He said that in some PUs from those states, voter turnout was said to be 100%! The biggest issue from this was that INEC had failed to deliver on the electronic transmission of results that had been introduced to enhance the transparency of the election and that this was why voters were very concerned about the credibility of the poll.
Ayo said that nonetheless, voters had since been able to check the IReV portal and see the results. Samson agreed that a lot of cross checking was going on now, but that this was in flagrant disregard of the guidelines, which said that those results are meant to be transmitted from the PUs.
Ayo agreed, but asked whether it was the results from the manual collation that were the ones used at the National Collation Centre, with the professors and Resident Electoral Commissioners that went to the final result. Samson confirmed that this was the case.
Ayo wondered whether INEC had said or done anything to address the concerns that had been raised, and what Samson would say to voters who were discouraged by the failings of INEC, because although her mantra was always that voters should go out and do their own part by voting, she was worried that they might be dissuaded by the negative reports from going to vote at all. Were there any positives that he might mention to encourage voters, whether it was that INEC was reacting to the problems, or that they were going to keep pressing it to do so.
Samson said that people should be encouraged by the fact that political establishments had been dislodged because they showed up and voted, and that things would be worse if they stayed away. He stressed that it was better to show up because the next elections were just as, if not more important than the just-concluded ones.
Ayo agreed that the state elections were much more visceral than the national ones, and that the contestation at that level was so hot because it was more direct.
Samson said that YIAGA and civil society organisations would continue to press INEC to respond to the observations and criticisms, but that if INEC was in fact correcting some matters, it was not letting people know, and that it needed to do a much better job of communicating with the nation about such responses.
Ayo agreed that there needed to be some word from INEC, apologising for its failings and encouraging people to nonetheless come out. She urged listeners to check the results from their PUs because one no longer needed to register to do that, and that might give some confidence that despite being slow, INEC was nonetheless doing the right thing.
Do let us know whether you are still resolute about going to vote in the future elections, or whether you have been discouraged by the negative coverage.