Assessing the fairness and credibility of 2019 Presidential/NASS Elections

 Assessing the fairness and credibility of 2019 Presidential/NASS Elections

By Sunday Elom

Election in every democratic nation is the process whereby every qualified citizen expresses his/her democratic/civic right and duty by freely voting in representative(s) of their choice without any form of interference by power custodians or their representatives.

In Nigeria, the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) provides that any rightful citizen of the country that has attained 18 years and above is automatically constitutionally entitled to vote and be voted for.

Ideally, this civic right and responsibility supposed not to be denied or breached by anyone no matter the person’s social placement.

All things being equal according to constitutional provisions and absolute standard of Rule of Law—one of the major pillars of democracy, every leader, be it the president, senators, House of Representatives members, governors, state House of Assembly members, and other elective leaders should, with all transparency be the absolute choice of the electorates.

Unfortunately, Nigeria democratic elections’ history at least from 1999 till date has been inundated with one form of electoral malpractice/manipulation or the other. The outcome of which has greatly impacted negatively on the country’s democracy.

…according to constitutional provisions and absolute standard of Rule of Law—one of the major pillars of democracy, every leader, be it the president, senators, House of Representatives members, governors, state House of Assembly members, and other elective leaders should, with all transparency be the absolute choice of the electorates.

However, the focus here at this moment is not to recount history, though few of it may come in if need be, but the premium interest here is to ascertain the degree of free, fair and credibility of the recently concluded Presidential/National Assembly elections.

A lot of controversies have rocked the Saturday February 23, 2019, Nigeria Presidential/NASS elections. There have been countless reports of electoral malpractice, bloody and bloodless violence, manipulation of figures, and cancellation of election in many local government areas, wards and pulling units. All these incidents have jointly amount to disenfranchisement of high number of Nigerians. Thus, their electoral and democratic/civic rights and responsibilities denied and their decisions unknown.

Unfortunately, Nigeria democratic elections’ history at least from 1999 till date has been inundated with one form of electoral malpractice/manipulation or the other. The outcome of which has greatly impacted negatively on the country’s democracy.

However, in the midst of these controversies, doubts, complains and protests, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, on the early hour of Wednesday February 27, 2019, declared the incumbent President Mohammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress, APC, the winner of the election, having scored 15,191,847 votes to defeat his closest opposition, Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, who polled 11,255,978 votes.

According to the INEC boss, Prof. Yakubu, the total number of registered voters were 82, 344,107; total number of accredited voters were 29,364,209; total votes cast were 28,614,190; total valid votes were 27,324,583 and rejected votes were 1,289,607.

However, electorates have been dishing out their opinions on the outcome of the elections, most of which have been against the degree of free, fair and credibility of the elections.

People’s Opinions

Freedom of expression being one of the core objectives of democracy, many Nigerians have been expressing their views on the outcome of the February 23 presidential and National Assembly elections.

A legal practitioner, who rather pleaded anonymity for security reason said, “Who are the majority that voted Buhari to second tenure? No rule of law but rule of man in Nigeria today. No election, no rule of law. Constitution has been suspended impliedly under the guise of fighting corruption. Their secret agenda are now ready to be implemented without any let or hindrance. The drama has started but will be in full force after May 29.”

Corroborating Barr’s view is what Prof. Epiphany Azinge, SAN, said in his lecture at the funeral obsequies of Emmanuel Aguma, SAN, on September 12, 2018. According to the legal luminary, “It is submitted that the basic element of a democratic society is freedom of choice, expressed through free, fair and transparent electoral process and elections.

“Thus, once that freedom of choice of the kind of candidate is limited or inhibited through the manipulation of the process through rigging, violence or other fraud induced actions, the government emanating therefrom can hardly be said to be democratic.

“Thus, reported incidents of rigging and alteration of results as well as other illegal act that has characterised past elections in Nigeria has cast aspersions on the democratic nature of the Nigerian state; its government and rule of law.”

Pascal Chuks, said, “It’s obvious to the blind and audible to the deaf that the recently concluded presidential and National Assembly elections conducted on February 23 is only a sham and a big step towards rape of democracy. One obvious red flag is the intimidation of voters in Lagos, Akwa Ibom states and some other areas. Non-use of smart card readers in some states like Zamfara, Borno, Yobe, etc. is also pointing at the big intimidation and suppression of the masses’ voices.

“We can simply say that in 2019, the incumbent president forced himself on the people and retained power without regards to the people’s choice.”

It could be recalled that at the national collation centre, Abuja, on February 26, many State Collation Officers, mostly from the Northern part of the country reported that the use of the smart card readers were out-rightly put aside. The electoral offence which according to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, through Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), states that it attracts cancellation and conduct of rerun election in such places. However, the supposed rerun elections in the reported areas were not conducted before the declaration of the winner.

Expressing his view on the outcome of the elections, James Ojo said, “In my own opinion, the recently concluded elections—Presidential and NASS are far from being free, fair and credible, when some indicators are taken into consideration.

“In the first place, results from the Northern parts of the country appeared inflated. For instance, that of Yobe and Borno are worrisome. How on earth can we get such results in a crisis ravaged region? Who are the people that voted? That is a concern, which has already been raised by the opposition party, PDP.

“Also, when you look at the cases of Rivers and Lagos states where there were cases of burning of ballot papers and attacks of different kinds, you can’t talk of credible elections. Comparatively, it is unfortunate we haven’t built on the success recorded in 2015 by the Attahiru Jega-led INEC.”

However, Mr Ojo said, “On the whole, the elections were not without any positive however. In the Southeast and some other parts of the country for instance, there was relative peace.”

A political analyst, Justice Nwafor in his view concurred with Mr Pascal and Mr Ojo. With a squeezed face, Mr Nwafor said, “To say the least, it is nothing close to credible. It was marred by massive rigging. A well-orchestrated and planned rigging. Rigging that was well executed.

“It sounds like vague allegation but almost everyone knows that APC had its way. The party orchestrated the rigging of the elections.”

According to Mr Nwafor, “The evidences abound. The PDP is coming out with videos. Very disturbing videos of how APC rigged the elections. This is not exonerating the PDP of complicities in the rigging. Videos and audios that have gone viral on the social media lay more credence to this,” he said.

According to a lecturer with the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, who rather pleaded anonymity said, “In some parts of the country, the election was free but I don’t think it was fair and credible. The results were in total contrast with the will of the people. Little wonder Nigerians are not celebrating this victory.”

To Israel Igiri from Lagos state, the election was do-or-die affair for some politicians and far from being free, fair and credible. According to him, “It was not free, fair and credible going by democratic standards. Rigging everywhere. Results were reported even where election was not conducted.

“We saw people protesting in Somolu Local Government Area of Lagos because they were not allowed to vote. Meanwhile, the Collation Officer in charge of Lagos state reported that elections held in that Local Government Area (Somolu).

“Electorates were disenfranchised in some areas. That was a great manipulation because no alternative was made.

“Underage voters were seen in some parts of the country. Figures were inflated to favour a particular party.

“It was seen as a do-or-die affair for some politicians. Thuggery, snatching of ballot boxes and burning of voting materials were experienced in so many parts of the country,” he said.

Mr Igiri revealed that apart from destruction of electoral materials and other malpractices, casualties were recorded in some states. “what about those who lost their lives in places like Rivers, Bayelsa and other states because they wanted to be involved in the decision-making process?” he rhetorically asked.

“To me, that wasn’t an election. It is just a sham,” he affirmed. All these continue to give the nation a bad image,” he lamented.

Igiri while further buttressing his point made reference to the gubernatorial election held in Osun state on November 2018. He maintained that, “What we just saw from the just concluded presidential “election” was an advanced version of what we saw in Osun state last November when even observers from the international community like the EU reported that the gubernatorial poll held in the state lacked credibility and transparency.

“An election where journalists were not allowed to cover the processes. An election where electorates were disenfranchised by thugs. And that was why a lot of persons did not go out to vote in the just concluded elections.”

According to him, “In some states, those who voted were not even up to 50 per cent compare to the number of registered voters.”

“From what we have seen so far, popular opinion does not count, and that is why a lot of persons now believe that their votes do not count. I just begin to wonder if we actually practice democracy or something else. It is a shame that those who supposed to act as change agents are the ones spearheading these anomalies in the society. Nigeria is in a big mess,” he lamented.

Making a minor shift from other views, Chukwudera Eze said, “In my own opinion, the election was free and fair, but not credible generally. There were so many election malpractices which most people believe that the ruling All Progressives Party, APC, championed.”

A political scientist, Mr Ezekiel Olagoke said that the outcome of the elections does not meet the expectations of Nigerians. He noted that in terms of improvement, it can be perceived as a step backward from 2015 general elections, which he said was generally accepted by the losers and the winners alike.

“Though to a reasonable limit, it has been upheld by international observers to be relatively peaceful, free and fair, this was largely done so as to dust the tension that might arise after the elections from political parties and their supporters.

“There are important things to note out that culminated to make the elections not up to the expectations of Nigerians. These include: low turnout of voters; issues of inflation of figures, particularly in Northeast, ravaged by insecurity; vote buying; inducement of ad-hoc staff and even threat to lives of collation officers and resident electoral commissioners.

“In addition to these, elections were cancelled in some places without justifiable reasons. There were disruptions of voting in some polling units and burning of ballot papers by thugs sponsored by political party, etc.”

Mr Olagoke however advised that “INEC as an independent body has a long way to go to redeem the image of the country and make a formidable improvement on the issues” he highlighted earlier on; because they (INEC) “can’t afford to fail Nigerians again on the coming gubernatorial and state house of assembly elections.”

“In my own opinion, to attain optimum level of making elections acceptable by Nigerians, there is need for INEC to ensure that security should be geared up at various polling units. There is need to improve in the area of voters education. There is need also to provide adequate security for collation officers and resident electoral commissioners throughout the election period so that there won’t be fear of attack during the processes of discharging their duties.

“The election results should be transmitted live from RAC centres so as to ensure the transparent of the collation and figures. If all   these could be done, I think Nigerians will be proud at least to an extent that their votes count,” he said.

Most local media organisations have saturated the public’s ears with various reports of irregularities and casualties recorded during the Saturday February 23, 2019 presidential and National Assembly elections. In Rivers state, not less than nine persons including a National Youth Corps member were reported dead. In Lagos state, ballot papers and other electoral materials were burnt in many polling areas.

Whereas the election could be said to be free and fair in some parts of the country, it is popularly believed to lack credibility and transparency.

However, the major opposition candidate, Atiku Abubakar of the PDP, has rejected the result of the election and said he will challenge the outcome of the election in the appropriate court of law.


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