AFBA Preliminary Statement on the General Elections for the 23rd February and the 9th March 2019


BACKGROUND

The African Bar Association (AFBA) was accredited to observe the 2019 General Election for the Presidential and Gubernatorial Elections in Nigeria objectively and impartially. The AFBA was established in 1971 as a continental body by a group of progressively minded lawyers as a federation of National Legal Associations. The association as a professional body sought to bring together independent legal professional bodies and individual lawyers in the different regions of Africa to exchange opinions and experiences in a friendly, informal and intimate atmosphere mainly for the pursuit and achievements of varying but common professional objectives.

Although this is the first time that AFBA as body has participated in the observation of any election, some of its members have a wealth of experience in election observation. The AFBA mission’s objective include observation of crucial including the political and security situation, role of the security agents, election process, situation of polling units, role of the polling officers, the INEC’s level or preparedness, the will of the people and challenges observed.

The mission’s findings are based on on-site observations at polling stations as well as analyses derived from strategic questionnaires completed by our observers after their observation missions on the 23rd February and on the 9th March. An inherent element of the mission objective was to establish that the election was free, fair, credible, transparent and reflected the will of the people while adhering to the Nigerian laws guiding electoral processes, in particular the 1999 Constitution as amended and the Electoral Act 2010 as amended. It is hoped that the recommendations derived from the outcome of the Association’s observation exercise would prove useful to the INEC and the people of Nigeria.

The observation mission comprised of 70 delegates, it lasted the duration of the days leading to the election and on the election days of 23rd February for the Presidential and National Assembly elections and 9th March for the Gubernatorial and state legislative elections. General elections in the Federal Republic of Nigeria are held every four years in accordance to the provisions contained in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended and The Election Act 2010 as amended. There are 91 registered political parties and 73 candidates vied to be elected president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, however the two major parties that contended in this election are the All Progressive Congress headed by the incumbent President Muhamadou Buhari and the People’s Democratic Party headed by Atiku Abubakar.
A total of 84.3 million voters were registered to vote as at February 2019 according to figures released by the Independent National Electoral Commission ; this is a marked increase from the 69.7 million voters registered to vote in 2015 . The incumbent President Buhari of the APC was announced the winner of the presidential election with 15,191,847 votes, whilst the PDP candidate carried 11,262,978 votes. The PDP candidate rejected the results and announced that his party would file a petition in court against said results.

SITUATIONAL CONTEXT OF THE ELECTION

Preliminary observations of the AFBA indicate that the 2019 General Elections in the Federal Republic of Nigeria experienced difficulties from the very beginning, led by the arson attack of three of the offices of INEC and concluded with the postponement of the elections.

As the largest and most populated multiethnic country in Africa, The Federal Republic of Nigeria has adequate resources to conduct relatively credible, free, fair and violence free election. However, our observers reported sporadic violence and interference by the military. There were reported shootings and resulting deaths. Moreover, the collation of gubernatorial elections results in Rivers State was suspended while the declaration of inconclusive results after the votes were counted in Bauchi, Sokoto and Plateau seemed to have discounted the votes of all those people who voted.

Despite the complications observed, in many instances peaceful and problem free voting were reported.

SUMMARY OF OBSERVATION

Commencement of voting

During its briefing sessions prior to Election Day, INEC officials had assured all stakeholders that accreditation and voting would be between 8am and 2pm. This was however not the case on the 23rd February. Bottlenecks including unavailability of ballot boxes, late arrival of election materials and network problems for the card readers where cited as being responsible for massively delaying the commencement of voting in many of the polling units visited. In particular polling units in Abuja FCT at Dutse Makarante at the Customary Court Premises and the LEA Primary School were among those severely affected. Despite this inconvenience, it was observed that voters remained patient and waited until voting started.

Accreditation problems.

The majority of problems observed on the election day of the 23rd February were technical. Many of the polling units visited in the FCT, Anambra State, Edo state and Rivers State cited problems associated with the smart card readers and or interrupted internet network without which card readers cannot function. Exacerbating the situation was the absence of back up card readers. In addition, technicians were unavailable to address the problems. These complications were partially responsible for the delays in the commencement of voting. As a solution to reduce the delay time, INEC officials proceeded to accredit voters without the card readers in some of these polling units such as polling unit 09/009 under ward 2 at the Community Secondary School in Anambra.

Security.

The reports received from our observers on the ground relating to security were varied. Some observers reported that the security deployed at polling units were unarmed and very supportive of the INEC staff on the ground.

Other reports received, particularly in Rivers State, reported violence and intimidation by army personnel on both election dates. Gun shots by army personnel were reported in Abonnema in Rivers State and a killing of an INEC ad hoc staff by army personnel was also reported at Buguma Rivers on 23rd February. Furthermore, there were sporadic violence and disruptions reported in Sokoto and Bauchi on 9th March 2019.

Due to security issues among other things, the electoral process in Rivers States were suspended on the 10th March by the INEC and a fact-finding committee was established to assess the situation.

Our observer at Surulere LGA in Lagos reported that he was detained on 23rd February by army personnel for over two hours on the basis that they could not confirm that he was a foreign observer in spite of the fact this observer and all other members of the observation team were fully accredited and had all their photo identification tags and accreditation letters with them at all times.

In Edo and Anambra States our observers reported instances of very limited security personnel on at polling units. Our Observers at Ward 2 in Rivers State reported the absence of any security which posed a risk to the INEC staff on the ground.

Ballot Boxes.

Observation teams reported of instances of insufficient ballot boxes and improper labelling on ballot boxes. In particular at polling units in Dutse Makarante LEA Primary School in Abuja FCT on 23rd February only one ballot box was made available for all the three offices of President, house of representatives and senate. Observation teams at polling units in Buguma, Asari Toru local Government area in Rivers State also reported the improper labelling on ballot boxes by INEC staff

Voting

Our team of observers reported on the high voter turnout on 23rd February for the Presidential and National Assembly elections in spite of some of the delays in the commencement of accreditation and voting. Voters were reported in many instances to have waited patiently at the polling units to cast their votes. Voting in some cases was generally conducted in accordance with the announced INEC procedures. There were however instances where voters were not allowed to vote after they turned up for accreditation and could not find their names on the register.

There were also instances where there were no INEC officials at polling units save for ad hoc staff some of whom appeared to lack sufficient training on election procedures.

The setup of voting booths provided voters with little or no privacy, which runs contrary to ballot secrecy.

Reports received on voter turnout on 9th March at the Gubernatorial elections was markedly low compared to the Presidential and National Assembly elections.

RECOMMENDATIONS

The following recommendations are hereby proposed to relevant stakeholders to improve the electoral process and related areas.

Independent National Election Commission.

i. INEC should plan far ahead of the next general election to address those problems that are easily addressable. Such problems include the network problems on the card readers, updating the register of voters and design the voting booth in a manner that would ensure privacy.
ii. INEC must also provide sufficient ballot boxes for all polling units, in order to avoid a situation where one ballot box is used for different categories of offices.
iii. The INEC premises at the state and local government should be properly secured in the months leading to the election period to avoid arson or any other attack on the property and electoral materials.
iv. INEC should recruit staff with requisite knowledge and provide extensive training to same in order to ensure an effective and efficient delivery of service for the next cycle of elections.
v. INEC should also ensure an extensive and effective training for its ad hoc staff well in advance of the election cycle to ensure an efficient service delivery and avoid many of the confusions some staff in some polling units exhibited. It must be noted however that this does not apply to all ad hoc staff as in most cases many of them performed admirably well.
vi. INEC must also provide a better way in locating polling units. Many of the voters complained about being unable to locate their polling units on election day.

Security Agents

vii. Only accredited security agents on election duties must be allowed near the polling and collation centers.
viii. All stakeholders must ensure that members of the armed forces are kept away from civilians and around polling units. Many incidences were reported of personnel of the military interfering with the voting process and with the ballot boxes.

Citizens and Voters

ix. The responsible use of social media platforms must be strongly encouraged in order to avoid heated political rhetoric and related violence.

The foregoing consists of our observations thus far. Bearing in mind that INEC had declared inconclusive results in the gubernatorial elections in Kano, Plateau, Benue, Bauchi, Adamawa and Sokoto, AFBA will publish a final report which would contain full analysis and recommendations after the conclusion of all the elections.

Justice Mama Fatima Singhateh
Team Leader Afba Election Observers
2019 General Elections of Nigeria
14th March 2019

 

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