Several events in the past few weeks, in the build-up to the now controversial 2023 general elections have again sadly highlighted the defects in election management and democratic practice in Nigeria.
The different roles played by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the security agencies and the political class in the unfolding political events in Nigeria from the contentious results of the Presidential and National Assembly elections held on February 25th, to the manifest irregularities in the March 18th Governorship and State Assembly Elections, have elicited diverse views on national and international platforms.
Encouraged by the widely acknowledged technological improvements over the 2019 general elections, Nigerians rightfully anticipated a free, fair and credible 2023 elections. This is on the back of the success recorded by INEC in Anambra, Edo, Ondo, Ekiti and Osun states off-season governorship elections (especially with the role played by the use of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS)), and relying on the earnest assurances of President Muhammadu Buhari and INEC’s Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu for a credible 2023 general elections.
However, many Nigerians were left roundly disappointed with INEC’s performance especially the lack of transparency surrounding the “technical glitches” for its failure to upload results of the Presidential election on to the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IReV) contrary to earlier promises and assurances by the Commission. They have also been left dissatisfied with the disputable collation of certain results for the March 18th elections.
Unfortunately, apart from the sad incidents of 20 deaths reportedly recorded in Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Delta, Ebonyi, Benue, Niger and Osun states during the March 18 election, YIAGA Africa, a non-governmental organisation committed to democratic governance, revealed there were reported cases of vote buying in Delta, Lagos, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Kano and Taraba states. The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) reported that voter intimidation linked to “ethnic identity and political affiliation” was recorded in Lagos, Anambra and Imo states during the Presidential election. It also stated that vote buying was higher in the south-east and violence was more in the northwest during the March 18 elections.
Credible media reports also revealed how hoodlums disrupted voting in Lagos, Abuja, Ogun, Delta, Edo, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Kano, Katsina, Niger, Ebonyi, Bauchi and Rivers States.
INEC through its National Commissioner and Chairman Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, disclosed how thugs invaded INEC office in Obingwa Local Government Area, Abia State during collation of the Governorship and State Assembly elections. Additional information released by the electoral commission revealed that INEC officials were kidnapped by gunmen in Kogi, Zamfara and Imo states, while voting materials were destroyed in Bayelsa and Rivers states. These attacks by hoodlums occurred despite the repeated promises of a “conducive environment for a free, fair and credible exercise” by President Buhari, the Inspector General of Police, Usman Baba Ahmed, and the Chief of Army Staff, Gen Farouk Yahaya.
The National Association of Seadogs (Pyrates Confraternity) has taken note of the grave shortcomings in the conduct of the 2023 election, and wishes to express its disappointment with the Prof Yakubu-led INEC for dropping the ball when it mattered most. INEC’s excuse of “technical glitches”, which it said affected the transmission of the Presidential election results on IReV is totally unconvincing, questionable and embarrassing.
Clearly, INEC’s inability to transmit the Presidential election results electronically runs contrary to the Commission several assurances to do so, the last being a statement by its National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education, Mr Festus Okoye in November 20233 which declared that, “the IReV is one of the innovations introduced by the Commission to ensure the integrity and credibility of election results in Nigeria. It is therefore inconceivable that the Commission will turn around and undermine its own innovations.” By its action, INEC shot itself in the foot and lost public trust in the process.
The National Association of Seadogs (Pyrates Confraternity) is greatly saddened by the recent developments in Lagos and other parts of Nigeria culminating in the upsurge in ethnic profiling on and off social media, group blame, verbal assaults and intimidation, physical attacks, hate speech and reckless propaganda, indicative of a growing and dangerous trend of intolerance as part of Nigeria’s political culture.
We deplore unequivocally all species of discrimination against a person on the basis of their ethnicity or religion, and the increase in blatant unchecked intolerance pervading Nigeria’s political firmament which has seeped into the general populace. It is baffling that the Lagos State Parks Management Committee Chairman, Mr Musiliu Akinsanya (aka MC Oluomo), who was seen in a viral video threatening Igbo voters, was not arrested or questioned by the Nigeria Police. His actions and that of his ilk violates the provisions of Section 128(a) of the Electoral Ac which prescribes a fine of N1,000,000 or imprisonment for a term of three years for whoever issues threats.
The explanation that he later described his alleged threat as a “joke” in another viral video is defective because it only encouraged others to issue similar threats and violence against non-indigenes. The obvious dereliction of duty to uphold the law and protect lives and properties of citizens by failing to arrest Mr Akinsanya as exhibited by the Commissioner of Police, Lagos State, Mr Idowu Owohunwa, is what fuels impunity on a grand scale in Nigeria. We expect the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to follow up with action on its public statement to invite Mr Akinsanya for questioning. He and his co-travellers are a potent danger to democracy and must be stopped forthwith.
We condemn the odious resort to intimidation and physical attacks by some undesirable elements as witnessed in some parts of Lagos on March 18 with the sole objective to stymie voting in political opponents’ strongholds mostly based on tribal bias. These actions are unconstitutional, uncivilised and antithetical to the tenets of democracy. Freedom of association, unfettered membership of political parties, and the choice of voting for preferred candidates are guaranteed rights in the Nigerian constitution. Infringing upon these liberties as witnessed in Lagos and other parts of the country imperils democracy.
Nigerians’ dwindling faith in INEC’s impartiality was responsible for the voter apathy witnessed on March 18 in some states in Nigeria. Sadly, four weeks after the Presidential election, the upload of the results on the IReV is at 94.24%, this is clearly unacceptable!
Nevertheless, in the face of the glaring anomalies that have tainted the 2023 general elections, the National Association of Seadogs (Pyrates Confraternity) calls on Nigerians not to despair in their enthusiasm for and commitment to democracy. We salute the resilience of our compatriots, especially the teeming army of young voters for investing hope in democracy and participating in the electoral process as part of efforts to demand for equitable governance in Nigeria. Despite severe provocation by anti-democratic forces, we commend Nigerians for refusing to be drawn into post-election violence which is capable of endangering democracy. This is encouraging and it underscores the importance Nigerians attached to the survival of democracy.
Remarkably, the introduction of technology using the Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS) offers a glimmer of hope for sanitising Nigeria’s electoral system. It is significant to note that the use of BVAS reflected in several announced results which created electoral upsets has mitigated incidences of over-voting, ballot stuffing of ballot boxes and hijacking of ballot papers.
Also INEC’s prompt logistical deployment to polling units and uploading of results from polling units on the IReV portal during the March 18 elections demonstrated its ability to correct its mistakes on one hand and on the other hand reinforce its commitment to transparency which enabled voters to track in real time if their vote truly counts. This is certainly a victory for democracy and as citizens we have a duty to demand for improvement in the use of technology in our electoral process.
INEC has a duty to regain public trust by launching an investigation into the malfunction of its IReV on February 25th which prevented the upload of the Presidential election results. Nigerians deserve to know if it was sabotage or not. In restoring its integrity, INEC should sustain the transparency in uploading of results and prompt logistical deployment in the outstanding polls in the 2023 general elections and the off-season governorship elections in Kogi, Imo and Bayelsa later this year. It would be expedient for INEC to take up the recommendations and services offered by the Nigeria Computer Society as part of efforts geared towards the optimal efficiency of BVAS and IReV during elections.
More so, regular and ad-hoc staff proven to have connived with unscrupulous politicians to compromise critical aspects of the electoral process should be identified and made to face the law.
We reiterate our plea to the political class to guard against inflammatory utterances capable of fanning the embers of hate, ethnic strife and ethnic supremacy thereby delegitimizing the election results and ultimately undermining democracy. We welcome the intervention of those political leaders that have denounced ethnic profiling and we encourage more political leaders to courageously speak out against bigotry.
We commend the legal steps thus far initiated by aggrieved parties in seeking redress over the outcome of elections, and in urging their supporters to maintain decorum.
The security agencies, especially the Nigeria Police and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), have the onerous responsibility to ensure the speedy prosecution of all electoral offenders. Even this in the light of the sad reminder that in Nigeria promoters and enablers of brigandage, vote theft and killings in previous electoral cycles have not been adequately prosecuted to serve as deterrence and discourage the impunity witnessed in some parts of Lagos and other parts of Nigeria on March 18. These perpetrators of violence, if not already arrested, should be fished out to face the full wrath of the law.
The INEC’s chairman, Prof Yakubu’s disclosure that the commission would set up a legal team to accelerate the trial of electoral offenders should not be delayed. We suggest that the Commission keys into recommendations by legal experts that the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) should be given the fiat to prosecute electoral offenders and their sponsors pending the signing into law of the Electoral Offences Commission.
The National Association of Seadogs (Pyrates Confraternity) restates our call for the establishment of the Electoral Offences Commission to speedily dispense with cases involving electoral malfeasance. We urge the House of Representatives to tow the line of the Senate and pass the bill before the 9th National Assembly winds up, and in good time for the off-season governorship elections later this year. This will go a long way in sanitising the electoral process by checkmating devious politicians who have realised the efficacy of the BVAS to expose electoral fraud and have resorted to voter suppression through unbridled violence.
We enjoin the Police Service Commission (PSC) and other disciplinary bodies in sister security agencies to probe some of its personnel deployed for election duties over allegations of collusion with political thugs to terrorise innocent Nigerians. Those found culpable should be made to face service disciplinary measures swiftly.
Nigeria’s democracy was hard won and all efforts must be collectively deployed to safeguard it from being derailed by anti-democratic forces.