A new report by an election observer group, YIAGA Africa, has highlighted some challenges as well as vices that marred Saturday’s bye-election into the Nasarawa State House of Assembly.
These challenges, it said, could affect the coming governorship election in Edo State if ignored.
The bye-election, according to the report, underscores the complexity of safeguarding public health and electoral integrity.
Nigeria’s electoral umpire, INEC, conducted the bye-election on Saturday in Nasarawa Central following the death of the member representing Nasarawa Central constituency at the state House of Assembly, Suleiman Adamu (APC), on April 30.
It was conducted in 44 polling units across seven wards in Nasarawa Local Government Area (LGA) with a total of 71,919 registered voters.
The candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Ismail Danbaba, won the election. He scored 7,475 to defeat Bage Nuhu of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who got 4,608 votes.
YIAGA Africa said despite low voter turnout, technological challenges, and non-compliance with some public health guidelines, the election was peaceful with no incident of violence and security agencies maintained professional conduct throughout the election.
The voters were commended for participating despite the logistical hiccups that resulted in the late commencement of voting in several polling units and the risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While INEC took some measures to follow COVID-19 health guidelines including providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) like face masks, hand gloves, thermometer for temperature checks and hand sanitisers at all observed polling units and sanitising all voters’ fingers before reading their fingerprints with the Smart Card Reader, INEC experienced challenges maintaining physical distance between voters and ensuring that all voters wore face masks/coverings while at the polls.
“In addition to massive vote buying, political parties provided facemasks and handwashing equipment at the polling units to lure voters to cast their votes.
“It is evident that INEC and other health institutions will need to take measures based on lessons learned from this election to guarantee the enforcement of health safety guidelines during subsequent elections amidst COVID-19, particularly for the upcoming off-cycle governorship elections in Edo and Ondo, part of the report read.
The group said while electoral technology can enhance electoral transparency, it also has the potential to undermine the credibility of elections and decrease voter participation if the tools and systems are not tested, verified and deployed in line with Open Election Data principles coupled with adequate public sensitisation on their functionality and efficiency.
Also, electoral technology such as the Smart Card Readers and electronic tablets may also disenfranchise voters and trigger violence if they do not function properly or polling officials are not adequately trained on how to operate them.
* The report said there was transparency in the transmission of results and public access to polling units’ results improved with the introduction of the INEC Results Viewing (IReV) platform.
“This innovation enhanced the transparency of the process as polling officials uploaded images of polling unit level results onto the portal. As of 4 pm on election day, results from two polling units were uploaded for public viewing. By 10:20 pm, results from all of the 44 polling units were uploaded onto the platform.”
But Yiaga Africa observed some polling officials breached this guideline and uploaded the images at the ward collation center and some polling officials alluded to inadequate training on Android tablet usage.
The group reported delays in the commencement of accreditation and voting in several polling units due to the failure of the newly introduced tablets to recapture voters’ facial identity.
According to the report, “with the closure of schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic, polling officials encountered difficulty in securing tables and chairs for polling units set up resulting in delays despite the early arrival of polling officials.
” Political parties, candidates, and politicians still engaged in and abetted vote-buying in the full glare of the public and security personnel.
“The secrecy of the ballot was severely compromised by party agents who interfered with the voting process and engaged in vote-buying and voting by proxy. Votes traded between N500 and N1,000 across polling units observed, especially in PU 004, UNG Mallam, PU 005, and PU 006 Angwan Dutse.”
* There was non-compliance with health safety guidelines by polling officials and voters. And voters were allowed into the inner queue without facemasks and physical distancing in all polling units.
* There was low voter turnout and Yiaga Africa observers observed a high turnout of women voters compared to male voters in the polling units visited.
Recommendations were made for INEC, the National Assembly and security agencies.
The group urged INEC to collaborate with security agencies to enforce all health safety guidelines particularly those regarding wearing of facemasks/covering and maintaining physical distance between voters.
It also said INEC should ensure technological tools and devices are configured, tested, and fully charged before deployment on election day. Polling officials should be adequately trained on new technological tools ahead of election day to ensure effective management of elections.
“INEC should scale the INEC Results Viewing (IReV) portal to all subsequent elections. In doing so, the Commission should ensure election results conform to open election data principles such as timeliness, granularity, analysable, accessible etc.
“Maintain regular engagement with stakeholders and share adequate information on new policies and guidelines ahead of election day. And continue to review its voting processes to allow voters to cast ballots without interference and intimidation
“INEC should also liaise with state governments and school authorities to ensure access to tables and chairs in schools to facilitate polling unit set up during elections.”
Yiaga Africa urged the National Assembly to accelerate the consideration of electoral amendment bills and ensure their quick passage. This, it said, will confer legality on laudable innovations introduced by INEC and upscale the electoral results viewing to an election results collation and transmission portal.
Security agencies were tasked to support INEC in enforcing COVID-19 safety guidelines during elections as well as arrest individuals involved in vote trading and disruptive behavior during elections. And also maintain professionalism and impartiality in managing election security.
“The bye-election signals a leap in our quest to ensure transparency of election results management. Yiaga Africa is concerned with the challenges of conducting a governorship election while adhering to the COVID-19 guidelines.
“Clearly, the Nasarawa bye-election underscores the complexity of conducting elections amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. INEC must ensure effective enforcement of all COVID-19 guidelines ahead of and during the upcoming off-cycle governorship elections in Edo and Ondo. Achieving this will require the support and collaboration of all stakeholders, especially the voters, political parties, and their supporters.”