Sokoto, Kaduna, Yobe, others —Mbamalu, YIAGA Africa boss
•Says INEC may not conduct exercise in some communities
•Every region is a potential hotspot
•ON COMMISSION: Some RECs have integrity, capacity issues
•Voting will not happen in polling units in 19 Borno LGAs
By CHARLES KUMOLU, DEPUTY EDITOR
As the 2023 elections begin in less than 46 days, Programme Director of YIAGA
Africa, Cynthia Mbamalu, previews the likely issues that may play out, identifying some locations and factors to watch out for.
This is an election year. As a major stakeholder in the electoral process, what do you foresee in the political arena as the year begins?
If I would highlight some of the challenges as we go to the polls this year, the first would be the current security challenges. I look at the security challenges from three different dimensions. The first one is that we are going into an election with multidimensional security threats. Almost every geopolitical zone has a major security threat. Beyond the bandits in North-West and insurgency in the North-East, there is armed robbery and kidnapping. When you go to the South-East, there is another form of insecurity. This means we are going into the general elections with multidimensional security threats. Because of existing security challenges, there is the likelihood that the political class would manipulate the situation to create politically-motivated violence.
We are already seeing that in the pre-election phase. It means that politically motivated violence would affect the safety of votes, voters and election materials. Because of insecurity, we have a large number of displaced communities in different parts of the country. In some regions, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, would have a challenge in conducting elections in those communities, especially in a state like Imo where there were four attacks on INEC facilities in three weeks. Beyond where there are displaced communities, there are communities where INEC would struggle to hold the elections.
It is not because the communities are displaced but because armed individuals are operating in those areas. For me, this is a major concern because you cannot conduct elections in those areas. Elections are supposed to be conducted without any level of fear or threat. But we are going to have INEC battling with these challenges. And we are not confident that our security agents are on top of the situation. This is a major fear.
Do you mean there are places where elections may not hold?
If you think about the security situation, you will realise there is the likelihood of locations where elections would not hold. What happens when you have a large percentage of locations where elections may not hold? What happens when voting happens in locations where you cannot fully guarantee the integrity of the voting settlements? You can imagine the implications on the credibility of the votes. The independence of INEC is also another source of worry.
Already, there are attempts to undermine the credibility of the institution. In 2022, we raised the alarm about the appointments of some Resident Electoral Commissioners, RECs, who were believed to be of questionable character in terms of their neutrality. However, those appointments were made. There is already that fear about the integrity of some individuals. It is not just at the national level. It extends to the local level where there are questions about the integrity of some officials. Another area of concern is the pressure on INEC.
I believe there is huge pressure on the commission. Even though the INEC chief had committed to conducting a credible election, we worry that external pressure can affect the good work the commission is doing. YIAGA Africa did launch an election manipulation risk index to identify possible and potential manipulations and how we can counter them. One of the risks is the conversation around capacity because we are going into an election with a large number of RECs who are newly appointed. This would be their first general election. And this isn’t going to be an easy election but a contentious one. Since it’s their first time, issues around capacity would be there.
INEC has barely one month to sort that out.
The other issue around the integrity of the electoral commission is the attempt by the political class to infiltrate the commission. We have received some reports that there were attempts to manipulate the recruitment of ad-hoc staff. This is a call on INEC to ensure that individuals who are intentionally placed by politicians are identified. The last is the issue around the capacity to manage the threats and deliver an election that can stand the test of time.
How do you think the use of technology, especially BVAS would play out?
This would be the first time INEC would be deploying the BVAS nationally. There is a question around the capacity of ad-hoc officials to be deployed to manage the elections at the polling units and also infrastructure.
When it comes to the deployment of BVAS, it would be used to accredit voters and upload results on the portal. The deployment of the BVAS has a huge role to play in building trust in our process. INEC needs to ensure 100 percent deployment and usage of the BVAS technology. INEC should ensure there is also compliance when it comes to uploading results at the polling units. Capacity for me is beyond personnel and infrastructure. Ensuring that the BVAS deployed functions properly and ensuring that there is compliance are important. Another area of concern as the election approaches is the political class. Already, we are beginning to see an exchange of political banters among the top contenders in the field. It is a major worry because if the candidates and the parties heat up the polity, it creates a vulnerable system that would easily become vulnerable to electoral violence. The rhetoric from the candidates and their supporters is becoming a bit worrisome as we approach the elections. And we are seeing attempts to promote fake news, misinformation, hate speech, sentiments of disunity and divisive rhetoric. It is wrong in a country struggling to manage its diversity. Rather than focusing on core issues, the focus is on personalities and identities.
What about voter education?
The quality of voter education is an issue because we have not seen the political parties and candidates take leadership when it comes to voter education. This should ordinarily be an issue of interest because they are the major beneficiaries of election outcomes. People vote for parties and not for INEC or individuals. The campaign should be around issues. We have not seen parties invest in voter education. We have not seen parties invest in the populace. This is important because, for a controversial or contentious election, it is important for voters to know how elections are won constitutionally. They should know that it is beyond majority votes. It is about having the constitutional spread of at least 35 percent of two-third majority at the national and governorship elections. The conversations around understanding the process and the rules are lacking. And if you go on social media you will find a different situation. It is worrisome for such an election, especially when we are dealing with a lot of national issues.
Do you think security agencies would be an issue?
In previous elections, we saw where security agencies were either complicit or they were part of the problem. The President has said he is committed to having credible elections as a legacy, I am hoping he is communicating this as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces to the leadership of all the security agencies. He has to ensure they comply with the rules because we need the security agents, especially the police to be independent and non-partisan. We need to see non-partisanship in their conduct and in how they deploy their personnel across board. In previous elections, we learned that the reason for the late deployment of materials to some places was that some security agents were not present. INEC can’t deploy materials if security agents are not present because the sanctity of votes may not be guaranteed. If the President is really committed to leaving a legacy, he should match his words with action by ensuring that he is communicating effectively with respective security agencies.
The election has generated so much interest. Do you think the interest would translate into mass participation?
A lot of people are still undecided. And we can’t be going into an election with a large percentage of citizens undecided. There is also the part of people who are willing to continue with the old method by selling their PVCs. There are also reports of PVCs being taken from people. But the major report is about people willingly selling their PVCs. If we have citizens who don’t value democracy and who are willing to sell their PVCs, it means they are part of the problem. And we cannot have a credible system if the people do no not trust the system enough to come and vote. If voters do not vote, what is the essence of spending billions on elections? As we commence the general elections, I am worried that a lot of Nigerians are yet to appreciate the importance of the polls to educate themselves and to begin to recommit themselves to the Nigerian project. People build systems.
The democracies we admire in other parts of the world are democracies their citizens had to fight to get to where they are today. When we celebrate other countries, we should remember that they are where they are because a critical mass was committed to making it work. When we have a critical mass of citizens who understand the process and recommit to the Nigerian project, we may make progress. We can’t change the outcome of the elections if citizens do not come out in large numbers. It shouldn’t be like the last elections when we had a 35 percent turnout. It is easier to manipulate the process if people do not come out in huge numbers. Imagine if there is a 60 percent turnout in most polling units, the thugs disrupting the exercise would be outnumbered. Most times, thugs come in a few numbers.
Can you tell us the likely flashpoints you foresee in terms of election violence?
That would be difficult to highlight now because we are dealing with a multidimensional security threat. Some locations ordinarily shouldn’t be areas to watch out for. But because they constantly experience insecurity, they could be places to watch out for. Every region is a potential hotspot. Locations where we envisage some level of violence include Imo and Ebonyi. I mentioned Ebonyi because of the attempt by the state government to intimidate the opposition and just create a chaotic political climate. Some parts of Enugu are areas of concern given the threats posed by gunmen. Interestingly, locations like Ihiala have been in the news.
In the North-East, there is already a projection that voting in 19 local governments wouldn’t be happening in polling units because communities have been displaced in some locations. Voting will be happening in the super camps and not the polling units. Based on our security marking, we have some local governments In Yobe that we have highlighted. In Adamawa, there is a part of Madagali that shares a border with Borno that is likely not to be a safe place for elections. In Zamfara and Sokoto, specific local governments may not witness elections.
I was in Sokoto where we had a meeting with the REC and he explained that he is working with the Police Commissioner. He said they have had consistent attacks by bandits in some local governments. These, for me, are areas with the likelihood of politically motivated violence. There are also some local governments in Kaduna State. There are states where because of undue government restrictions on the opposition, there may be violence. Rivers is one of the states where we have been getting reports of restrictions on the opposition. Some of them have been intra-party. We also got reports in some areas of Lagos. Opposition candidates are not allowed to paste their posters. There have been reports of restrictions on campaign adverts on local television stations. So,
Lagos is one state to look after. Kano has also come up in our reports. Zamfara has its security challenges, we also received a report of restrictions on opposition to the campaign.
I am highlighting restriction as an indication of violence because the undue restriction on opposition creates variances that subsequently result in violence. These issues must be looked into. I believe INEC has an important role to play. It should call parties to order having released the guidelines. State governments should not impose restrictions on the opposition to campaign. We also got that kind of report in some parts of Sokoto. In the South-West, we have more reports from Lagos. In the South-South, it is more of Edo and Rivers states. We got reports from Anambra where people were asked to make undue payments for campaigns and billboards. This is an important indicator that INEC must call the state governors to order.
Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of Vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.