By Gabriel Ewepu – Abuja
An election observer, YIAGA AFRICA, on Thursday, scored the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, political parties, and voters’ performance on the just concluded Nasarawa Central State Constituency Bye-Election based on its observation report and recommendation.
This was contained in a statement signed by the Executive Director, YIAGA AFRICA, Samson Itodo, which pointed out issues that need to be tackled promptly ahead of the Edo and Ondo governorship elections scheduled for September 19 and October 10 respectively.
Some of the issues identified include Technological Challenges with Voter Authentication; Difficulty in securing tables and chairs for polling unit set up; Vote-buying in full glare; Non-compliance with COVID-19 Election Guidelines; and Low voter mobilization.
The statement reads in part: “As a precursor to the upcoming 2020 governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) conducted a bye-election on Saturday, August 8, 2020, in the Nasarawa Central State Constituency to fill the vacancy created by the death of Hon. Adamu Suleiman Ibrahim.
“The bye-election was conducted in 44 polling units across seven wards in Nasarawa local government area (LGA) with a total of 71,919 registered voters. Yiaga Africa Watching The Vote (WTV) did not deploy the Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT) methodology for the bye-election but instead deployed stationary and roving citizen observers to observe the election in 22 out of the 44 polling units where the bye-election held.
”Despite low voter turnout, technological challenges, and non-compliance with some public health guidelines, the election was peaceful with no incidences of violence. The security agencies maintained professional conduct throughout the election. The voters in Nasarawa LGA deserve commendation for their resilience to participate in the election despite the logistical hiccups that resulted in the late commencement of voting in several polling units and the risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While INEC took some measures to follow COVID-19 health guidelines including providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) like face masks, hand gloves, thermometer for temperature checks and hand sanitizers at all observed polling units and sanitizing all voters’ fingers before reading their fingerprints with the Smart Card Reader, INEC experienced challenges maintaining the physical distance between voters and ensuring that all voters wore face masks/coverings while at the polls.
“In addition to massive vote-buying, political parties provided facemasks and handwashing equipment at the polling units to lure voters to cast their votes. It is evident that INEC and other health institutions will need to take measures based on lessons learned from this election to guarantee the enforcement of health safety guidelines during subsequent elections amidst COVID-19, particularly for the upcoming off-cycle governorship elections in Edo and Ondo.
“Electoral technology can enhance electoral transparency as observed with the IReV platform; however, it has the potential to undermine the credibility of elections and decrease voter participation if the tools and systems are not tested, verified and deployed in line with Open Election Data principles coupled with adequate public sensitization on their functionality and efficiency.
“Electoral technology such the Smart Card Readers and electronic tablets may also disenfranchise voters and trigger violence if they do not function properly or polling officials aren’t adequately trained on how to operate them.”
However, the statement made some recommendations that would help INEC, political parties, and their supporters, and voters.
“INEC should collaborate with security agencies to enforce all health safety guidelines particularly those regarding wearing of facemasks/covering and maintaining the physical distance between voters; INEC should ensure technological tools and devices are configured, tested, and fully charged before deployment on Election Day. Polling officials should be adequately trained on new technological tools ahead of Election Day to ensure effective management of elections.
“INEC should scale the INEC Results Viewing (IReV) portal to all subsequent elections. In doing so, the Commission should ensure election results conform to open election data principles such as timeliness, granularity, analysable, accessible, etc; Maintain regular engagement with stakeholders and share adequate information on new policies and guidelines ahead of Election Day.
“INEC should continue to review its voting processes to allow voters to cast ballots without interference and intimidation; INEC should liaise with state governments and school authorities to ensure access to tables and chairs in schools to facilitate polling unit set up during elections.
“For the National Assembly, there is a need to accelerate the consideration of electoral amendment bills and ensure their quick passage. This will confer legality on laudable innovations introduced by INEC and upscale the electoral results viewing to an election results collation and transmission portal.
“For Security agencies, there is a need to support INEC in enforcing COVID-19 safety guidelines during elections as well as arrest individuals involved in vote trading and disruptive behavior during elections; and maintain professionalism and impartiality in managing election security.
Meanwhile, in its conclusion, the statement commended voters in Nassarawa LGA for their peaceful conduct, resilience, and patience on Election Day, INEC for introducing the results viewing platform, which signals a leap in the quest to ensuring transparency of election results management.
“Yiaga Africa is concerned with the challenges of conducting a governorship election while adhering to the COVID-19 guidelines. INEC provided thermometers for temperature checks and hand sanitizers for sanitizing each voter’s finger before their fingerprints were read by the Smart Card Reader.
“However, Yiaga Africa observers reported significant challenges in maintaining physical distancing and ensuring voters wore masks/face coverings to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Clearly, the Nassarawa bye-election underscores the complexity of conducting elections amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
“INEC must ensure effective enforcement of all COVID-19 guidelines ahead of and during the upcoming off-cycle governorship elections in Edo and Ondo. Achieving this will require the support and collaboration of all stakeholders, especially the voters, political parties, and their supporters”, it added.