By: Joy Odor/Abuja
After a thorough examination of reports filed by its thousands-strong observer team deployed to polling units and wards across the entire states, the Centre of Democracy and Development (CDD) has stated that ward-level collation of results in the recently concluded presidential and parliamentary elections was marred by very significant challenges.
The challenges commonly reported were logistical issues, misconduct, inefficiency and poor technical knowledge of INEC and ad-hoc staff, as well as security lapses and intimidation of collation staff by security agencies.
Other setbacks include inappropriate activities of political thugs and party agents and the denial of access to media and observer groups.
Lagos and Osun states had higher levels of collation challenges, with both states accounting for 22% of incident reports by the observers.
Sokoto, Rivers, and Kaduna followed with 9%, 8% and 7% respectively, with Rivers recording problems largely connected to the activities of political thugs and security personnel, possible fallout of the long-running battle among top political figures in the states.
The states most affected by Boko haram insurgency – Borno, Adamawa and Yobe – had little collation challenges and did not feature in the states that recorded high rates of incidents.
“Generally, the collation was sluggish and characterized by localized cases of violence, disruption, and irregularities,” the CDD said in a final report on the collation process.
“Collation of election results is an important post-election activity that can increase or decrease its credibility depending on how the stakeholders involved handle it. Ward-level collation – Nigeria has 8809 political wards – is very important because it is the first stage of the collation process, with errors at this stage being fed into, and shaping the overall results.”
CDD combined forces with its partners including Premium Times and Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre to deploy 8,809 trained observers to polling units and wards covering all 36 states and the federal capital territory.
Empowered with election monitoring tools like Zabe SR, CDD Election Tracker and Zabe 1.0, these observers monitored the elections and provided timely information on the opening of polling stations, voting process and collation exercise.
Although sections 28, 29, 30, 31 and 32 of the INEC Regulations and Guidelines
for the Conduct of Elections issued on 12 January 2019 provided clear guidance for collation of election results of the presidential elections from ward level to national level, the CDD noted with dismay that reports from its observers suggest that issues were encountered in following these laid out collation processes across the elections held on 23 February 2019.
Logistical problems witnessed during collation include delays in moving results of some polling units to the Ward Collation Centre (WCC) due to lack of transportation and there were also disagreements and delays among election officials in deciding on the WCC venue.
In one case in Eke Ward in Udi LGA of Enugu state, the collation officer refused to collate at Central Primary School, in Eke community which is the designated local government collation centre due to lack of vehicles to move them. Instead, all the ward collation officers in the local government settled for the Udi Local Government INEC office in Udi Community.
Speaking of the misconduct, inefficiency and poor technical knowledge of INEC and ad-hoc staff, CDD found that in some places election officials either did not have a clear understanding of the collation process or lacked in basic arithmetic skills needed for quick collation of results, leading to avoidable errors in the result sheets.
In Bauchi LGA of Bauchi state, collation was halted for almost 48 hours at the Baba Sidi Primary School WCC – the largest ward in the LGA with 78 polling units – due to widespread cases of alterations to the result sheets. Instances of alteration of results were widely reported in Bauchi LGA.
“Some ad hoc staff and materials from polling units in the ward were still missing almost 40 hours after the election ended. The collation officer for Baba Sidi primary school WCC filled all the forms wrongly and his writings were largely illegible according to our observers,” the report explained.
“Personnel found to have involved in misconduct during the collation process should be pursued and prosecuted.”
By extension, the report cited observers who reported that at least three presiding officers absconded with result sheet in Badarawa ward, Kaduna North LGA.
In terms of security issues, CDD’s field observers reported that some areas had little to no security presence, and even in locations where security personnel were active, there were cases of intimidation of collation officials as typified by the disruption of collation in Okrika LGA, Rivers state, where an INEC staff said personnel from the security forces invaded their office and snatched the results of the elections for the council.
The report further condemned the denial of access to media and observer groups to collation centres, and said this raises suspicion about the transparency of the collation exercise. In one incident in Ughelli in Delta state, observers and journalists were stopped from monitoring INEC collation centres, with local media reports blaming a special team of mobile policemen who were stationed at the entrances of the collation centre to deny observers’ access.
By implication, the report argued that these irregularities witnessed during collation resulted in an unprecedented amount of inconclusive elections, placing far more administrative and financial burden on INEC as it conducts supplementary elections in the affected areas.
In addition, all of these issues could result in voter apathy, increase in off-cycle election due to the possibility of high rate of post-election litigation and then a lack of trust in the integrity of the polls which would certainly contribute to the weakening of the development of Nigeria’s democracy in the long run.
Against the backdrop of these challenges, the CDD is calling on INEC to commence early training and retraining of personnel and ad-hoc staff on collation procedures to avoid a repeat of what was witnessed on February 23 polls.
“Ad hoc staff should be recruited early, properly trained and examined, then deployed to participate in off-cycle elections where possible so as to acquire practical experiences on the processes of collation,” the CDD said.
“Permanent WCCs should be identified and properly equipped with the requisite infrastructure required for collation.”
The Centre equally urges civil society organizations and media to use evidence-based information to continue to push for the amendment of the Electoral Act 2010 to allow for the introduction of electronic vote transmission in order to reduce error in the calculation process and improve the pace of collation.
It also cautions security agencies and party agents to conduct themselves in ways that would not disrupt elections and calls for strict sanctions for any defaulters.
Party officials must be deeply invested in educating their agents and supporters to adhere to the code of conduct for peaceful election especially during the collation of results, the CDD stated.
“Individual personnel of the security agencies found to have been interfering in the collation process should be prosecuted and sanctioned appropriately,” the CDD added.
“Commanding officers of locations where security agencies are reported to have participated in interfering or disrupting collation should be held accountable in instances where individuals are not.”