International human rights organisation, Yiaga Africa, on Thursday called on security agencies to “be vigilant and give safety to voters” in the Governorship and State Houses of Assembly election scheduled for March 18, 2023.
The organisation said the March elections presented another opportunity for the Independent National Electoral Commission to improve on the logistics and technological challenges experienced during the February 25 Presidential and National Assembly elections.
The group also said that it would be deploying a total of 1,547 duly trained and accredited stationary and roving observers to watch the conduct of the election in 28 states.
“Yiaga Africa will be deploying the Parallel Vote Tabulation methodology to observe the governorship elections in Benue, Delta and Kano states. This will involve deploying 900 stationary observers to a representative randomly selected sample of 300 polling units for each of the states. Yiaga Africa will also be deploying 97 roving observers in the three states. Additionally, Yiaga Africa will deploy 517 stationary observers and 33 roving observers in the other 25 states where the governorship elections will be held, to observe and report on the entire election day process from setup of the polling units, accreditation, voting, announcement and posting of the official results, and will send in periodic reports to the Watching the Vote National Data Centre. At the end of polls, Yiaga Africa observers will deploy to all LGAs and States’ results collation centres to observe and report the results’ collation process. This deployment will enable Yiaga Africa to provide the most timely and accurate information on the governorship elections in the states”, it said in its report read to journalists in Abuja by its board member, Ezenwa Nwagwu and Director of Programmes, Cynthia Mbamalu.
The report was a project supported by the European Union through its Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria.
According to the report, “This time, the stakes and expectations are understandably higher with the elections expected to be competitively unpredictable.”
For the March 18 governorship election, “Yiaga Africa is deploying a comprehensive and systematic observation of the elections which involves deploying the Parallel Votes Tabulation to observe the governorship elections in Benue, Delta and Kano States.
“Yiaga Africa notes the deployment of election materials across the States with at least 26 States confirming the deployment of sensitive and non-sensitive materials to the Local Government Areas of the State. While this is a positive sign, Yiaga Africa calls on the Independent National Electoral Commission to ensure proper coordination and communication with the transport companies/unions providing logistics support to ensure early deployment of materials and personnel to polling units on election day. This will break the trend of the late commencement of polls.
“The commission was seen to have made some swift changes with the redeployment of electoral officers in states like Rivers State, and withdrawing the Resident Electoral Commissioners in Abia and Sokoto states from participation in the March 18 elections. The commission’s action should not stop at only suspending the RECs but ensuring sanctions for any personnel that violates the electoral guidelines.
“Yiaga Africa received reports from across the states that the commission reconfigured a substantial number of Bimodal Voter Accreditation Systems ahead of the Saturday polls. Some states like Oyo reported receipt of additional 406 BVAS as a backup. As of 15 March 2023, Yiaga Africa received reports from Rivers state that there were 22 BVAS uncounted for or missing and 3 damaged BVAS.
“As citizen mobilisation efforts intensify ahead of the elections, Yiaga Africa has received reports of voter inducements through the distribution of gift items and wire (money) transfers by the political actors. Specifically, Yiaga Africa received reports of the distribution of money and food items by supporters of the APC in Mbakyaa Mbachougul, Tarka LGA, Benue State. The APC and PDP representatives were seen collecting voters’ bank account details in Damaturu and Potiskum LGAs in Yobe State, to make wire transfers ahead of the elections.
“From Akwa Ibom, Yiaga Africa also received reports that the PDP youths in Ibeno LGA were given a cash inducement of N1,000,000 after they had endorsed a candidate on Sunday, March 12, 2023.
“The pre-election period has recorded relative calm since the February 25 election with no major reports of insecurity. In addition, Yiaga Africa received troubling reports about the proliferation of light arms and small weapons in Abua-Odual, Andoni, Akuku Toru, Asari Toru, Eleme, Gokana, Khana and Tai LGAs in Rivers State. A House of Assembly candidate for Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni State constituency was allegedly abducted in Rivers State; these incidents have created a tense atmosphere ahead of the elections in the State.
“There has been a trend in both ethnic and religious divisive conversation in some states especially post the 25 February elections. Yiaga Africa also received reports about recurring incidents of clashes between herdsmen and farmers in Ucha Gbeji, Vaase and Boiko Ayti communities in Ukum LGA and Mkomon, Moon, Mbaikyor and Liev1 communities in Kwande LGA, in Benue State.”
One of the reasons behind the logistics challenges experienced during the Presidential election, according to Yiaga Africa, was unavailability of cash which impacted the transportation of drivers from Registration Area Centers to polling units.
The report said, “This is despite the promises made by the Central Bank of Nigeria that it will make available all the needed cash for effective logistics deployment. Yiaga Africa is worried that, if the challenges of scarcity of cash are not addressed, the Commission may experience further logistics challenges which will no doubt impact the quality of the process.
“Yiaga Africa is concerned that the low turnout of the presidential elections will be repeated for the gubernatorial elections. While INEC and others have continued to encourage voters to turn out for elections, citizen confidence in the Commission, poor voter education along with the lingering impacts of the Naira scarcity may impact voter turnout.”
The organisation called on INEC and the security agencies to ensure that the shortcomings observed in previous elections were properly addressed ahead of the governorship election.