IDEAs 10th March 2023 …
Sandra Ezekwesili Introduced the programme, saying that today, the discussion would be about the Integrity pressure points in Nigeria’s electoral process. She started by asking Ayo Obe what was meant by Integrity in the electoral process?
Ayo said that Integrity in the electoral process meant issues about whether the procedures in place could guarantee that only those qualified to vote are voting, that their votes would be properly counted, and that it would be only their votes (and not some other votes from elsewhere) that would be counted and reflected in the result declared for that election. She also said – in view of what had been seen of recent – that it also meant that the votes cast should be ascribed to the correct candidate, rather than switched to someone else.
Sandra then asked what were the Integrity pressure points in the electoral process?
Ayo said that one of the main ones was whether only those qualified to vote were voting. She said that although the Permanent Voter’s Card was designed to address this issue and make sure that only people who were qualified to vote under the Constitution of Nigeria were voting, unfortunately, lack of synergy among agencies of government had left gaps, in particular, the National Population Commission was not working in harmony with INEC so there was not the means of ensuring that those registered to vote were the correct age – i.e. up to 18 years – or that they were even Nigerians. This was therefore still a pressure point for the Integrity of Nigerian elections. Ayo added that she would have hoped that the days when anyone could just turn up with any old PVC and think they would be able to vote ought to be behind us, but there continued to be reports of people selling their PVCs and also of people being found in possession of large wads of PVCs. So it was possible that there was still be a way of using those PVCs to interfere with the Integrity of elections that those of us who were not thinking crookedly enough might not know.
Sandra chuckled at that and went on to say that assuming the PVC works, she supposed that the next pressure point would be the actual voting. She asked what role the BVAS played in that?
Ayo said that the theory was that the Bi-modal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) identified that the person presenting the PVC was the actual person registered. The role of BVAS was in ensuring that only accredited voters are allowed to vote and making sure that one couldn’t just stuff a ballot box with pre-marked ballot papers. Each BVAS device was assigned to a specific polling unit. However, there had been videos circulating on social media which showed people marking ballot papers. She said that it was a question whether these were just meant to scare us, and wondered whether there was some way in which these were introduced into the final tally? She said this could be a pressure point for the Integrity of elections, but the question of whether the BVAS actually did that or could be bypassed was something that still needed to be checked.
Sandra asked how we could know that the votes cast are the votes reflected in the result?
In her answer, Ayo referred to the Open Secret method of voting, whereby everything except the actual marking of the ballot paper was done in the open, i.e. only the ballot paper is marked in secret, but everything else is done in public, starting with accreditation of the voter. The ballot boxes are displayed as empty in the open at the start of voting, ballot papers are deposited in the ballot boxes in the open, and at the end of voting, the ballot boxes are opened in the open, and the votes are sorted and counted in the open for the public to see. After the counting, the results sheets are filled in the open. She said that two things happen with the results sheets, because every political party agent gets their own copy of the results sheet. Ayo explained that although she used the word “copy”; in law, those results sheets signed by the other party agents and the polling officer handed to the party agents are primary evidence of the result. So one thing that should happen with the results sheet is that each party agent and the polling officer and police or other security should be given a copy of the result sheet. The other thing that is supposed to happen is that the polling agent is to capture an image of the results sheet on the BVAS and upload it to the INEC Results Viewing Portal – the IReV.
Ayo said that although as Sandra and she were talking – almost two weeks after the national polls – that most of the results have been uploaded onto the IReV, it is a fact that that did not happen on the day of the election, particularly when it came to the presidential election results. As late as 10pm there were complaints that no presidential election results had been uploaded to the IReV.
Ayo said that the thing about the IReV is that it is for ordinary people: although INEC at first tried to limit access to it to only those who had registered, it later opened the portal so that anyone with access to the internet could check any polling station and see what the result was. Because the results were not uploaded on the day of the election, when INEC started getting its results from the manual collation (which it had said as long ago as August last year would be the way that the election results would be collated) there arose the problem of some of the parties complaining about the lack of electronically transmitted result and saying INEC should wait for those results. But because INEC had said it was going to do manual collation, it went ahead and declared the results from the manual collation. Ayo said that that is where political party agents have a big role to play because they have the manual results sheets, and they should be liaising with their party headquarters at every level, from the polling unit to the different levels of collation and that a political party needed to be in contact with its agents to make sure that what they have is what is being included in the INEC total.
But because of this delay in uploading to the IReV, some parties protested. Ayo said that she appreciated why they protested, because nobody wanted to be in a situation of “the result has been declared”. It was easy to say “Go to court and challenge it” but it is very difficult to do that after the event and think of setting it aside – not impossible, but more difficult to do. She said that some of the parties may not heard from their agents or had some other reason for trying to stop the declaration of results until the electronically transmitted results had been received. However, the courts have recently given a decision in which it said that there is no obligation on INEC to wait for the electronically transmitted results before declaring the results. We are in a situation where INEC is promising again that the result will be uploaded to IReV for the State elections. People have in fact been checking the results of the National elections on the IReV portal and have been seeing all sorts of ‘signs and wonders’. But the point about the IReV is that it was also supposed to give us members of the public confidence in the Integrity of the process. So those who say that INEC failed the public have a point in that regard, even though it may not make much difference to the actual result as declared.
Sandra said that as we had at least two of the candidates at last month’s presidential election challenging the result in court, not to mention probably some contestants for the National Assembly who may also be dissatisfied with the result, that suggested that they aren’t satisfied about the Integrity of the voting process.
Ayo said that it was expected that people would take the matter to court, and that is why candidates urged supporters not to take to the streets to protest the outcome of elections, as they were instead taking the matter to court. She said that the judicial process through Election Petition Tribunals is an integral part of the electoral process in Nigeria.
Ayo noted that although both Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi were insisting that they each won the election, Alhaji Atiku had said that he was more concerned about the process, while Mr. Obi’s claim that he had won meant that he was talking about the numbers that he was going to prove. Even though there may be other issues with regard to people not being allowed to vote, late arrival of materials and other things that were not perfect in the voting process, if one asserted that one had won, then that was based on the votes actually cast. Ayo said that though the judicial process was there, challenging numbers was difficult, at least compared to a technical matter such as whether one has to score 25% of the vote in the Federal Capital Territory. So it was understandable that those on the losing side would want to have INEC do everything that it promised to do before a result was declared, whether or not those things (such as uploading to IReV) had legal backing, which was a matter that the courts would decide. She concluded that the judicial process could be difficult, even though it was part of our election process in Nigeria.
Sandra invited Ayo to give any last comments, and Ayo said that all these things that happen at the back end don’t necessarily concern us as voters. Our job is first of all to go out and cast our vote. Once we do that, if we are able, we can stay and watch the count, note the result, and if we have internet access, we can compare it with what is shown on the IReV. But we should not let any dissatisfaction with some of the things that have happened make us say that it’s not worth voting, that INEC can’t be trusted etc. She urged listeners to get their votes in first, that quarrels about the count and everything else could come later.
Do let us know: did the disappointments of the national polls – late arrival of materials, delays on IReV etc. – discourage you? Or have they made you more determined to cast your vote?