Politicians made 2019 elections worse than 2015
Faith Nwandishi, Executive Director of Centre for Transparency Advocacy (CTA), whose organisation played a leading role in the recent polls, said Nigerian elections are not providing any good lessons and the political class is to blame. She spoke to IGHO AKEREGHA and SODIQ OMOLAOYE in Abuja on how the electoral process was compromised by different stakeholders and security agencies during last Saturday’s Presidential and National Assembly Elections.
What are your observations during last Saturday’s elections?
The results have been announced, but we are not happy with the process, in terms of the role of the political class and the security agencies. The Electoral Act did not create any room for the armed forces, apart from the Police and sister agencies. We received reports from states where even the Police were conniving with some governors to sabotage the process. We saw the role of the political class also taking us back to the days where election was more like a war. We have video clips of people thumb-printing the ballots, and this couldn’t be possible without the backing of the political class.
If they (political class) had not mobilised the thugs, there is no way the thugs would have done that. We saw what happened at Okota and Isolo in Lagos, where voting had been concluded and some people came and set the ballot boxes on fire. Also, vote-buying were done by the political class. Perhaps, we have gone back to those days where people would not want to come out to vote because they would feel their votes would not count.
Unfortunately, the gains we have made from the off-season elections in Ondo, Anambra, Ekiti and Osun states were subverted by the roles the political class and security agents played.Another thing that was of interest is the enthusiasm of the citizens. People came out even though voting didn’t start on time. We have report that showed that the reason voting didn’t start on time was because the security agencies did not deploy their personnel to protect the movement of election materials from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to the local governments. It shows that there was clear sabotage somewhere.
You know that when the election was postponed, the INEC chairman gave us specific guidelines and date when things were to happen. By Wednesday, there was supposed to be deployment of security forces, but some states didn’t start deployment by Wednesday because security personnel were not ready. If they had started by Wednesday, they would have fully set up the racks. For instance, I went to one of the racks area in Gwagwalada area of the FCT and found that by 8:00am, the ad-hoc staff were not ready to move because they didn’t have security. We went around looking for the security men in-charge before they finally assigned some security agents to them.
We also saw that even within the INEC staff, there were some that were compromised, as some were hoarding materials. We saw cases whereby returning officers were held at gunpoint and made to announce certain results under duress. In fact, throughout the period where the returning officer in a state was held under duress to announce results, text messages were sent to the security architecture and there was nobody to rescue him.
People worked under serious pressure such that at the end, you begin to wonder why politicians use every means to get to power. They don’t care that lives are being lost. Our observers reported that there were shootings in collation centres and in fact, a sister observer group recorded a casualty where one of the observers was shot on the arm. Our election is not improving because politicians are desperate and it shouldn’t be so.
There was absolutely no need for the violence. Nigerians already knew who they wanted to vote for. If you look at the margins, you see that there are areas with tiny margins and some with large. And if you look at the area with little margins, there were no violence. I keep saying that until our political class decides to be responsible when it comes to the issue of election, we will continue to have this kind of stories and continue to spend more on the elections.
Another aspect is the use of technology. The INEC said it will use technology, but we all saw how they were transmitting results manually. There is more to be done. Many people were angry because the process went that way. Politicians should not put the lives of the people at stake because of the their ambitions.
How can Nigeria get out of this?
I want to situate it at the doorsteps of those in governance. We have made progress. The level of desperation politicians put in this year is not like that in 2015. It is because of the progress we have made in the electoral process. The politicians knew that from the off seasons elections we have had, people’s votes were counting and the only way to thwart that effort was to unleash this level of violence that we had. If only politicians had acknowledged that progress and help to build on that, it wouldn’t have been like this.
We need to understand the roles of the stakeholders in this process. In building our democracy, I will always score the citizens high. However, I will score both politicians and security agents low, because they did not help us build on the progress. We need to have a law that prescribes severe penalty for those who go against the law, irrespective of who they are. We need to follow regulations of the Electoral Act.
Also, we should make use of the card reader compulsory. In many places, presiding officers (PO) and voters decided not to use the card reader. Some of the POs were arrested. If the President had signed the amended Electoral Act, we would not have had this problem, because it prescribed that without card reader authentication, no one will be allowed to vote.
What is the implication of this on next week’s governorship election?
What happened is that when the election was postponed last week, we thought voters won’t turn out, but I was amazed with what I saw. I think looking at what has happened, Nigerians may want to come out more and vote.So, two things may happen- there might be apathy or people might be more determined to come out. Also, you know most of the desperate politicians we have are at the state level, so I hope that during the governorship election, they won’t come out to unleash violence on the people.
Another point is there will be shortage of security personnel, because the elections are holding in all parts of the country. We heard that during this election, some governors were training their own security and giving them uniform. Those who lost out in the presidential and National Assembly election, I am afraid, may go back and re-strategise, thereby causing violence in the process.
Do you think this election has unified Nigerians?
Unfortunately, some of the reports we got from the field, especially in Lagos, were that some persons’ properties were set ablaze. There was a tout who snatched a ballot box and was lynched and is currently in the hospital receiving the best type of treatment. He has not been arrested.
The election in some aspects brought out what we were trying to bury. The president should initiate discussion on the issues that unify the country. We should look at ways where we can start using the election more as a unifying factor.
Do you think Nigeria has committed to the spirit of the electoral laws?
I wouldn’t say 100 or even 70 per cent. We are still struggling with that, because in some areas, we saw people who are ready to follow the law and in others, people disregarded it. We have so many laws in Nigeria, but are never implemented.For instance, what stopped the Returning Officer who said he announced results under duress from being provided adequate security so he can name those involved, so that they could be prosecuted? Not until the authorities prosecute high-level politicians for electoral infractions, people would not take the electoral laws seriously.
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