IDEAs Episode 123 Ene Obi on the pre State Elections Environment

IDEAs 10th March 2023 …

Today’s guest was Ene Obi, Convener of the Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room, and after Sandra Ezekwesili had kicked off the programme, Ayo Obe said that although we could not be sure that this was the last election in this cycle, since anything could happen.  She referred to the preliminary statement on the pre-election environment issued by the Civil Society Situation Room ahead of the State elections that were to be held tomorrow, and asked Ene what changes the Independent National Electoral Commission had made to address the shortcomings in the National elections of the 25th of February.

Ene said that with all the shortcomings that everybody had observed in the Presidential and National Assembly elections, it was to be hoped that INEC had learned some lessons from the gaps that there had been particularly as regards logistics, and the failure of the IReV portal.  She said that the logistics issue was very heavy, but hoped that with the shift of the elections by one week, there would be an improvement.  Ene said that as at now, it could be observed that INEC was doing better, as the deployment of materials had already begun by Wednesday, which meant that logistics might not be so much of a problem.

Ayo confirmed that by this, Ene meant that logistics improvements meant that the election would be able to start at the time when they were actually supposed to start.

Ene said that the threshold for the polling to start was that they should start by 8.30 a.m. (as opposed to 7.30 which it used to be).  At 8.30 those who had been deployed to observe the conduct of the elections would note the number of Polling Units that were not open by that time.  She said that during the National elections up to 70% of PUs that had not opened as at 8.30, but that as they were now moving, it was hoped that a better compliance rate than 30% for those elections would be expected because the deployment then had not been done as at Friday, but that from the signs they were seeing for the State elections, it looked as though there would be a great improvement.

Ene said that however, the Situation Room was also extremely concerned about the security situation as there had been threats of violence that could disrupt the polls.  Civil society was expecting the police and security agencies to take these threats seriously because they would all be held Accountable for their performance in the states.  She said that the EFCC had done quite well in the last polls in taking steps to arrest those involved in vote buying and providing hotlines for people to report such attempts.  The EFCC should do the same for Saturday’s elections, but it should not stop at arrest; those arrested should be charged and tried because the impunity needed to stop.  She said that those involved should be charged under local criminal laws such as the Penal Code, or any other Constitutional provision, not just the Electoral Act.

Ayo said that the changes that INEC had made suggested that it had observed some shortcomings and failings, and asked Ene whether anybody had been held Accountable for either the logistic failings, or the technology failures.

Ene said that no explanation had been given by INEC, despite the promises they had made going into the elections.  There were big issues with regard to the logistics – INEC said nothing.  Big issues with regard to the technology, in which so much money and effort had been invested, but INEC had not explained the failings to anybody.  She recalled that the Chairman of INEC had made announcements and promises about the technology with his own mouth, saying: We WILL upload to the IReV portal in REAL TIME.  Those who had worked along with INEC in the off-cycle elections believed that these things would work.  She noted that the results for the National Assembly elections had been uploaded, but when it came to the Presidential elections the results were not uploaded.

Ayo said that this was a particular issue that she wanted to ask about, because although people talked about “failure of the IReV”, it seemed to have been a bit particular about where the failure occurred, because many people were able to check the results of the Senate and House of Representatives elections through the INEC Results Viewing Portal, but it was the Presidential election results that were not only not uploaded, but that even now that they were being uploaded (because many were now being uploaded), the legibility and readability of what was being uploaded for the Presidential election is called into a lot of question.  If INEC is saying that it didn’t train its Polling Officers to properly upload the results using the BVAS, what happened with regard to the Presidential election results upload that did not happen with regard to the National Assembly election results upload?

Ene said that INEC needed to answer those questions, but that although they had asked INEC for an explanation, it was not communicating anything.  She said that if at all there were problems, INEC ought to be proactive about respecting the need to communicate with Nigerians about what was going on.  There was no explanation about why ad hoc staff who could upload the National Assembly election results could not upload the Presidential election results.  She said that the machines were there, but they were to be operated by human beings.  The uploading or not is a deliberate act.  If it did not work, was there something that blocked the results upload?  All those who had applied to the job were Nigerians.  The process was as important as the result, and it was important that Nigerians should be able to believe in the system because this was their country.  They needed to see the system work, especially now that young people were beginning to believe in the system again, that elections could be used to bring about peaceful transfer of power and improvements in their own future.  Young voters were encouraged to register to vote massively, and to collect their PVCs and she stressed that anyone on the queue should be allowed to vote.

Ayo then asked Ene about the issue of security, and said that in the statement issued by the Situation Room, it had spoken about the importance of the security agencies avoiding any actions that they might take that could be seen as acting in support of any political interest, but was it not also the case that there were equally concerns and complaints about actions that the security agencies had NOT taken – sins of omission, and not just sins of commission?  That was the security agencies failing to respond to issues when problems arose.  It was known that those attached to PUs would not be armed, but assurances had been given that should any problem arise, or threat be observed, there would be a rapid response by armed police if necessary or those who had other equipment – e.g. tear gas – that they could be called on to assist in maintaining security around the election venues.  It seemed that in the area of sins of omission, some places, the security agencies fell a little short in that regard.

Ene said that this was a trend.  There was a reason why human rights activists had advocated for those attached to PUs not to be armed because of some abuses that had been observed in the past, but what should happen was that those who were armed should remain on the periphery.  But it was noticed that the police officers at PUs were not equipped with communications gadgets such as walkie-talkies, nor were those on the periphery equipped either, which they should have so that they could contact those who come under threat.  As a result, once there was any threat of violence, those who were on PU duty would run for their lives.

Ayo asked whether there had been any assurances about this from the Nigeria Police, which had overall responsibility for security, as we face State elections, and Ene said that assurances had been given – citing Lagos as an example of a very hot spot.  She said that although there had been arrests  in some states where people were inciting violence, but that this had not happened in Lagos where threats had been made.  She said that the same standard and measures should be applied everywhere.  Of course the police had given assurances, but at the end of the day, they would have to be held Accountable because civil society wanted there to be an end to impunity.  She said that Nigeria was greater than any individual, and that those who were paid with Nigerian money should be able to stand up for Nigeria.  She said that the blood of anyone who died would be on their heads.  She said that electoral violence was not fair to women in particular, the disregard for value of life.  She said that we pray for peace and urged everyone to go out en masse and vote because the State elections were closer to the people – apart from the Local Government elections.

Ayo concurred, and said that although it had been seen that some voters had to run something of a gauntlet in order to be able to vote, she would nonetheless repeat her plea to all Nigerians who are registered, to go out and vote.  She thanked Ene for being her guest on the programme.

We’d love to know what your experience was, and what you feel about how INEC and the security agencies performed.

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