Gentlemen of the press, As a build-up to our preliminary report on the 2023 Presidential and National Assembly elections, we would like to share an update on the findings of our roving observers across the country. Nigerians demonstrated resilience and confidence in the electoral process as, despite the logistical challenges which resulted in delays, citizens patiently waited at the various polling stations to vote. CLEEN Foundation, however, noted some unfortunate incidents in some states which require the urgent attention of election management stakeholders.
CLEEN Foundation notes that that the security agencies in different parts of the country intervened with professionalism to prevent, contain and manage security situations that arose from the conduct of the elections. It is also noteworthy that there were no reported cases of indictment of security personnel involved in causing disruptions in any polling unit.
Reports from some of the roving observers indicate that some Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) ad-hoc staff, in some locations, could not satisfactorily operate the BVAS machine. There were also incidences of snatching of the BVAS machine leading to disruptions in some polling stations. These incidents of disruptions contributed to the delays in the commencement and completion of the casting of votes within the designated time in some states. Consequently, the counting of votes in many polling stations stretched into the early hours of Sunday, 26th February 2023. There were cases in which INEC had to allow voting on Sunday to give citizens the opportunity to cast their votes. The implication of all these is that Nigerians should expect delays in the collation and declaration of the results of the elections.
The CLEEN Foundation Election Security Support Centre (ESSC) deployed 109 trained INEC accredited observers and is also liaised with a sizable number of citizen observers across the country covering the 109 senatorial zones in Nigeria. The roving observers were equipped with the CLEEN Mobile App that enabled the transmission of real time data to the ESSC. In addition, CLEEN Foundation set up real-time multi-communication platforms (WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and Zoom) to receive real time incidents across the 36 states and FCT. These were complemented with secondary information from credible media sources and interface with organizations that deployed observers including the Police Service Commission (PSC), Nigeria Police Force (NPF) and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC). The ESSC received calls and messages from citizens in different states which were escalated to INEC and Security agencies for appropriate action.
3.0 OPENING AND CLOSING OF POLLS
The elections commenced early in most polling units before 9:00 am in many parts of the country. However, there were delays observed in some states which affected the early commencement of accreditation and voting in many polling stations. The delays were in some cases caused by the late arrival of INEC staff and voting materials, notably in Anambra, Kogi, Ebonyi, Imo, Enugu, Zamfara and Abia States.
In the following states Delta, Ebonyi, Imo, Ondo, and some parts of Lagos late arrival of security personnel were reported in some polling units. This led to tension in some parts of the affected states.
4.0 SECURITY RELATED OBSERVATIONS
4.1 Early Arrivals of Security personnel:
CLEEN ESSC observed that the security personnel deployed for the elections reported to the polling stations early and, in some cases, they reported earlier than the electoral officials. Many of the security personnel in the polling units that were observed (49.3%), reported between 7:00am and 8:30 am. Although this seems to indicate an improvement over previous elections, there is room for improvement in reporting to polling stations.
to reduce the This indicates some improvement in the presence of the security personnel at the various polling units in Nigeria’s elections. is In polling unit 011 police Children School, Uwelu ward in Egor LGA, Edo state, security personnel arrived before 8:30am. However, CLEEN Foundation observed late arrival of security personnel in some polling units. For instance, in polling unit 001-003 Model Primary School, Ward 01 New Owerri in Owerri Municipal LGA, Imo state, the security personnel arrived at 8:44am.
4.2 Adequacy of Security Personnel:
From the reports gathered by CLEEN Foundation, it was clear that security agencies made adequate preparations and coordinated well with sister security agencies to ensure the presence of security personnel at the polling units. Considering the contentious character of elections in Nigeria, including intimidation, threats and resort to violence, security personnel were strategically deployed for the elections. The presence of security personnel in most of the polling units may have contributed to the largely peaceful conduct of the elections. It is important to state that despite the lack of security personnel in some areas, the Nigerian people have remarkably refrained from taking the laws into their hands. Indeed, some citizens made appeals for all voters to remain patient and avoid any acts of violence. Despite this, there were some areas where a few incidents of disruptions occurred later in the day at some of the polling units and collation centres.
4.3 Identification of Security Personnel:
One of the requirements for security personnel is to ensure that they wear their name tags in compliance with the Electoral Act. CLEEN Foundation ESSC notes that in almost all the polling units observed, security agents were wearing identifiable name tags, which was useful in building the confidence of citizens to recognize and relate with the security officers and to eliminate cases of impersonation. It is also a factor in ensuring that officers do not misuse their service uniform to commit electoral offences or violate the rights of citizens.
4.4 Approachability of Security Agents:
The information from CLEEN observers indicates that most of the security personnel on election duty were civil and approachable. This is an improvement over the experiences in past elections. It is important to point out that the conduct of individual officers, at any point in any election, can influence the conduct of voters at the polls. Of course, security officers’ civility and approachability could foster cooperation from the voters. Officers have long been sensitized that any misconduct on their part could lead to the disruption of the elections and may engender violence. CLEEN Foundation is particularly satisfied that its engagement with the security agencies on the need to enhance the professional conduct of security officers on election duty seems to have the desired impact.
4.5 Feeling of Safety at the Polling Stations:
CLEEN Foundation observers across the states reported that voters felt safe and secure at the polling units. The safety of voters was exhibited in most of the polling stations as people stayed for long hours without any incident. However, there were reported incidents in some of the polling units that made some voters to feel unsafe: intimidation, harassment, threats, absence of security officers and thuggery. These might have made people not to feel safe at the polling unit.
4.6 Impartiality of Security Personnel:
CLEEN’s observers reported that security personnel in the polling units visited acted professionally and impartially towards the voters. The impartiality observed in the various polling units seems to reflect the situation across the country. This can be related to the civility and approachability exhibited by the officers on election duty. Generally, the security officers maintained a professional and impartial posture which is healthy to the election process.
4.7 Overall Conduct of Security Personnel:
CLEEN Foundation Election Security Support Centre believes that the security personnel that were deployed on election duty conducted themselves professionally. They were civil and approachable and refrained from interfering with the process. They remained neutral and impartial and maintained security at the polling units which made people feel safe. In the few cases where some incidences were recorded, the security responded to maintain law and order. It is commendable that the security personnel did not resort to intimidation and violation of the rights of citizens. However, there were places where the security officers reported late because of logistic challenges. It is the wish of CLEEN Foundation that the lessons learnt from the present elections are applied to future elections in Nigeria.
5.0 GENERAL OBSERVATIONS
5.1 Thuggery and Violence
CLEEN Foundation wishes to observe that although there were apprehensions that the elections would be marred by a high degree of violence, events have continued to show since the commencement of voting show otherwise. The level of violence was limited to a few areas in the states where they occurred and were managed by the security agencies and controlled. Although the level of violence was manageable, there were incidents that affected, to some degree, affected the conduct of voting in some of the polling units. These were issues of disruption of voting, thuggery and ballot box snatching, intimidation of voters and electoral officers.
1. Disruptions of the Voting Process – There were cases of attempts to disrupt the elections in the following states: Abia, Bayelsa, Cross River, Edo, Enugu, Delta, Kogi, Lagos, Niger, Plateau, Rivers and the FCT-Abuja. As a result of the disruptions, the elections in parts of Anambra, Cross River, Bayelsa, Enugu, Imo, Kogi, Niger and Sokoto States have been rescheduled to Sunday, 26th February.
2. Widespread Thuggery and Ballot Box Snatching – CLEEN Foundation observers reported cases of thuggery and ballot box snatching in Abia, Kano, Kogi, Lagos, Sokoto, Rivers and FCT-Abuja. The security intervened and brought the situation under control.
3. Intimidation of Voters and Electoral Officers – CLEEN Foundation observers reported incidents of intimidation of voters and electoral officers by political thugs. The incidents were recorded in Edo, Delta, Kogi, Lagos, Plateau, Rivers States and FCT-Abuja.
5.2 Reported Deaths
Although the elections were relatively peaceful, it is sad that some acts of violence have resulted in a number of deaths:
The police allegedly shot a ballot box snatcher at Ate-iji polling unit in Anyigba, Dekina LGA, Kogi State and another at Yahaya Umaru Polling Unit at Jekadafari Ward 07, Polling Unit No. 0010 Gombe State.
5.3 Logistics/Operational Challenges
The major challenges that seemed to affect the 2023 General Elections are the issue of INEC logistics and operations. The voting public had high expectations that with the deployment of the Bi-Modal Verification and Accreditation System (BVAS), the elections were going to be smooth with minor hitches. However, this expectation was shattered by several logistical and operational failures: late arrival of INEC ad-hoc officials and materials; some voters could not readily locate their polling units; some of the voters were stranded; some of the INEC ad-hoc officials could not operate the BVAS; glitches of the BVAS machine; incomplete election materials (ink pads, result sheets and few ballot papers); and, some cases of result transmission failures by BVAS.
As the collation of results continues across the country, Nigerians should remain calm, avoid dissemination of fake news and results while political parties reserve the right to seek redress through the legal process rather than resorting to violence. CLEEN Election Security Support Centre will continue to monitor the security related development and will update on the general public.
God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria