The Independent National Electoral Commission has earned high ratings for its conduct of the just concluded Ondo State governorship election won by the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Rotimi Akeredolu, according to separate reports by two civil society organisations – Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement, YIAGA, and Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room – that observed the election
But the reports also indicted politicians, without mentioning names though, for bribing voters with monetary inducement in some areas in the course of the election.
In its preliminary report on the Saturday election, YIAGA scored the electoral commission according to processes of setting up polling units, accreditation, voting, counting and posting of results at polling units.
According to the report signed by the body’s director, Samson Itodo, the polling process afforded the Ondo electorate a largely credible opportunity to exercise their right to vote.
The report read: “YIAGA noted an improved deployment of INEC poll officials and materials as compared to recent off-cycle gubernatorial elections, which saw 65 per cent of polling units open by 7:30 a.m., and accreditation and voting begun by 10:00 a.m. at 95 per cent of polling units. Our observation also revealed that card readers were used throughout accreditation in 96 per cent of polling units.”
Describing its methodology, YIAGA said it deployed 340 stationary and 23 mobile citizen observers to a representative random sample of 300 polling units.
On adherence to electoral rules, YIAGAA said, “perhaps most significantly, no voter at nearly 100 per cent of sampled polling unit was accredited to vote without a permanent voter card (PVC).”
Starting with the Benue South senatorial rerun poll held early 2016, INEC switched to accrediting voters and allowing them cast their votes simultaneously.
Reporting on this recently adopted policy, YIAGA said polls ended swiftly, noting “that At 23 per cent of polling units, accreditation and voting ended before 2 p.m., and by 3 p.m., 89 per cent of polling units had completed.”
“As for the counting process, by 4 p.m., 85 per cent of polling units had completed, and by 6 p.m., another 14 per cent of polling units had completed.”
Issues still remain with the PVC and card reader’s use, said YIAGA.
“While only 4 per cent of polling units had card readers that were not used throughout accreditation, some areas of the state were particularly problematic around completing two-step verification.”
Perhaps the major downside reported by YIAGAA, secrecy of the ballot was a challenge in some areas. In 14 per cent of the polling units, the report said, voters could not vote in secret.
Also, 12 critical incident reports described voters to have displayed their ballots before placing in the ballot box, the report added. This may give some credence to allegations that voters were induced monetarily.
The interim report did not include areas were voters could not exercise their voting right secretly.
“Secrecy of the ballot is a fundamental dimension of democratic elections and INEC should continue to review its material deployment and voting procedures to allow voters to cast their ballots freely and without exposing their voting preference,” the report noted.
YIAGA also reported 61 critical incidents, including cases of buying votes, confirmed through its “Critical Incident desk as part of its State Information Centre to receive urgent messages from its 340 stationary observers.”
“The most frequent incident reports recorded by #WatchingTheVote citizen observers related to vote buying and bribery (17), card reader malfunction (13), voters publicly displaying their ballots before placing in the ballot box (12), and intimidation or harassment of voters, poll officials or party agents,” said the report.
Similar concern over inducement of voters was raised by the Situation Room.
According to its convener, the practice of paying voters to induce support posed threat to Nigeria’s democracy.
He noted that the Situation Room observed in Polling Unit 005, Ward 01, Akoko South East and Polling Unit 005 Ward 03 in Idanre councils respectively, report of police officer found collecting envelope from party agents.
But like YIAGA, Situation Room also commended INEC for the “professionalism displayed.”
The candidate of APC, Mr. Akeredolu, scored 244,882 votes to emerge winner in the election, coming ahead of Eyitayo Jegede of Peoples Democratic Party who polled 150,380 votes.
Olusola Oke of Alliance for Democracy came third with 126,889 votes.