By Chimezie Godfrey
The Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) has said suppression of voters, vote trading and generalized violence marred the governorship and states houses of assembly elections held on 18th March, 2023.
The Chairman, TMG, Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani) in a statement on Thursday in Abuja, said TMG as a foremost election observation group in Nigeria deployed 768 roving observers across 768 Local Government Areas in the country to observe the 18 March gubernatorial and houses of assembly elections.
He said it also set up a central data centre to collect and analyze data observed from the field, adding that the TMG conducted its activities in compliance with the guidelines provided by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), in collaboration with other domestic and international observers.
Rafsanjani noted that there were improvements by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) around logistics delivery and functionality of the BVAS, he however, said the same cannot be said on election day security as it happened to be one of the most violence ridden elections in its recent history.
He disclosed that in the build up to the elections, there were reports of voters’ suppression and intimidation with threats of consequences as issued by well-known loyalists of some highly ranked politicians in the country, adding that the failure of the security operatives to apprehend and prosecute issuant of such threats, further emboldened them to unleash mayhem on citizens on election day.
He said,”The gubernatorial elections were further challenged by incidents of voter apathy in many states across the country following diminished confidence in the electoral umpire as a result of the outcome of the presidential election. This becomes a major draw back on the nation’s electoral process considering the increasing spate of voter education in the country.
“Furthermore, TMG observed a sharp departure from the presidential election where identity mobilisation of voters along religious and ethnic lines were visibly noted. However, voting patterns in the gubernatorial polls as observed in Kaduna, Cross River, Taraba, Delta, Adamawa and a host of other states were free from ethno-religious identity considerations. This goes to show that electoral campaigns and voter mobilization in Nigeria can be devoid of these elements.
“More specifically, TMG’s observation of the elections across the country spotlighted the issues of deployment of logistics, functionality of the BVAS and IReV system, electoral security and vote buying.
“Across the country, TMG observers reported improved logistic deployment by INEC when compared with the presidential election. This was evident in early commencement of accreditation and voting proceedings across the country. TMG observers also reported early and complete set up of voting procedures from across the country.
“Reports from TMG observers show that the BVAS functioned well in most of the polling units across the states. Accreditation processes went smoothly with the device concluding validation of a voter within a ten second timeframe. However, pockets of incidence of BVAs malfunction were recorded, in such rare cases however TMG observers also reported that the officers promptly rectified the problems. This is a significant area of improvement from the presidential election were BVAS malfunction was prevalent.
“Similarly, the Central Data Centre closely monitored the INEC Result Viewing (IReV) portal for real-time upload of results from the polling unit. The centre also noted an improvement as polling unit results were uploaded real-time in some polling units. However, as reported from the field, some polling officials categorically told voters that they could not upload results from the polling units citing directives from INEC and log in access as some of their reasons.
“The major drawback of the state election remains the widespread violence that permeated through the states of the country. Cases of disruption of polling processes by political thugs were reported as they were seen to snatch ballot boxes and destroyed electoral materials across the country, and in extreme cases resulting in deaths.. Political thugs also perpetrated voter suppression and intimidation, in most cases in the presence of security agencies. Journalists, and observers were also victims of intimidation and attacks; for instance, a TMG observer was physically attacked in Kano.”
Rafsanjani also decried low turn out of voters, adding that the reason for it was INEC’s under performance during the presidential election.
“Across the country, TMG observers reported abysmal level of low voter turnout in the state elections as election officials waited boringly for voters in several polling units. The reason for this is not farfetched, a resultant effect ofINEC’s under performance during the presidential election. In other cases, it was reported that the low turnout could also be attributed to the intimidation of voters by political thugs in the build-up, thereby prompting many people to stay away polling centers.
“Vote trading reared its ugly head again in the state elections and took even more severe dimensions than recorded in the presidential election. In states like Kaduna, Kano, Cross River, Ogun, Ebonyi and Bauchi, open display of vote buying pervaded the conduct of the election. In some instances where officials of the Economic Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) moved to arrest culprits, the officers were attacked.
“Several arrests were made across the country on electoral violation, ranging from disruption to vote buying. The actions of the security agents in these circumstances are noted and commended. In some cases, the security agents moved swiftly to restore order for polling to continue.
“Interestingly,, citizens resilience to fight disruption and manipulation of the elections were widely reported in Lagos, Kano, Abia and Enugu. In Kano, citizens moved en-masse to escort polling unit results to the collation centers. These acts of peaceful resilience on the part of citizens are also commended as it shows the yearning of Nigerians for a true democratic process,” he said.
In the light of the foregoing, Rafsanjani disclosed recommendations made by the TMG which included that the police must move to arrest those individuals and bring them to justice to serve as deterrent in future elections, and that all arrested electoral offenders must be prosecuted in public knowledge while investigations continue to arrest those not in police net yet, among others.
“The failure of the police to respond to voter intimidation in the build up to the state elections emboldened political thuggery and election violence that permeated the governorship election in Nigeria. The police have the authority to stamp out these individuals no matter who they are connected to. The police must move to arrest those individuals and bring them to justice to serve as deterrent in future elections.
“All arrested electoral offenders must be prosecuted in public knowledge while investigations continue to arrest those not in police net yet. Furthermore, the sponsors of those thugs who unleashed mayhem on innocent Nigerians who only sort to express their constitutional guaranteed rights must be fished out and prosecuted in public knowledge.
“INEC must review all evidence of electoral malpractices presented before it
“EFCC And ICPC should continue with their good work to reduce the commercialization of vote buying and arrest both the enablers, middlemen, and receivers during the upcoming elections,” he stated.
The Human Rights Activist, commended INEC on lessons learnt from the presidential poll which it brought to improve the state elections.
He stressed that the credibility of elections in Nigeria are beyond the management of the commission alone, adding that the security agencies must play it roles optimally to tackle the challenge electoral violence in subsequent elections.
“In conclusion, TMG commends INEC on lessons learnt from the presidential poll which has been brought to improve the state elections. As seen from the efficient logistic deployment and functionality of the technological introductions, Nigeria’s electoral system has the potential to bring about credible elections, it is to the extent which the commission is allowed to independently manage the elections that hinders credible elections in the country. INEC must strive to eliminate human interference especially with result management.
“As seen from the March 18th election, the credibility, freeness, and fairness of elections in Nigeria are beyond the management of the commission alone. Security agencies must play it roles optimally to ensure electoral violence do not remain a tool for election manipulation in the hands of politicians.
“Huge lessons have been learnt from the 2023 general election, the commission must begin to rally stakeholders towards improving the system ahead of the off-cycle elections in Kogi, Edo and Imo states. TMG also commends the commitment of domestic and international observers as well as the media for its professionalism without interfering with election procedures,” Rafsanjani stated.