By Centre for Democracy and Development
Several polling units across the country opened later than scheduled. The delay was occasioned by the late arrival of election officials and materials; this caused a lot of anxiety among voters as well as an overlap of procedures in many polling units including those in Abuja. However, the conduct of voters in response to this has been largely peaceful. The turnout and enthusiasm of voters across Nigeria is highly commendable despite concerns that the election will be marred by violence.
Security of the polling environment
The polling environment was reasonably secured with minimal disruption. Members of the Police Force and other security agencies established a noticeable presence within the polling environment with most operating unarmed. The general view of the security presence at polling units was positive. Notwithstanding, there were cases of intimidation and harassment of voters by overzealous security agents and party thugs/supporters. In Sokoto metropolis, voters were prevented by security agents from taking photos and recording the voting processes.
Card reader performance
Following several reports of widespread challenges with card readers, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) directed election officers to manually accredit voters using the voter register. The late deployment of personnel and materials exacerbated the card reader imbroligio. The implication of this is that accreditation ran later than expected. For example, in Kwandila ward in Tarauni Local Government Area (GRA), Kano state, and in some parts of Anthony in Lagos state, accreditation was still ongoing as at 4pm.
Voters’ behaviour and turnout: compliance and irregularity
Feedback from across the country shows that there were long queues of enthusiastic voters. This large turnout can be linked to the success of civic education and the determination of the people to exercise their franchise. In Sokoto, there were problems of crowd control in some of the polling units. The general behaviour of voters was adjudged satisfactory even in the midst of the challenges encountered during the accreditation process. In many polling units in Mbaitoli LGA in Imo state, people remained calm where elections did not take place due to INEC logistical problems. There were cases in Uyo and Rivers states where politicians and their supporters insisted on inspecting the result sheets before accreditation started. This delayed the take-off of accreditation in the affected polling units. Remarkably, across the country, persons with disabilities (PWD), aged and women (pregnant women and mothers) were given special attention.
Quality of voting procedure (timeliness, efficiency, effectiveness etc)
Electoral irregularities were witnessed by field observers in some polling units in Kano and Sokoto states where party supporters were unduly assisting election officials in the polling process. In Lagos, there were severe logistical problems with the delivery of voting materials, particularly ballot boxes. Voting cubicles were not seen in several polling units in Kano, Kaduna and Osun States which means voters were unable to cast their votes in secret. A defining character is the lack of adherence to INEC approved guidelines and regulations for the conduct of 2015 general elections by the election officials. In the observed polling units, the uniformity in the execution of the various stages of the election as outlined in the guideline. However, there was noticeable cooperation among observers, security agents and election officials.
Violence and Conflict
In addition to our earlier report on the detonated bomb explosive in Enugu and the explosions in Akwa, Anambra states, one of our observers in Ebonyi state witnessed the hijacking of a vehicle conveying election officials and materials and the assault on some members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). The incidences occurred in Ijiam-Ekpomata ward, Ikwo LGA of the state. In Rivers state, there were reports of sporadic shootings in Ozuaha community in Ikwerre LGA by thugs who barricaded the road into the town and in the process opened fire on a team of policemen and military police escorting NYSC members to polling units.
The conduct of the 2015 Presidential and National Assembly elections recorded mixed outcomes. While fears in some quarters that Election Day would be marred by serious violence were allayed to a large extent, some instances of technical hitches, non-compliance with electoral regulations and other forms of electoral malfeasance were recorded in some states of the Federation. The INEC’s directive to its field officers to discontinue the use of card readers for the authentication of prospective voters came suddenly in the middle of the accreditation process. It is not impossible that this may have caused confusion among the voters, temporarily disrupting the polling process. The move by INEC to revert to manual accreditation of voters may be justifiable in view of the challenges associated with the card readers. However, it would seem that INEC did not consider the likely implications of its abrupt decision on the overall electoral process. Pockets of violent conflicts reported across the country, some of which may not be election-related, may continue to instill fear among the electorate in the conflict zones notably the North-East, North-Central and the South- South zones. Instances of irregularity recorded in some states can impact upon the integrity of the electoral process. Against this backdrop, it is imperative that all stakeholders, particularly INEC, political parties and security agencies, should note the observations above with the view to improve on their performance in subsequent elections.