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Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room has expressed disappointment with the conduct of Saturday’s off-cycle governorship elections in Bayelsa, Imo and Kogi states, describing it as a major setback in the nation’s democratic development.
In a statement on Monday in Abuja, Situation Room said the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) did not show that it had learned from the challenges it faced in conducting the general elections eight months ago.
“These elections represent a major setback in Nigeria’s democratic development,” it said in statement signed by its convener, Yunusa Ya’u, and co-conveners, Mimidoo Achakpa and Franklin Oloniju.
The group said “the disturbing reports of high levels of results falsification and other forms of electoral irregularities in the governorship elections in the three states raise serious questions about the credibility of elections and the future of democracy in Nigeria.
It, therefore, called on INEC to “fully review the elections in Kogi and Imo States to identify the incidents of malpractice that took place and reflect the genuine vote of the people.”
It also called for an independent audit of election administration in Nigeria and compliance with electoral law by INEC.
“Without this, we are worried that not much improvement can be achieved,” it added.
The Situation Eoom said in its observation report that the elections were marred specifically by logistical challenge, delay in the commencement of voting, over voting, violence and vote buying.
It said that only 29 per cent of the polling units in Imo State had commenced voting by the official time of 8:30 a.m.
In Bayelsa, 66 per cent of polling units started at the scheduled time while 86 per cent compiled in Kogi states.
The group reported that election officials did not turn up in several polling units in Ideato North and Ideato South LGAs and a few polling units in Orlu, Orsu, Okigwe and Oru East LGAs.
“The failure of INEC to turn up disenfranchised voters in the affected areas,” it stated.
“Voting in Bayelsa State was affected by the incidents of the capsized boat in Southern ljaw LGA and the abduction of INEC’s Supervisory Presiding Officer assigned to Registration Area 06 (Ossioma) in Sagbama.”
While the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) performed optimally in most polling units, the group said it worried about INEC’s failure to address reports of over voting as contained in the Electoral Act (2022).
“The inability of INEC to synchronise the record of accreditation by the BVAS with the Result Viewing Portal (IReV Portal) in real time despite improved access to internet broadband in Nigeria is questionable. By permitting the bypass of the BVAS, INEC has effectively rolled back the gains of electoral reform recorded in recent times,” it added.
The group also condemned commission’s management of results in areas where there were reports of falsification of results.
It said: “INEC had acknowledged incidents of pre-filled result sheets before the commencement of polls affecting 5 LGAs in Kogi State -Adavi, Ajaokuta, Ogori/Mangongo, Okehi and Okene. Regrettably, INEC has gone ahead to collate results from these LGAs without conducting any thorough investigation and making its findings public. This is condemnable.”
In Imo State, the group said, INEC uploaded results of polling units where voting did not take place on the election results viewing portal (IReV).
The group added that politicians attempted to exploit INEC’s weaknesses to tamper with results in Bayelsa State, especially in Brass, Sagbama, Southern ljaw and Nembe LGAs.
“These incidents question INEC’s integrity and the willingness and ability of the Commission to conduct credible elections. To ascertain the depth of the damage, Situation Room is calling on the Commission to release data of accredited voters as recorded on the BVAS and total votes cast on a local government basis in these states,” it said.
The Situation Room report also noted some pockets of violence recorded in the three states.
In Bayelsa State, it said, one of its observers was chased out of the Ward Collation Centre in Ogbia township by personnel of the Nigerian Army while another observer with the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) was attacked and her phone confiscated by a party agent in polling unit 003, Ogboloma Town Square, Ward 11, Kolokuma LGA without any intervention from the security agents present at the polling unit.
The group said its partners also reported 19 incidents of violence by noon on election day in the three States.
“These incidents of violence were recorded in Anyigba, Dekina LGA of Kogi State, Sagbama and Brass of Bayelsa State and Ikeduru LGA of Imo State,” it said.
The report added, “It will seem that security agents deployed for election duty, rather than help in securing the process and ensuring its integrity, they opted to collude with politicians and even in some cases, protected the politicians, enabling them to indulge in vote buying and other conducts that compromised the elections in these three states.
“The Commercialisation of Nigeria’s elections appears to have reached unprecedented heights. Political parties and their agents operated openly and with impunity, distributing money in the purchase of votes without any effort from the security agents to contain it.
“Sums paid at polling units ranged from N1,000 to N30,000, along with cooked and uncooked food items. There has to be an effective mechanism to halt politicians weaponizing poverty to win elections in Nigeria.”