As part of its mandate to engage electoral democracy in Nigeria, the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) observed the Ekiti State Governorship Election on July 14 2018, deploying observers across the state, it monitored Election Day processes, the conduct of election managers as well as key issues that could inform key learning for engaging future elections in the country and came out with the following observations.
The TMG observers reported early set up of polling units across the state as well as early turn out of voters who turned out in their numbers and conducted themselves in an orderly manner. Accreditation and voting started quite early, a marked departure from late start of polling in previous elections. There were complaints recorded with the Smart Card Readers as authentication of finger prints which resulted in slow voting. Nevertheless the polling officials conducted themselves professionally and were able to handle complaints and issues arising from the voting process effectively, this could be an indication of proper training of the polling officials and a good understanding of the processes. Persons with disability (PWDs), the aged and pregnant women were given priority in the voting process even though the location of the polling stations still posed challenges of access for these groups especially for PWDs.
The TMG observed that the election was largely peaceful except for a few isolated cases of violent conducts or actions that could have undermined the voting process which was effectively dealt with by the Police and other security personnel who also conducted themselves in a civil manner. Observers reported a fairly large deployment of security agencies during the elections with other security agencies such as the Customs, Immigration and Prisons also deployed during the elections raising the question of what role they were meant to play in the process and its implication for fear on the part of voters ultimately affecting turn out.
The TMG observers reported a systemic case of vote buying and financial inducement of voters with all the parties involved and a sense of communal buy-in in the act. While it wasn’t observed that INEC officials were in anyway complicit in the act, the arrangement of polling stations; the voting booth and the ballot box leaves much to be desired towards stemming this ugly practice. The practice is taking a consistent approach with impunity on the part of the political actors with far reaching implication for the credibility of elections, mandates and democracy in general.
Collation of results went on fairly well but the TMG observed invalid ballot papers largely as a result of voters trying to manipulate the ballot papers to show party agents how they have casted their votes in order to be paid as well as the ink used for casting ballots.
Key Issues and Highlights for the TMG
As a group that has been involved in the electoral process since the return of democracy in 1999, the TMG commends the Independent National Electoral Commission for its improvement in the management of the elections in the State, the electoral management body had undertaken extensive consultation in the build up to the election, managed logistics in an effective and timely manner as well as improvement in the conduct of its election officials. This the group suggest must be the minimum benchmark as the EMB prepares for the 2019 elections. INEC should also look at the working of the card reader with a view to dealing with issues identified during the Ekiti State election which includes finger print authentication and the speed of the machines.
The TMG is concerned with the massive deployment of security agencies and personnel during the elections, the country should be working towards a less policed electoral process. The TMG is of the opinion that mobilising the whole gamut of the country’s security infrastructure is not necessary as this could intimidate voters and further drive voter apathy which is a key concern for the electoral process, looking at the discrepancy between the number of registered voters and those who actually vote.
While the TMG commends the people of Ekiti State for coming out en-mass to vote, it is struggling to come to terms if this large voter mobilisation is not hinged on the incentives of the financial inducement from political parties for their votes. This question has become necessary in the face of the massive acceptance of the financial inducement by the voters. The TMG calls on Nigerians to shun partaking in such act as it has far reaching implication for the nature of relationship that evolves between elected leaders and the people in the quest for accountability and transparency in governance.
The TMG is concerned about the growing trend of vote buying by political parties and contestants in elections. This practice is becoming the norm with political parties trying to outwith each other in the sums paid to voters. The practice TMG reiterates is a bad omen for the country’s democracy, it has the potential of undermining all the progress we have made in our electoral politics and further exclude groups such as women, youyng people and persons with disability who have been largely excluded in politics due to money driven politics.
The TMG calls on INEC to seriously consider the setting up of polling units in the future in ways in which a third second verification of voter’s choices are almost impossible to stem the tide of vote buying. Its calls on all actors to step up conversations and actions on this worrying trend and the best way to deal with it.
The TMG also calls on concerted effort towards the enforcement of the provisions of the electoral acts towards stemming this tide. As a group the TMG makes a commitment to mobilise its members towards actions that will contribute in stemming this tide and make the 2019 elections one that its outcome is a true reflection of the people’s will.
Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi