…commends INEC for introducing Bimodal Voter Accreditation System

By Gabriel Ewepu

AHEAD of Anambra governorship election on Saturday, and election Observer, Yiaga Africa, Friday, released a Pre-Election Observation, PREO, report indicating salient issues.

The report was signed by Board Member, Yiaga Africa, Ezenwa Nwagwu, Executive Director, Yiaga Africa, Samson Itodo, and Director of Programmes, Yiaga Africa, Cynthia Mbamalu.

Yiaga Africa commenced its Pre-Election Observation report from August 2021 with 27 Long Term Observers, LTOs, deployed across the 21 LGAs of Anambra State.  

The report reads in part, “On November 6, 2021, the people of Anambra State will go to the polls to elect a governor in what promises to be a very competitive election. The Anambra governorship election will be the first state-wide elections to be conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) since the expansion of voter access to polling units by INEC.

“In Anambra State, the expansion of voter access to polling units resulted in the creation of 1,112 new polling units from the existing polling units to improve citizens’ access and participation in the electoral process.

“In addition, the Commission will also be deploying the newly introduced Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), a replacement to the Smart Card Reader. The BVAS has a dual capacity for fingerprint authentication and facial recognition.

“All the 18 political parties are on the ballot having fulfilled all conditions for candidates’ nomination. The Yiaga Africa Watching the Vote (WTV) has so far released four reports on the Anambra 2021 pre-election environment.

“The findings from its observation periods reveal an upward trend in the preparatory activities by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and a shift in the level of voter education and information campaigns. The WTV findings also revealed that the campaigns have been dominated by three political parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC), All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), and People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

“Violent attacks, political intimidation, violent enforcement of the sit-at-home order and threats to shut down the region by secessionist groups remain a consistent trend. This volatility impeded the conduct of political party campaigns, voter education and mobilization by electoral stakeholders who continue to deploy with more caution.

“Anambra East, Ogbaru LGA, Nnewi North, Orumba North and Ihiala are considered potential hotspots for violence based on early warning signs of violence. Yiaga Africa notes that there may likely be a further decline in voter turnout in the state due to the threat of violence and a pervasive culture of voter apathy in the state. Low voter turnout enhances the chances for electoral manipulation in the rural areas and strongholds of the major political parties.”

However, the report indicated that state of INEC’s preparedness; Increased Reports of Voter Inducement in Ogbaru Awka North, Ayamelum, Idemili North and Onitsha North LGAs; Physical violence during political party rallies and campaigns in Awka North and Ihiala LGAs; Inter-communal conflicts in Njikoka, Dunukofia, Ayamelum, Idemili North, Anambra East and Ogbaru LGAs; Non-compliance with COVID-19 Public Health Protocols.

On what it called Matters Arising on the 2021 Anambra Governorship Election’, the report also indicated that New polling units and imbalance in the distribution of voters to polling units, which Yiaga Africa commended efforts by INEC to improve voter access to polling units by creating additional 1,112 polling units in Anambra State.

The report reads in part, “Yiaga Africa is however concerned that there are 963 polling units with 750 or more registered voters with some of these polling units having over 1,000 registered voters.

“With the likely shortfall in the number of polling officials, the high number of registered voters in these polling units may pose a major challenge for crowd control and effective management of the polling units on Election Day.

“Deployment of new technology to promote electoral integrity: The decision to deploy the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) will no doubt improve the quality and transparency of elections.

“Potential threats to the safety of voters, observers, election officials and materials: The Anambra elections will no doubt be conducted under unusual circumstances. As reported in Yiaga Africa’s PREO reports, the pre-election period was fraught with violence emanating from inter-communal conflicts, activities of assailants/cult groups and increased activities of secessionist groups in the geo-political zone. The security agencies assured INEC and citizens of adequate security for the election. Yiaga Africa therefore urges security agencies to be non-partisan and professional in the discharge of their duties and ensure a safe Anambra State for voters to exercise their civic right.

“Logistics deployment, especially in riverine communities of Anambra West LGAs: Yiaga Africa calls the attention of INEC and security agencies to notorious blind spots and riverine communities that could pose a logistical challenge and undermine the integrity of the election. To ensure the early commencement of polls in those areas, INEC should ensure timely deployment of its officials and materials and improved security to safeguard election materials and officials.

“Logistics deployment, especially in riverine communities of Anambra West LGAs: Yiaga Africa calls the attention of INEC and security agencies to notorious blind spots and riverine communities that could pose a logistical challenge and undermine the integrity of the election. To ensure the early commencement of polls in those areas, INEC should ensure timely deployment of its officials and materials and improved security to safeguard election materials and officials.

“Election Day Violence and Effective Security Deployment: Based on pre-election violence reports, Yiaga Africa is concerned about threats of violence on Election Day.

“The declining turnout of voters: Since 2015, voter turnout has not exceeded 25% in Anambra state. In the 2017 governorship election, turnout was 22% while 26.16% turnout was recorded in the 2019 presidential election. Based on INEC’s data, an additional 1,112 polling units have been added to the existing polling units in Anambra state. This is expected to increase voter access to the polling units on Election Day. With the cancellation of the sit-at-home order issued by the IPOB, we expect more voters will show up at the election to vote. 

According to the report ahead of the election, Yiaga Africa will deploy 500 stationary observers to a representative statistical sample of 248 polling units and 27 mobile observers located in all 21 LGAs of Anambra State. WTV will also deploy 21 collation center observers to each of the LGA Collation Centers. Yiaga Africa’s data center in Anambra will receive 4,500 text messages containing approximately 60,500 individual pieces of information about the 2021 Anambra governorship election.

However, in its recommendations, the report pointed that INEC should ensure more consistent and harmonious coordination within the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) to ensure proper security of polling officials deployed in the Registration Area Centers ahead of the Election Day deployment; Should ensure proper coordination with the security agencies to forestall incidences of violence and ensure the safety of voters and poll officials on Election Day.

Should ensure proper and consistent communication with the transport union and companies providing logistics support for Election Day deployment. This also includes the need for contingency plans in situations where respective transport unions /companies withdraw from the contract or fail to deploy; Consistent with INEC’s promise of expanding citizens’ access to polling units, INEC should ensure Election Day voting materials and personnel are deployed to all polling units with registered voters in the state.

Security Agencies;Security agencies deployed for the election to respect the rights of citizens, media, and observers, including the right to freedom of movement on Election Day for duly accredited observers and media practitioners; Security agencies should ensure protection for vulnerable voters, especially women and persons with disabilities; Security personnel should enforce appropriate sanctions for any form of violation of the Electoral Act on Election Day, especially any threat to the right to vote or attempts to buy votes; Security agencies should deploy monitoring mechanisms to checkmate and curtail personnel excesses on Election Day.

Political Parties; Political party candidates and supporters should ensure they promote peaceful elections, encourage citizens to collect their PVCs to vote and refrain from any form of physical or verbal attacks on opponents or their supporters; Political party leaders, candidates and supporters should refrain from manipulating the insecurity in the state by creating mayhem and politically related attacks/crises; Political parties, candidates, and their supporters must refrain from vote-buying and the related practice of compromising the ballot’s secrecy so that the voters of Anambra state are free to vote their preference for governor.

CSOs; CSOs should engage in building citizens’ confidence ahead of the elections and encourage voters to turn out and vote.

Citizens; Voting in elections is the legitimate means of making citizens’ voices heard and of recruiting desirable leaders. Citizens should get involved in getting out the vote campaigns as the Election Day approaches in order to increase participation and voter turnout; and Yiaga Africa urges voters to desist from selling their votes and to vote according to their preferences on November 6.

Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.