IDEAs Episode 124 Paul James of YIAGA on the State Elections

IDEAs 24th March 2023 …

Paul James of YIAGA on the State Elections

Chukwudi Ezugwu introduced today’s guest, Paul James, the Manager of YIAGA Africa’s Elections Programme, who would be discussing last Saturday’s State elections, and looking at the Integrity and Ethics of the electoral umpire, and the lessons to be carried forward.

Ayo Obe started by asking Paul to review the National and the State elections, and say what he saw as improvements, and what he thought had gone worse.

Paul said that as to election administration, it was felt that the Independent National Electoral Commission had not managed its communications well, and had also failed on logistics in the February 25th elections, but that for the elections of March 18th the Commission had tried to redeem itself.  The improvement in logistics was outstanding, and INEC had been able to deliver materials across the states in good time so that the polls were able to commence early.  This was in sharp contrast to what obtained on February 25th.  By 7.30 am, 47-50% of polling units had at least one INEC officer on ground, and by 9.30 am, polling had commenced at all the PUs that YIAGA observers visited.

It was observed that the use of the technology had also improved, as the observers saw BVAS used for the accreditation of voters at all the PUs visited, and at the end of the election, the results were uploaded using the BVAS.  This was again in sharp contrast to the Presidential election results.  As from 4 pm most of the PUs had uploaded their results.  He said that those were the substantial improvements observed.

Before going on to those areas where things had been worse, Ayo asked Paul to describe how YIAGA had deployed, how many observers did it have, and did it work alone or with other groups?

Paul said that on 25th February YIAGA had conducted a Parallel Vote Tabulation, so it had deployed observers to 1,500 randomly selected PUs across all the 774 LGAs in the country, as well as roving observers.  For those National elections, YIAGA had deployed 3,863 observers nationwide,.  For the State elections, YIAGA deployed 1,473 observers to the 28 states which were having gubernatorial elections.

Ayo remarked that though some states were not having governorship elections, all of the states were having State House of Assembly elections – were these not observed?

Paul said that because YIAGA has a nationwide structure, it was able to deploy observers even in the states that were not having gubernatorial elections, even though it had not initially planned to do so.  This had been possible because the coordinators in those states activated the observers in their states, so for example, Kogi, Osun and Ekiti had all submitted reports on the conduct of the polls.

YIAGA had done a PVT in three states, Benue, Delta and Kano: these had been chosen for different reasons, including the expectation that the elections in those states would be high stakes.

Ayo then asked about areas where things were not as good as the National elections or were perhaps even worse.  Paul spoke about election violence, voter suppression, executive rascality and impunity, and ethnic profiling that prevented Nigerians from exercising their franchise.  He disagreed with those who spoke of voter apathy because voters did want to go out to vote, but some bad elements in society had tried to suppress them.  He said that though the Commission had tried to improve on its performance, some politicians prevented voters from enjoying the benefit of that improvement.  Some desperate politicians had even gone back to the bad old ways of vote buying, not necessarily with money but with alcoholic drinks and packets of spaghetti, which he considered extremely annoying.

Ayo noted that these were areas where it was not necessarily INEC that was at fault, but asked whether there shouldn’t have been some intervention from the security agencies to deal with such activities as attempts to prevent people from being able to vote (whether on the basis of ethnic profiling or on the basis of the area where one wanted to vote) or vote buying.  She recalled that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had been on ground during the National elections, and said that although distribution of spaghetti and alcoholic drinks might not constitute ‘financial’ crimes, they could be electoral offences if they were being given for the purpose of inducing people to vote in a certain way.  She asked whether there had been any improvement in the law enforcement aspect of the election?

Paul said that aside from all of these things that had happened, some inconsistency in the application of the guidelines had been observed.  In some instances party agents asked for review and the Commission reviewed, but in other cases they asked for review and no review was done but the results were announced anyway.  He gave the example of Enugu: before the announcement was made there was a request for a review which the Commission agreed to and suspended the collation process while that was done.  In Kaduna ?? Local Government when collation was happening, the party agents raised concerns and the Returning Officer asked them to go and reconcile the paper results sheets with the online results, before continuing with the collation.  He said that this had been done by the Commission in past elections where online results had been relied on in making the final collation.

Ayo noted that the Regulations stipulate that where the manually collated results were not available, the Returning Officer could turn to the electronically transmitted results on the IReV portal, and if that was not available, the ones given to the police or the security agencies could be used, and if those were not available, the ones given to the political party agents because they were all – apart from the IReV one – primary evidence of each other.

Paul explained that the issue had been problems reconciling the paper results sheets with the online one uploaded, and the Returning Officer had asked them to reconcile.

He went on to say that the biggest challenge was that the Commission is vested with a lot of discretionary power, but had been inconsistent in the exercise of that power: in one place the agents would ask for review, and it would be done, in others no review would be done, and the results would be announced with advice that those who were dissatisfied should go to court.  He said that there would need to be a review of some of these powers and how they were applied.

Ayo suggested that there should be clearer guidelines.  She asked whether Paul thought we were on the right track with our attempts at electoral reform which had been on since 2007 when the election was so bad that the Uwais Panel on electoral reform had been set up.  Should we continue but improve, or do we need to go back to the drawing board and start again?

Paul said that the issue was the political will to implement and see through some of the reforms.  In his view, what was needed was a post-Election Audit of all the issues raised by the elections, looking at the different themes, logistics, technology, communication by INEC and so on, because those were the major areas. 

Paul felt that another issue that needed to be tackled was the actual independence of the Commission, because some of the appointments into INEC, including even some of the National Commissioners, were problematic.  There were people with partisan inclinations – and it had been seen how that played out – and there were also some who were inexperienced or unwilling to do the work, he revealed that some of them had never showed up during the elections.  He said that this meant that the Commission was under a lot of pressure and faced shortage of manpower at higher levels.  It may be that this was why the communications of the Commission had been so poor – it needed to be more proactive and less reactive in its relations with the public.

At this, time ran out and Ayo thanked Paul for joining the programme and signed off.

As usual, we look forward to your input if you’d like to join the conversation and give your own ideas on what improvements you want to see in future elections.

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