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Anambra Guber: Litmus test for 2023 general elections, says CDD

By Guardian Nigeria
15 November 2021   |   4:10 am
On 6 November voters in Anambra state cast their ballots to elect a new governor. Thousands of citizens voted despite an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty that persisted even after the last-minute announcement of the cancellation...

[FILES] Sorting, counting and declaration of results at PUs code 001-006, Central Primary School, Ward 14, Ubulu Isuizor, Ihiala Local Council, Anambra State…

On 6 November voters in Anambra state cast their ballots to elect a new governor. Thousands of citizens voted despite an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty that persisted even after the last-minute announcement of the cancellation of the sit-at-home order by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) commends the bravery and resilience of those who exercised their democratic right to vote for a candidate of their choice on what was a largely peaceful polling day. However the 2021 off-cycle election recorded the lowest turnout figures since the return to democracy in 1999, with just 10.27% of the nearly 2.5 million registered voters casting a ballot. This is a decline from the figures in the past three governorship elections in the state, which have still been low at 16% in 2010, 24% in 2013, and 22% in 2017.

However the failure to conclude the election due to challenges with deploying materials and personnel in Ihiala LGA came as a disappointment, even if a supplementary election was quickly held on November 9th, 2021 and a final result announced, with a clear and undisputed winner., Charles Soludo who won 19 out of 21 local government and  45 percent of the total vote cast.

Conducting elections in conflict contexts
The Anambra election demonstrated the challenge of conducting elections in situations of high insecurity. The militarisation of what ought to be a civic activity and the fears and uncertainty it generated among voters and even critical election stakeholders, undoubtedly contributed to low voter turnout. The police deployed 14 Commissioners, 31 Deputy Commissioners, 48 Assistant Commissioners, and 34,587 Whilst other sister security agencies and the military also made significant deployments to the state. These come with significant financial implications. As we look ahead to the 2023 general elections, CDD is concerned that if Nigeria’s many conflicts are not resolved, the cost of conducting elections in troubled parts of the country, particularly northwest and southeast Nigeria, where non-state armed groups continue to enhance their capacity to threaten the state security, will place a huge financial burden on the country. But importantly threaten support for democracy.

Democracy without dividends drives apathy
In accounting for the apparent low voter turnout in this election, pundits have identified the threat of IPOB as a major factor. While IPOB’s posturings and actions undoubtedly impacted the turnout rate, CDD’s pre-election engagements with stakeholders in the state found that many Anambrarians question the rationale for voting when doing so has yet to produce desired socio-economic benefits and democratic dividends. This is not peculiar to Anambra. The statistics on federal, gubernatorial, and State House of Assembly election turnout since 2011 suggest a declining voter interest in participating in elections.

Technology remains key
The reported malfunction of the BVAS in some polling units has raised concerns about the reliability of the device. However on the whole the successful deployment of the device across polling units, as reported by our observers, demonstrates its utility. Furthermore following our post-election preliminary report on the challenges with the BVAS, INEC improved the performance of the devices in the supplementary election in Ihiala LGA. According to our observes, the BVAS can prevent voter impersonation, meaning it is an improvement on the previously used smart card reader. Whilst implementation glitches are to be expected in the roll-out of this technology INEC must take measures to enhance the infrastructure behind the technology and ensure adequate training for ad-hoc staff on the efficient use of the device ahead of the 2023 poll.

INEC’s logistics
The widely reported late arrival of INEC personnel/or and polling material at polling units (over 65% of polling units covered by CDD’s observers on 6 November reported either or both) points to the need for the Commission to review its logistics strategy, especially in difficult and conflict prone areas. Reports that some transporters refused to convey the Commission’s staff and voting material to the polling units even after receiving 50% upfront payment is a recurring issue. We also note allegations that some transporters charged more than three times the agreed rates despite signed agreements. In addition, some trained ad-hoc staff refused to turn up on election day because of security threats.

CDD’s observers reported that as of midday, election materials and INEC staff had not arrived in nearly 50% of polling units observed. INEC must review its approach to logistics to improve the delivery of materials and staff. In instances where logistical delays prevent the prompt arrival of INEC’s personnel and materials at a polling unit, it would be best if voters are informed early and reassured, and contingency measures communicated quickly. INEC is also encouraged to revisit her current transportation arrangement, which continues to be a perennial challenge. A new partnership model with private transportation firm may seem expensive but prove more effective in the long run and imbue trust in the commission.

Slow upload of results to IREV
INEC’s Results Viewing (IREV) can improve electoral transparency. However, the pace of transmission of results to the portal during this election was comparatively slower than in previous elections. At 10pm on election day only 63% of results had been uploaded. This is significantly lower than the 70% rate for Ondo state. The slow upload of results generates concerns about whether LGA results may have been compromised, even if they have not been. Our analysis of the uploaded results showed a perfect match between the photos taken by our observers at polling units and what was uploaded to the portal. It is important to note that the submission of results to IREV from the supplementary election in Ihiala LGA showed remarkable improvement. As of 10pm, more than 96% of the results were online. It is important that INEC places increased priority on prompt and complete transmission of results to the platform in subsequent elections to boost public confidence in the process.

Fake news and disinformation
The Anambra election saw the weaponisation of fake news and disinformation to mislead, confuse or frighten the electorate. False information appeared to be targeted at undermining faith in the process, reducing participation, and questioning the credibility of the outcome. On the day before, and day of, the election stories appeared online claiming that the African Action Congress (AAC) candidate, Chidozie Nwankwo had stepped down in support of Valentine Ozigbo, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) candidate. Another narrative which appeared in several different iteration on social media, whatsapp during polling day, and which was fact-check as false by CDD, claimed that the All Progressives Congress (APC) had already determined results in advance in 10 LGAs. These examples demonstrate the need for info-vigilance with respect to elections. In the supplementary election in Ihiala LGA, the online space again saw false stories, this time related to violence and forceful removal of party agents from polling units.

Conduct of electoral stakeholders and vote trading

Despite the fact that the conduct of the election encountered challenges, the election remained peaceful, even during the supplementary election in Ihiala LGA. We note efforts by party representatives to make their grievances known through proper channels, rather than resort to thuggery, which could have escalated tension and possibly, truncated the process. This had a positive impact on the successful conduct of the election.

Our observers reported widespread incidents of vote-buying during the elections, with different strategies, both discrete and not-so-discreet cases of “see-and-buy” recorded across polling units in the state—this practice, which cut across party lines and impugned on the integrity of the elections. However, CDD is happy to report voters’ resilience and commitment.

CDD observers reported several instances where voters, especially women, resisted attempts by party agents to corrupt the electoral process by buying votes. In Enebene town in Awka, North LGA women rejected a bribe of N5,000 from agents of a political party seeking to buy their votes. This display of political awareness punctures the theory that voters lack the moral strength to turn down proposals to buy their votes due to poverty and want. It further shows that the civic education carried out by civil society organisations and other stakeholders can yield results. More public enlightenment on the dangers of vote-buying and how voters can say no to it are required.

• Being excerpt of observations made by the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) on the 2021 Anambra Governorship election