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Presidential, NASS Polls: Catalogue of logistical nightmare

By Kelvin Ebiri (Port Harcourt), Lawrence Njoku (Enugu), Murtala Adewale, (Kano) Charles Akpeji (Jalingo), Collins Osuji (Owerri), Gordi Udeajah (Umuahia) and Julius Osahon (Yenagoa)
03 March 2019   |   3:43 am
Rivers State apart from being plagued by a rash of election-related violence and irregularities also experienced a logistics nightmare in the last presidential and National Assembly polls. On the eve of the elections, most roads were devoid of vehicular movements and the only places, where there was high concentration of vehicles were the various INEC…

INEC Ad hoc staffs

Rivers State apart from being plagued by a rash of election-related violence and irregularities also experienced a logistics nightmare in the last presidential and National Assembly polls.

On the eve of the elections, most roads were devoid of vehicular movements and the only places, where there was high concentration of vehicles were the various INEC Registration Area Centres (RAC) in Port Harcourt and Obio-Akpor local councils.

Buses that were chartered INEC spent the night at the RACs in order to enable the drivers commence distribution of election materials early.

But to the shock of many, most wards and polling units in these two local councils did not get election materials till about 9:30am and voting did not start in some places till after 10:30am.

For instance, at Ward 4 Unit 5, 8, 9 Borokiri where several persons had turned out to vote as early as 8am, INEC staff, their ad hoc colleagues and materials were not on ground in till about 10am.

In Ward 17 units 1 to 6 situated at Community Primary School, Biara in Gokana Local Council, materials arrived before 8am, but actual accreditation and voting didn’t start till about 9:30am.

The situation in Okrika was even more disturbing. Election materials and electoral personnel started leaving the RAC located at the council secretariat at about 10am due to the crisis that ensued earlier in the day, following the diversion of all sensitive materials for Ward 6, 7, 8 and 9.

A project manager, Mr. Ross George, told The Guardian that INEC’s logistical arrangement was a complete nightmare, which merely exposed its unpreparedness for the elections.

He noted that the electoral umpire has continued to wallow in logistical challenges because the planning is largely done by INEC Headquarters in Abuja.

According to him, all logistic arrangements for planning an elaborate event as national election should not come from INEC in Abuja, but should be done by INEC at the states’ level.

This he said is because logistics in any project that is designed to work is usually planned from the bottom, and not at the top because at the top you don’t understand the dynamics and critical issues at the bottom.

“I rate INEC in Rivers State very poorly because there were lot of lapses in the presidential and National Assembly election. As I walked to my polling unit in the Old GRA part of Port Harcourt, INEC staff were still driving around in buses trying to locate the polling units, where they were assigned to. INEC does not do a dry run, it is important that we learn how to do dry run. A polling officer cannot be going to a community for the first time the day he is carrying election materials.

“In military strategy, reconnaissance means that you don’t go into an unknown territory the first time. You first send your men to go survey the place. If there is an emergency, who do we talk to? So, reconnaissance is very important.”

“Security is part of logistic. What I noticed was that INEC did not have the strategy to ensure that its materials were safe. We had military officers who had no business in the process interfering with the process. In Bonny, they could not vote because people suspected that the result sheets were fake. There is no reason why INEC should not have one helicopter per state on election day. They get so much money and they don’t use it. The logistic was poor. How do you explain that because of result sheet election could not hold in Bonny?”

Similarly, the convener of “End the Soot,” Eugene Abels, said it was regrettable that at a time when most islands and riverine towns in Rivers State such as Okrika, Buguma, Degema, Abonnema were now accessible by road, INEC could still not deliver to these places on time.

“In my polling unit- Ward 4 Port Harcourt, Pabod Primary School, when materials eventually arrived, women noticed that the ballot papers were incomplete, and I immediately raised the alarm because there were shortages in the booklets. Some had 35 leaves, others 70, 80 and so on, and this happened in all the six units there. When we demanded to see the supervisory presiding officer, the NYSC members were instead trying to convince us to vote first and complain later. They kept on appealing to us that the issues would be resolved, but we said no because these were security documents and once tampered with they are tainted.

“What is difficult in moving things from Point A to Point B, especially in the light of the fact that INEC hired the vehicles and the vehicles spent the night at the RAC’s. For such an important election, if everybody had resumed by 5am or 6am, by 7am everybody would have been on their way back to their various destinations. With cars off the street on that day, it was easy to access anywhere in Port Harcourt in less than 30 minutes,” he added.

DESPITE assurances from the Enugu State Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Dr. Emeka Ononamadu ahead of the recently held NASS and presidential election, several logistical challenges ensured that the polls did not go as seamless as envisaged.

In fact, the exercise in the state was characterised by inadequate personnel, late arrival of men/materials to various polling units, rampant failure of smartcard readers, which led to difficulty in accreditation/voting in many polling units.

One thing that contributed immensely to late voting in some places was the insistence by INEC to use the smartcard readers to accredit eligible voters, even when the devices where either malfunctioning, or suffering network glitches.

At the UNEC polling unit, several voters were stranded due to malfunctioning card readers. When they were eventually put in order, some registered voters had returned home and did not bother to come out again to continue with the process.

At Obiagu polling unit, voting did not commence until afternoon because INEC officials that bore sensitive electoral materials did not arrive on time.

In Eke Otu, Enugu South, electoral officials were overwhelmed by eligible voters, and the shortage of personnel there did not help matters as a lot of time was spent before things finally got underway.

In fact, but for the resilience, and enthusiasm, which the voters displayed, many of them would have also gone home frustrated.

At Ugbodogwu, by 11am voting had not started because INEC officials posted to the area were nowhere to be found, despite the exercise being slated to end by at 2pm, before the time was eventually extended. When the officials eventually surfaced, they claimed they were delayed by logistics, including sorting out their transportation.

At Opiuno in Nsukka, seven commercial motorcycles arrived polling units in the area bearing several INEC officials and electoral materials and officials at 9.45am.

It was reliably learnt that the officials resorted to that mode of transportation as a last resort after waiting fruitlessly for the vehicles that should have conveyed them.

All these officials and the sensitive election materials that they carried were escorted by a one unarmed police officer to the polling units.

Collation of results was also a Herculean task in some areas, including Agbani in Nkanu West Local Council, where soldiers on election duty refused a rickety bus conveying the collation officer passage on the ground that the vehicle was not supposed to be on the road.

The electoral officer had explained to journalists that the bus was a last resort since the one billed to convey the materials failed to arrive.

Some ad-hoc staff of the commission, who only got wind of their posting on the eve of the botched exercise on February 16, were not mobilised until the eve of the rescheduled election, just as many observers, monitors and journalists suffered accreditation difficulties.

The challenges notwithstanding, the state generally witnessed a peaceful election and security agencies did their best to ensure that there were no crises, except in Enugu South, Ward 11 where some persons believed to be working for the All Progressives Congress (APC) in an attempt to carry ballot boxes shattered the legs of one of the party agents.

Ononamadu has, however, assured that the commission would continue to improve on its efforts in order to give the state credible elections going forward.

According to him, reports from the field were currently being analysed with a view to addressing the shortfalls in the coming elections.

GOING by experiences during the February 23 presidential and National Assembly elections, a lot of improvement is expected from the election umpire in the conduct of the gubernatorial and states’ assemblies elections.

As a matter of fact, one of the visible thing that INEC needs to improve on is the prompt or early arrival of INEC ad hoc staff and voting materials at the various polling units.

In the last election in Imo, scores of lapses, which worsened the commission’s logistics nightmare were noticed.

For instance, The Guardian gathered that some INEC ad hoc staff arrived their respective polling units as late as 1pm and 2pm for an exercise that was meant to begin at 8am and end by 2pm, before the time was reviewed.

INEC staff that arrived their polling units early had to wait in some cases up to 12 and 1pm for the arrival of voting materials. Before this time, some frustrated voters had returned to their respective homes.

At Umunama Booth II, the polling unit of the former governor of the state and Accord Party governorship candidate, Dr. Ikedi Ohakim, at 12:15pm, neither INEC personnel nor the voting materials had yet arrived.

This development forced Ohakim to allege that the late arrival was either a sign of incompetence on the part of INEC, or a ploy to sabotage the election.

He enjoined INEC to improve its logistics capabilities so that the situation would not be repeated this weekend.

“I think INEC has not learnt any lesson and this is very, very unfortunate. I don’t know whether this is a logistics problem or sabotage. I don’t see any reason why people should sabotage this election. INEC must improve because it has got everything, including, extension of time to get it right. I am not happy about it and nobody can be,” Ohakim said.

Equally disturbed by the sloppy logistics in the last polls, Senator Ifeanyi Araraume, the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) governorship candidate expressed sadness at the late arrival of materials in his Isiebu Ward.

Araraume said: “Voting did not start here till around 1pm and if some wards have not received election materials till now, from the reports we are getting, INEC didn’t start well. So, what I have to say is that INEC needs to improve on what it is doing.”

He added: “What I believe is that for every election, the subsequent election should ideally be an improvement on the previous one because of experience gathered. Where there are logistics problems and other such problems, it should have known in good time, and it is only reasonable that it addresses such problems with a view to improving on the governorship and House of Assembly elections.”

The Public Relations Officer (PRO) of INEC in the state, Emmanuella Opara told The Guardian that the commission would study all the challenges it encountered during the last election and fashion out ways to addresses them.

According to her, even as the commission is mindful of the few lapses recorded, it is still determined to ensure that everything is taken care of before the March 9 poll.

We can assure the good people of Imo that we would study everything that happened and solutions would be put in place. Surely, there would be an improved exercise in the March 9, 2019 governorship and State House of Assembly election,” Opara said.

CRITICAL among challenges experienced by INEC in Kano State during the last elections were malfunctioning of smartcard readers, and late commencement of elections due to late arrival of INEC staff and electoral materials to several polling units in the metropolis.

For instance, INEC staff departed Tarauni Garden, which served as collation centre for Tarauni Local Council (with electoral materials) at exactly 8:15am for an exercise that was to commence at 8am.

At Da’awah Islamiyya polling unit in Giginyu Ward, Nassarawa Local Council, INEC officials and materials arrived at 9am to meet, thousands of registered voters that were billed to vote at units 007, 008, 009 and 010.

Similar visit to Shauchi Polling Centre in Kano Municipal Local Council showed the absence of INEC staff and materials, with hundreds of enthusiastic voters stranded at exactly 9:30am.

Smartcard readers malfunctioned in several locations, and this development seriously slowed down accreditation and voting in many areas. The situation at Mandawori Ward was particularly pathetic, as voters eventually resorted to manual voting.

Spokesperson of INEC, Kano State, Mohammed Garba Lawan said the commission was working tirelessly to overcome some of the difficulties experienced during the presidential and National Assembly elections.

He added that the commission was not unmindful of the many logistical challenges, especially in the area of transportation, which were largely responsible for the late commencement of elections in some place.

TARABA State INEC office appears to have learnt a lot of lessons from the multiple flaws that characterised the just concluded presidential and National Assembly elections.

Delay in delivery of election materials to the various polling units, lack of adequate knowledge of how the smartcard readers function by the ad hoc staff, among others were the major problems that almost marred the smooth conduct of the exercise.

These challenges, which did not only tell negatively on the conduct of the exercise, almost dragged the collation exercise in the mud as results from most parts of the councils arrived Jalingo, the state capital two days after the elections.

Unlike other states where journalists were well kitted after accreditation, the reverse was the case in Taraba as most journalists could not access the kits. For this, the state INEC pointed accusing finger at its National Headquarters.

The poor knowledge of smartcard readers by ad hoc staff, which impacted seriously on completion time of the exercise, made the presidential collation officer for the state, Prof. Shehu Iya to challenge INEC on the need to employ the services of ad hoc staff that can effectively handle the devices.

Commenting on the challenges, the state’s REC, Alhaji Baba Yusuf Abba, said: “We have noted all the complaints and I am assuring Tarabans that the remaining elections would not witness such lapses.”

He said the commission would leave no stone unturned in ensuring that all logistical challenges were eliminated so that March elections would definitely be applauded by all Tarabans.”

GOING by reports from various parts, Abia State had its fair share of logistics challenges even though the state office of INEC tried to down play such challenges.

Such reports include late arrival of sensitive materials and officials at designated polling units, malfunction on smartcard readers, among others.

Because of the late arrival of vehicles hired to convey polling materials and personnel to polling units, hardly did polling units in most parts of the state receive the materials in good time to ensure timely commencement of accreditation/voting. In fact, a good number of polling units did not commence business earlier than 12noon.

When the re-elected senator representing Abia Central, Chief Theodore Orji showed up with his wife at Ugba Primary School, (where there were about six polling units) at Umuahia metropolis, to cast their votes before 10am, voting materials were yet to be delivered.

Irritated by the development, he went to the state INEC Head Office to complain to the REC, Dr. Joseph Iloh. He ended up voting at 1.30 pm.

Addressing journalists after voting, senator Orji decried the delayed takeoff of voting, occasioned by late arrival of personnel and materials.

“My polling unit is one of (if not) the closet to the state INEC Office and as such should be among the first units that materials and personnel should arrive, and commence voting process. Now, one wonders what would be happening in other units outside Umuahia,” he remarked.

BAYELSA State witnessed a fair amount of challenges during last week’s polls, ranging from violence induced by lax policing, malfunctioning of card readers and late arrival of sensitive materials to all eight council areas.

In Yenagoa, the state capital, the presence of heavily armed military operatives at checkpoints ensured easy and uninterrupted movement of election materials, but what caused their delayed delivery to council areas is something that the INEC has to urgently look into.

The armed security men also took control of the security of major roads in the state, but they did not go near the polling units as only men of the Nigeria Police and their colleagues from the Nigeria Civil Defence Corps were seen at polling units.

Their presence notwithstanding, political thugs still found a way of upsetting the peace at several polling units across the state.

In fact, one of the places where lax security was an issue was in Nembe, where voters protested the ferrying of electoral materials for Nembe Constituency 2 and 3 comprising Opunembe and Oluasiri to a hotel in Bassambiri to perpetrate electoral fraud stormed the local INEC office to register their grouse.

Suspected political thugs also unleashed a reign of terror on the people of Nembe Bassambiri, leaving five people seriously injured while two were admitted at the Federal Medical Centre, Yenagoa.

From Yenagoa to Kolukuma/Opokuma, Nembe to Sagbama among others, there were instances where smartcard readers misbehaved forcing voters to be accredited manually to enable them vote.

Because of the late arrival of voting materials, the people of Lobia Community in Southern Ijaw Local Council were yet to exercise their franchise as at 2:15pm, but their only saving grace was the extension of time ordered by INEC.

Head, Department Voter Education and Publicity, INEC Bayelsa State, Wilfred Ifogha said all noticed flaws would be addressed before the next round of elections as the commission was currently brainstorming.

He said as staff members return from their different locations with their reports, all issues raised in them are looked into right away in order to facilitate the birth of a more robust logistic plan.

IN parts of Cross River State, reports of delay in the distribution of materials to ad hoc staff rang out as the major reason for delayed commencement of voting.

The INEC staff and their ad hoc counterparts equally complained of severe mix up in the result sheets that they received for their polling units.

Poor transportation arrangement also added to logistical challenges that the state INEC had to grapple with as many personnel were stranded after collecting their materials.

Consequently, some ad-hoc staff were assisted by party agents to convey electoral materials to their polling units, a development that could lead to compromise.

INEC’s Public Relations Officer (PRO) in the state, Mrs. Anne Etekpi, said, the commission was addressing experienced lapses ahead of this week’s polls.

Accoding to her: “The INEC chairman called a meeting of all RECs shortly after they submitted the results and of cause they discussed ways of addressing the lapses. They are also working out modalities to ensure such things do not occur in the next elections.

“So, the state REC would equally meet with electoral officers, stakeholders and security agents as soon as he returns back to Calabar with a view to addressing these challenges,” she said.

APART from logistics, Lagos State presented a troubling angle to election management with widespread violence brought to bear allegedly by thugs loyal to the ruling party in opposition strongholds.

The alleged thugs brazenly razed and destroyed ballot papers in Aguda, Ajao Estate and Okota.

For instance, masked hoodlums invaded the polling booths at Eyinogun, Agboola, Ayodele and Abolaji streets respectively, where they shot indiscriminately into the air before carting away the ballot boxes.

A voter in one of the affected booths, who pleaded anonymity, said the development brought the voting process to an abrupt end, as distraught voters scampered for safety.

“While the votes were being sorted, some thugs came with guns and shot into air before they took away the ballot boxes. They were masked, so we could not see their faces. Even the policemen attached to the polling booth where I voted had to run for their lives,” he said.

At Ajao Estate, Isolo, a voter, who identified himself as Chukwudi Otigba reported that thugs invaded his polling unit, shooting sporadically, and scattering everything in sight.

Corroborating Otigba, another voter in Ejigbo, Kingsley Chukwudi said the same happened at his Ailegun Polling Unit O42.

“Thugs arrived in a convoy of about eight motorcycles and scattered everything. A lot of voters and INEC officials were injured and voting was suspended at about 2pm,” he said.

Violence was also experienced in the Aguda area of Surulere, where political thugs chased voters and disrupted the exercise.

A witness said: “An INEC official ran into my compound after the thugs attacked her. She said the hoodlums did not let her do her job and
was really, really scared.”

According to her, “for a greater part of the morning, the card reader was not working well, but not long after it started responding, hoodlums came and caused the confusion that they did. Worse still, we did not start on time because we did not get our materials early enough.”