X-RAYING THE 2023 GENERAL ELECTIONS AS A VOTER AND AN OBSERVER – Nelson Ekujimi Writes
As Nigerians and the rest of the world await the swearing into office of the President-elect Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and his vice Presidential candidate Distinguish Senator Kashim Shettima and other elected representatives following the fair, successful and credible conduct of the 2023 general elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), save for inconclusive elections in some constituencies of which supplementary elections have been scheduled for 15th of May 2023, it becomes imperative for Nigerians who were active participants in the process to state their own side of the story in order to debunk the litany of lies, falsehood and misinformation against the election from expected quarters and which must not be allowed to go unchallenged.
As a Nigerian who played a double role as a voter and an INEC accredited observer, one owes it to posterity to document his or her experience in the 2023 general elections as a reference for the future.
On the 25th of February 2023, Nigerians in their millions trooped out to the polls to elect the President, his Vice, Senators and members of the House of Representatives across 176, 606 polling stations nationwide. Same scenario repeated itself in the Governorship and states House of Assembly elections on the 18th of March 2023. As expected, the elections went on smoothly in some places, while in some other places, there were skirmishes which resulted in disruptions of polls. That this election was fiercely contested by the parties is not a new thing to our democracy because this has been the trend also in previous republics before 1999 when we birthed this republic. That there were disruptions of elections in some places is also not a new thing, as we have become accustomed to anti-democratic elements baring their fangs on Election Day in various forms, which is condemnable and unacceptable.
An indisputable fact of the 25th February 2023 Presidential and national assembly elections was that logistics challenge reared its ugly head again as INEC personnel arrived late at polling stations resulting in polls not commencing at the official time of 8.30am in some polling stations, though it did commence at official starting time in some other places. The truth of the matter is that because of this logistics challenge, polling in some constituencies were extended till Sunday the 26th February 2023 and we also had the issue of rescheduling of elections in some polling stations to the following day because of security challenge, (e.g. 141 units in Bayelsa state, some units in Lagos state and other states).
The 18th March 2023 gubernatorial and house of assembly elections witnessed remarkable improvements in logistics issues nationwide which could be attributed to the outcry of Nigerians which might have forced the electoral umpire to sit up. But sadly, some interest(s) who are always on the lookout for our dark side, seeing this logistics improvements by INEC, resorted to attempt to blackmail the election on the grounds of electoral violence without providing statistical data of instances to substantiate how the successful and credible conduct of the election has been marred by what they profess, which is pure mischief.
So for the hasty generalization that the election was marred by logistics challenge to be tenable in this age of science, such a person, group or organization must be asked to substantiate the blanket statement with a data of the mention of the particulars of the polling units affected out of 176, 606 polling stations, 8,809 wards and 774 local governments council areas nationwide. For the allegation of malpractice against the 2023 general elections to withstand scrutiny, we need to ask those parroting it, to identify and mention at what levels did the malpractice take place and with facts, they should mention the names/codes of the polling stations, RA/Wards, local governments and states?
According to section 63(1) of the 2022 electoral Act, The Presiding Officer must count the votes at the polling unit and enter the votes scored by each candidate into the form prescribed by INEC.
Section 63(2) states that, subsequently, this form must be signed and stamped by the Presiding Officers and counter-signed by candidates or their polling agents if they are at the polling unit.
Section 63(3) states that, thereafter, a copy of the forms must be given to the polling agents and the police by the Presiding Officer. This process is applicable to result forms completed at the ward, local government, state and national level – Section 74.
According to section 63(4), the Presiding Officer must count and announce the result at the polling unit.
Section 64 states that, in certain instances after the counting of votes, a candidate or a polling agent may request that the Presiding Officer recount the votes. In such cases, the Presiding Officer should do so, but only once.
Section 65 states that, after the recording and announcement of the result, the Presiding Officer has a duty to deliver the result along with election materials under security accompanied by the candidate or their polling agents to a person that has been prescribed by INEC.
In addition, Article 38(I) of INEC revised rules and guidelines states that, “On completion of all the polling unit voting and results procedures, the Presiding Officer shall: (1) Electronically transmit OR transfer the result of the Polling Unit, direct to the collation system as prescribed by the commission.
(II) Use the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) to upload a scanned copy of the EC8A to the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IReV), as prescribed by the Commission.
(III) Take the BVAS and the original copy of each of the forms in tamper evident envelope to the Registration Area/Ward Collation Officer, in the company of the security agents. The Polling Agents may accompany the Presiding Officer to the RA/Ward Collation Centre”.
From the narrations of the electoral act 2022 and INEC rules and guidelines as cited above, one can see and read very clearly what the law says about procedures of vote counting and collation of election results which passes through several stages from the polling station, to the ward, local government, state and national level. At every stage save for the polling unit where the voters are present, every other stage accommodates all the other stakeholders and even makes it compulsory for the party agents if they are present, to be witness who must counter-sign and be given copies of result sheets as well as the security agencies in order to confer legitimacy on the process.
According to both the 2022 electoral act and INEC rules and guidelines, the emphasis is on, as prescribed by the Commission. We must also take special notice of Article 38(I) of INEC rules and guidelines which states, …..Electronically transmit OR transfer the result of the Polling Unit direct to the collation system as prescribed by the Commission. So one wonders the source of authority of claimants of stolen mandate on the basis of non-uploading of polling station results on IReV? We must ask them to provide proof of provisions in the electoral act, where this action translates to electoral malpractice?
With the successful and credible conduct of the 2023 general elections so far, no political party or candidate has been bold enough to come out publicly and provide with evidence, where in any stage of the process, in any part of the country, the above mentioned provisions of the electoral law were violated by INEC. Rather, some candidates and their supporters have been fouling the public space with emotional outburst of rigging, malpractice and stolen mandate just to incite and threaten national security.
Infact, a particular candidate, party and supporters have hinged their cries of electoral malpractice of the 2023 general elections on the grounds that the results were not uploaded on the IRev viewing portal, which is mischievous and laughable. Nigerians should ask such people if the non-uploading of polling units results on the IRev portal invalidates the counter signed polling station results sheets given to their party agents by the Presiding Officer and of which a copy was also given to security officials? We should ask them to provide copies of the results collated at the ward, local government and state levels as attested to and counter-signed by their party agents in order to expose their mischief and fraud.
An undeniable truth of the 2023 general elections is that it was successfully and creditably conducted by INEC in substantial compliance with the provisions of the electoral law as stipulated which is commendable. Any candidate or party which feels otherwise, is hereby advised to seek the judicial option rather than the mischief, lies, falsehood, misinformation and emotional outcry of malpractice and stolen mandate.
Nigerians should reject any attempt to take them for a ride and ridicule by person(s), groups and organizations whether local or international who are crying wolf over the 2023 general elections only on the basis of emotions and political bias and not facts. We should demand and remind those who are alledging electoral malpractice to stop insulting our collective intelligence in the public space, but that they should gather their evidence to establish their case in court as prescribed by the law, enough is enough of this political shenanigan and incitement.
God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Director, media and mobilization,
Voters Awareness Initiative (VAI), INEC accredited observer organization for the 2023 general elections.