IDEAs Episode 134 IDEAs Radio One Year after the vote: IDEAs in the Electoral Process .

IDEAs 2nd February 2024

One Year after the vote: IDEAs in the ELECTORAL PROCESS

Ayo Obe said that Elections are a key part of Nigeria’s Democracy.  Although they are not the only part, where there is dissatisfaction with elections and the electoral process, that dissatisfaction spreads throughout the polity.  Ayo said that she was not quite old enough to remember the elections of the 1950s and 1960s and so could not speak for the entirety of Nigeria’s history, but if we consider the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Republics, in her view the 2023 elections were the most divisive our country has held.

She accepted that it is difficult for someone who contested an election to accept that they had lost – that was why we had seen so much election-related litigation, not just before elections, but also after, challenging the results.  But what about the electoral process itself?  Are our concerns justified? 

Ayo introduced Samson Itodo, the Executive Director of YIAGA Africa, a non-governmental organisation that has been directly involved in monitoring elections and enlightening the public on the various issues that have arisen, and asked him about the Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT) exercise that YIAGA had run during the elections.

Samson explained that PVT was a process that covered more than just the results.  He said that because YIAGA deployed observers to a random sample polling units (PUs), it was able to make a determination as to the credibility of the process, and this included everything from the set up at the PU, availability of materials, accreditation of voters, and the voting and the results.  Because of its observation and the data that it collected, YIAGA was also able to make a determination as to whether the results declared by INEC were indeed a reflection of the votes cast at any given PU.

He said that for the Presidential election, the results declared by INEC were consistent with the PVT data in 34 states, but that this was not the case in Imo and Rivers State.  In those states the PVT detected that the results were manipulated, with the results for one candidate were taken from one candidate and allotted to another candidate.  The results from those two states were therefore questionable. 

With regard to the process, YIAGA had observed that there was manual voting – that is, voting without accreditation by BVAS.  Also – although they could not assess or quantify the extent – there were also cases of voter suppression, where people couldn’t access the PUs because they were prevented from doing so.  He said that in most PUs where the BVAS was used, it functioned optimally for accreditation of voters, but that had to be distinguished from the transmission or uploading of results to the INEC Results Viewing Portal.

Referring to the finding of YIAGA that the INEC-declared results from Imo and Rivers States were at variance with the PVT  data, Ayo said that if one observed the political scene, one might have an idea why there was manipulation, because in Imo State the Governor was anxious to prove that the result that made him Governor was true, while in Rivers State, the outgoing Governor wanted to show that he had clout in his party.  However, she said, people were suspicious of a lot of the other results – for example where 99% of the vote went one way – and she wondered whether some of our suspicions and accusations were driven more by emotion and our own political preferences, than the actuality.

Samson said that such reactions were not surprising because there is a lot of emotion and sentiment bound up in elections, and people so much desire that their chosen candidate should win, that sometimes, perception is reality.

Ayo said that perception was certainly as important as the reality, but Samson said that sometimes, when one looks at the data and the figures, perception is in fact not reality.  This is why it is important that we don’t reduce the credibility of elections to just the figures.  We have to look at the process, because if the process is compromised – and substantially compromised – then the outcome will be questionable.  But if the process is credible, it will deliver credible outcomes.  So both the process and the outcome must be credible, but we tend to focus only on the final result, whereas the integrity of the process is critical.  We must always ask: Was the process that produced the outcome credible?

Ayo said that one issue that made many people question the Integrity of the national elections and the presidential election in particular, was the failure of INEC to upload results transmitted by the BVAS device to the IReV portal, or – where they were transmitted – the results sheets were illegible.  Did INEC behave with Integrity when, having promised Nigerians that they would be able to view the results, it gave a series of what to many people seemed very unconvincing excuses for the failure to upload the presidential results, particularly when it had been able to upload the results for the national assembly elections?  Was the way INEC brushed off complaints about the BVAS/IReV failure Ethical?  Did it behave with Integrity in this matter?  Has anybody in INEC been held Accountable for the BVAS/IReV failure?

Samson said that INEC is yet to explain to Nigerians what really happened – apart from talking about a technical ‘glitch’ in a statement that it issued a day after the election.  He said that Nigerians have a right to be disappointed and to question INEC’s transparency and Integrity because this wasn’t the assurance that INEC gave prior to the election.  This is why it is hoped that when the Commission publishes its final report on the elections and the post-election review, one key expectation of the public is the explanation of what happened.  Was it a human error, was it internal sabotage, and whatever the cause was, has anyone been held to Account?  Samson stressed that INEC needs to communicate the truth about this to the public.  It was critical to the ongoing electoral reform process because Nigerians are clamouring for the electronic transmission of results, but if the National Assembly is going to adopt this, the Commission has a vital role to play in explaining what went wrong last year, because the transmission of results to the IReV was something in which so many people believed, that it was going to be a game-changer.

Ayo said that like many voters, she had not been satisfied with INEC’s vague talk about cyber-attacks, and noted that one result of this failure was that the interest of voters in turning out for elections had been dampened.  She asked whether – since YIAGA has continued to observe the off-cycle and by-elections – there had been any improvement in INEC’s conduct of elections after last year’s general elections?  Has YIAGA observed whether INEC has taken any of the lessons that ought to have been learned to heart?

Samson said that it was a mixed bag.  During the off-cycle elections in Kogi and Bayelsa, when YIAGA Africa exposed that some results sheets had been pre-filled before accreditation and voting, the Commission reacted promptly.  Ayo agreed that INEC had reacted promptly to fish out what was bad, but she wondered whether it had gone further, and actually brought those responsible to book?  Samson replied that so far INEC had not given any update about those NYSC polling officers who had been caught with money or who had pre-filled the results sheets.  He hoped that the investigation that INEC promised was on, because YIAGA would be asking INEC for updates about those individuals who were found wanting and INEC should be able to give Nigerians that information.

In closing, Ayo asked Samson what he felt that INEC needs to work on, particularly to improve the Integrity of our elections and to make people feel that it was still worth coming out to vote?

Samson said that the main thing INEC could do was live up to its commitments, be consistent in the decisions and choices that it makes, and be open with Nigerians about its challenges.

Ayo thanked Samson and closed by stressing that there is a lot more to the Integrity of the electoral process than just the result declared, and that if we want people to come out and vote, then INEC has to improve its performance across the board.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *