Kogi, Imo, Bayelsa polls: A major setback for Nigeria’s electoral democracy -CSOs

Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, Situation Room, has described the just concluded governorship elections in Kogi, Imo and Bayelsa states as a major setback for Nigeria’s electoral democracy.

It noted high levels of results falsfication and other forms of electoral irregularities in the governorship elections.

Co-Conveners of Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, Mimidoo Achakpa and Franklin Oloniju, in a report on the polls on Monday, said:

The disturbing reports of high levels of results falsfication and other forms of electoral irregularities in the governorship elections in the three states raise serious questions about the credibility of elections and the future of democracy in Nigeria.

Nigerians had expected that the lessons learnt from the 2023 general elections by stakeholders, particularly the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, would have been taken to improve the conduct of these elections.

Unfortunately, this seems not to be the case, as these elections have proved to be another huge disappointment.

The governorship elections conducted in these states represent a major setback for Nigeria’s electoral democracy.

Imo State

Deployment challenges, delayed commencement of polls
“Situation Room observers reported that voting commenced late in polling units visited Imo State – only 29 per cent of the polling units had commenced voting by the official time of 8:30 am.

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According to reports of Situation Room observers, election officials did not turn up in several polling units in Ideato North and Ideato South LGAs and a few polling units in Orlu, Orsu, Okigwe and Oru East LGAs.

The failure of INEC to turn up disenfranchised voters in the affected areas.

“The situation was relatively different in Bayelsa and Kogi States, where 66 per cent and 86 per cent of the polling units observed commenced voting by the official time of 8:30 am. Voting in Bayelsa State was, however, affected by the incidents of the capsized boat in Southern Ijaw LGA and the abduction of INEC’s Supervisory Presiding Officer assigned to Registration Area 06 (Ossioma) in Sagbama LGA.

Bi-modal Voter’s Accreditation System, BVAS
“The BVAS functioned optimally in most polling units where it was used for accreditation in these states.

However, Situation Room is concerned by reports of over-voting in the three states and INEC’s failure to apply the provisions of the Electoral Act 2022 in addressing the menace last Saturday.

Also, the inability of INEC to synchronize the record of accreditation by the BVAS with the Result Viewing Portal (IReV Portal) in real time despite improved access to internet broadband in Nigeria is questionable.

By permitting the bypass of the BVAS, INEC has effectively rolled back the gains of electoral reform recorded in recent times.

Results management
“The Situation Room received reports of falsification and mutilation of polling unit-level results in the three States.

INEC had acknowledged incidents of pre-filled result sheets before the commencement of polls affecting five LGAs in Kogi State –Adavi, Ajaokuta, Ogori/Mangongo, Okehi and Okene.

Regrettably, INEC has gone ahead to collate results from these LGAs without conducting any thorough investigation and making its findings public. This is condemnable.

“With respect to Imo State, the Situation Room is surprised to see INEC transmit results for polling units where the election was not held in the earlier mentioned LGAs.

In Bayelsa, politicians attempted to exploit INEC’s weaknesses to tamper with results, especially in Brass, Sagbama, Southern Ijaw and Nembe LGAs.

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“These incidents question INEC’s integrity and the willingness and ability of the Commission to conduct credible elections.

To ascertain the depth of the damage, Situation Room is calling on the Commission to release data of accredited voters as recorded on the BVAS and total votes cast on a local government basis in these states.

Voter turnout
“Situation Room finds it hard to ascertain the most probable turnout of voters in these elections as a result of the reported irregularities, especially in Imo and Kogi States.

Election security
“Situation Room’s network of partners reported incidents of violence in Imo, Bayelsa and Kogi States.

In Bayelsa State, an observer of the Situation Room was chased out of the Ward Collation Centre in Ogbia township by personnel of the Nigerian Army, while an observer working with the International Federation of Women Lawyers, FIDA, was attacked and her phone confiscated by a party agent in polling unit 003, Ogboloma Town Square, Ward 11, Kolokuma LGA without any intervention from the security agents present at the polling unit.

“Situation Room partners also reported 19 incidents of violence by noon on election day in the three States.

These incidents of violence were recorded in Anyigba, Dekina LGA of Kogi State, Sagbama and Brass of Bayelsa State and Ikeduru LGA of Imo State.

“It will seem that security agents deployed for election duty, rather than help in securing the process and ensuring its integrity, they opted to collude with politicians and even in some cases, protected the politicians, enabling them to indulge in vote buying and other conducts that compromised the elections in these three states.

Vote trading
“The commercialization of Nigeria’s elections appears to have reached unprecedented heights.

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Political parties and their agents operated openly and with impunity, distributing money in the purchase of votes without any effort from the security agents to contain it.

Sums paid at polling units ranged from N1,000 to N30,000, along with cooked and uncooked food items.

There has to be an effective mechanism to halt politicians weaponizing poverty to win elections in Nigeria.

Conclusion
“Situation Room is deeply disappointed with the conduct of the governorship elections that held in Bayelsa, Imo and Kogi States and worries that the elections fell far below the threshold of credible elections.

These elections represent a major setback in Nigeria’s democratic development. Situation Room calls on INEC to fully review the elections in Kogi and Imo States to identify the incidents of malpractice that took place and reflect the genuine vote of the people.

Situation Room is reiterating its earlier call for an independent audit of election administration in Nigeria and compliance with electoral law by INEC.

Without this, we are worried that not much improvement can be achieved,” the report added.

The Situation Room is made up of CSOs working in support of credible and transparent elections in Nigeria numbering more than seventy.

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