IDEAS Radio 26 September 2018

 

Rotimi Sankore: Countdown2019 midweek edition on Nigeria Info 99.3 where we feature all the big and significant issues on the road to the 2019 elections.  Remember, you can follow the programme on Twitter @Countdown2019ng, and myself @RotimiSankore on Twitter. You can send us your tweets at the station handle while we are on air @NigeriaInfoFM

 

With me today, as she will be every Wednesday, Legal Practitioner Ayo Obe, to talk about the IDEAS programme: Integrity, Democracy, Ethics and Accountability.  Welcome Ayo.

 

Ayo Obe: Hello Rotimi

 

RS: Ok. So! Our big focus to day on the IDEAS segment of the programme as well as the bigger Countdown is Osun elections, and first on the line will be Clement Nwankwo, also a Legal Practitioner and coordinator of the civil society Situation Room.  Clement will be joining us shortly.

 

AO: Rotimi, you will remember that last week I said that on the IDEAS programme we’re not just going to be just talking about theoretical things, but we are going to try and be topical, because as you said, things are happening in the electoral process in Nigeria, and the thing, the theme of the moment is what is happening in Osun State.  

So I’m very happy to have as a guest on the programme, Clement Nwankwo Esq.  He’s the Executive Director of the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC) and he’s also the convener of Nigeria’s civil society Situation Room, and they’ve been monitoring the whole electoral process in Osun State.  So Clement, welcome to IDEAS!

 

RS: I don’t think we have him yet. … Ok, we don’t have Clement yet, he’ll be joining us as soon as we can sort out the technical problems.

But what we want to discuss with Clement is the extent to which corruption issues, or the perception of same has played a part in the decisions made by voters in the Osun State elections.  There’s been all the talk about vote buying, vote selling, vote inducement by the government policies, e.g. the TraderMoni. And I remember that last week a lot of listeners complained that the TraderMoni, even if it is a legitimate policy, which it is, should have been held off in Osun State.

 

AO: Yes, I think that as I said, for the IDEAS programme there are two aspects to it.  One is that when voters are deciding how they want to vote, are they thinking about issues relating to Integrity, Accountability in the context of corruption, because I would say that the question of how money has been spent in a state, particularly a state which has gotten a little bit of a reputation for not paying salaries, is a very live issue, whether these Accountability issues were features in what made people decide how they wanted to vote.  And then there’s also the question of the integrity of the electoral process itself, and that’s where issues related to vote buying and so on, things like that, come in.

 

Now of course there was a lot of scepticism about the decision by INEC …

 

RS: I think we have Clement now

 

AO: Ok, Clement, can I say welcome to the IDEAS programme again.

 

CN: Thank you Ayo.

 

RS: Hello Clement, thank you for joining us, this is Rotimi.

 

CN: Rotimi Hi, how are you doing?

 

RS: Fine thank you.  And well done on your fantastic work in Osun.

 

CN: Thank you for the compliment, I appreciate it.

 

AO: So what we really wanted to, we don’t have a lot of time on this IDEAS segment, so I’m going to cut straight to the chase Clement, and that is in connection …  There are two aspects to the Integrity, Accountability, Democracy and Ethics issues in Osun State, and the first is that: Were voters really concerned about those issues and corruption when they were deciding who they were going to vote for, or was it just: This is our man from our town or whatever.  Was it Identity, or was it Integrity?

 

CN: I think the people who were voting in Ekiti, were not particularly looking at the issues.  We tried to find how many of the candidates had manifestos …

 

AO: Clement, I hope you meant Osun State?

 

CN: Sorry, I meant Osun …

 

RS: It’s been a long week

 

CN: We tried to find out how many of the candidates even had manifestos for the election, and it was difficult to see their manifestos.  I think a lot of voters who were voting for various reasons. One, because they expected some … Two, because they have an identification with a  particular candidate, either for family reasons, or affinity in terms of geography of origin of the candidate, or indeed party affiliation. Certainly I think that issues of competence of the candidates, integrity, or even issues of anti-corruption were not the prime reasons people were voting in Osun State.

 

AO: Well, we are going to have to work to at least raise the profile of those issues and bring them up the agenda!  But you did mention the question of vote buying, and that goes to the other aspect of whether the electoral process itself is free of corruption, because as we remember the Independent National Electoral Commission had come out with the instruction that there were not to be allowed cameras or mobile phones inside the voting booth, and many people felt that oh, this was meaningless, that how were they going to monitor?  But it seems as though, though parties were still trying to pay money, in a way we are kind of urging the voters to be a little bit devious and take the money because nobody can check what happens in the privacy of the voting booth if you’re not allowed to take pictures of what you did. To what extent was that featuring in the election, do you think?

 

CN: I think that now you mention vote buying that that … there were failures, candidates and supporters who paid voters in the hope that those voters would vote for them I think it was a little bit more difficult to be able to have people provide evidence that they actually voted for those people who paid them money.

But that still didn’t stop candidates from paying in the hope that the voters would encourage them after collecting money to vote for them.  I think the issue of vote buying is a major issue in the electoral system, and also the issue of electoral officials acting corruptly …

 

AO: Yes, that was the other aspect of it

 

CN: … acting corruptly the issue of vote buying  is a major issue in our electoral system and we have to work to bring this to an end, either by advocacy or by better law enforcement and bringing people to account. …

 

AO: But Clement, because everything is being done in the open, how easy is it for election officials or INEC officials to actually corrupt the voting process?

 

CN: I think a couple of things could happen.  One is guiding voters in terms of how they vote, where the officials are placed.  What to do with ballot papers, unused ballot papers at the end of voting is always a problem, because where the agents of parties are not vigilant, they could be thumb-printed for a favoured political party.   Collating election results, and we did see that in Osun State where an official of INEC claimed that he was paid an incentive to destroy results sheets for a particular polling station. All of these play out in different ways.  Even tabulating the results, they can add an extra zero for a particular candidate or remove a zero from an unfavoured candidate, so all of these are ways in which corruption of the electoral process manifests in which electoral officials and also voters act out where they have received inducement for voting …

 

AO: So to what extent then do things like having the results posted by INEC at its headquarters count, or is it really down to any party that doesn’t want to be cheated making sure that it has an agent at each polling station, and how …

 

CN: I think that’s it.  I think that any candidate who is serious about running in the election has to have trusted and well-trained agents.  Poll agents should be at the polling unit. Even before polling day, on the eve of polling, accompanying voting materials, what they call sensitive voting materials at the location, watching and seeing the distribution of those materials.  But also on polling day having those agents monitor the voting process, monitor the turnout and how voters conduct themselves and be there when the polls are closed and ballot papers are being counted and the parties and results being computed.

Follow it up by … collation at the collation centre …

 

AO: I guess lastly Clement, the Situation Room of course had its election monitors (or are you still obliged to call them election ‘observers’), you had people out, monitoring the process.  How do you think that the civil society role works to enhance Integrity or Accountability in the electoral process?

 

CN: I think election observers, local or Nigerian observers and international observers are very critical players in the process.  Their presence, especially when they are unbiased observers, their presence can act as a check on abuse of the process by election officials, candidates, security officials and so on.  I think that there is a need for increased numbers of observers. There is a need for observers to be well trained to help know as to what they should look out for, and where there are …

 

I do not think that electoral observers fill the gap of polling agents.  … Parties must know that they need to train polling agents who are trusted to represent them, rather than rely on observers.

 

RS: Clement, I have a question regarding the inconclusive elections as declared by INEC.  Is there any intersection with corruption of any kind. Did Situation Room observers see anything that would suggest that corruption intersected with the voting process that led to the cancellation of votes in all those seven centres?

 

CN: I think it is something I have to be very careful about.  In the Situation Room we know that INEC has something called the ‘e-collation platform’ which enables it to receive results from polling units directly, even before collation is concluded at the registration area and the ward level, which means that INEC, using that electronic collation platform, can forecast or even see the actual tabulation well ahead of collation at the different centres.  We in civil society have advocated for this platform to be made open to its own observation by observers and even representatives of political parties at the INEC headquarters where this platform is located, and we are going to keep making that demand because we think it will enhance the transparency of the electoral process. The concern here is for those who are observing the platform not to see the pattern of voting and then interfere …

so for us it’s a major issue because as I said, we know that INEC means well with this platform, but we want to have civil society observers and even agents of political parties in the room where this platform is located so that we can see what is coming in just as INEC does, and help to confirm with INEC in order to build the integrity; that this platform is helping to facilitate credible elections.

 

RS: Thanks, Clement.  Now, the specific, there was a specific INEC official that we all saw on television, and I’m sure you saw him too, that was arrested, and he claimed that one of his superiors asked him to substitute a sheet that had results.  Is that the one that INEC has issued a clarification about, saying that there was an error on that sheet and that is what he was asked to correct?

 

CN: Well, an INEC official should not be correcting a result sheet.  If there is a correction to be made, it should be made in the presence of the agents of parties and observers where that particular location, and that’s the point we made: that once it gets to the point where a single INEC official is correcting a document, then it’s a suspect situation, and those are situations that INEC needs to avoid.  Providing an explanation for this by INEC after the fact, never really helps to clarify the integrity of the process. So these explanations will be doubted by those who think that it’s an attempt to rig the election, and INEC really will have a hard time, even if it is stating what is correct, it will have a hard time convincing anybody that its explanation should be accepted.

 

AO: So the essence is really that you have to have your agent, and that if INEC does things …

 

RS: Well trained and vigilant agents, and everything Clement has said

 

AO: And if INEC does something behind the back of those agents, it’s just as good as, you’re hearing, that you’re a lawyer, your opposite lawyer went to see the judge in chambers; no matter how innocent the visit, nobody’s going to be happy with that.  So em …

 

CN: Exactly.  And then also, you must provide the results sheets to party agents …

 

AO: And they have to sign it.

 

CN: If that has been destroyed …  If a party is contending that a particular document … by INEC has been destroyed, that party should also have its own copy of it to provide it with a response …   to what it … simply saying that INEC has destroyed … Your agent should have that document and it should provide an alternative response to what you think INEC has doctored.

 

RS: Thanks so much Clement, very grateful!  Can we speak with you again on Friday regarding the outcome of the elections?

 

CN: Rotimi, you know I’m always …

 

AO: I know you have so much on your plate preparing for tomorrow, so I want to thank you so much for joining us this afternoon or this evening, and livening up the drive home for the Lagos commuters and environs as they say.  Thanks so much.

 

RS: Thank you again.  Thank you so much. That’s Clement Nwankwo, Executive Director of PLAC, the Policy Legislative Advocacy Centre, and coordinator of the civil society …  the convener of the civil society Situation Room.

 

Ayo, what did you make of his clarifications about the INEC official that was reported to have been trying to correct …

 

AO: What I made of it, was … you see, having done election litigation before, I know that every party agent is given a copy of the results sheet and they all sign each other’s ….  So there could be … if there are 40 parties observing, the INEC official has to prepare 40 sheets for each of them, and also for the police, the security official who is present, and then they have to have their own, so there could be as many as 50 that they are signing, but they all have to sign that sheet, and that then becomes primary evidence of what happened as a result of the voting.  So anybody who signs it, must have been, as they were counting the votes, must have been knowing what was being counted.

And so, what I’m not quite clear about is whether what each party was given, in transcribing it to the large sheet that was pasted, which is not something that has to be signed by the agents …

 

RS: And why the INEC official could decide to take it down?

 

AO: What I’m saying is that it may be that he realised that he had written wrongly what was correctly written on the sheets signed by everybody.

Now if that’s the case, then it’s a different matter from his saying that the sheet that you have in your possession, that was given to each agent, I’m cancelling that.  And as Clement observed, if that is what was being cancelled, then each party agent would be able to say “No no no no no, here is the one that we all signed, and we all signed it because when they were counting, we noted what was being counted.  And so, when we now came to sign, we didn’t just look at it and say this is a meaningless thing, we signed it because it tallied with what we saw counted.”

 

I mean, I think it’s important for us to remember that the process of voting, everything is done in the open, except the casting of ballots, and that of course is why the voter can do what he likes, or she likes, no matter how much they have been paid, or promised.  Although I remember in one election in Liberia, the story was that there is a satellite in the sky that could see down into the voting booth and see what people signed, so there are all sorts of ways of still trying to intimidate voters into delivering as paid, but for most of them, civil society’s job is always to encourage them, to say: In this regard we urge you to be dishonest if you have to be.

 

RS: Lastly, Clement flagged something which many people don’t know about, which is that INEC has the capacity on its e-monitoring platform, to see which direction the votes are going in, before the public does.  And he is saying that the Situation Room and other observers are pushing to have access to that room so that everyone can see the votes as they are being tallied, the hypothetical danger being that if the electoral umpire is corruptible, that they could see the trend and intervene.  Do you think that’s a big danger?

 

AO: It is a danger to some extent, but you see in other countries, when polling closes, the votes start being tallied, and as soon as – you know – votes from precinct whatever …

 

RS: Everybody knows!

 

AO: … Everybody knows.  So I think that if that is a concern, the civil society and the parties could volunteer to have people who are going to go in …

 

RS: … on behalf …

 

AO: … because really, what they are going in there at that stage to do, is to observe how it is going.  

 

RS: How the collation is going …

 

AO: … and they can put aside their … they can agree that they will go in, they will be incommunicado while that process is ongoing …

 

RS: So that they won’t be sending messages out saying …

 

AO: … so that they won’t be sending messages out that “You’d better go and shore up …” and so on and so forth.  But I think that, from my perspective, I think that the transparency of the process will be a lot, will be greatly enhanced.  Because let’s not forget that this is just one election in one state. Come next year, we’re going to be having five elections in 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, so INEC really needs to up its game.

 

RS: Ok.  Thank you so much, Ayo Obe.