The Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, on Monday, commended the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, for conducting what it termed as a much-improved governorship election, in Edo State.
The Situation Room which is a coalition of 70 Civil Society Organizations, CSOs, that monitored the gubernatorial election that held in Edo state last Saturday, urged INEC to ensure that the progress made with improvements in its conduct of the election are deepened and sustained during the Ondo State Governorship Election scheduled for October 10.
The coalition, which issued a statement on reports of observers that monitored the Edo governorship election from commencement of polls to the collation of results, further commended the professionalism and conduct of the Police and some of the security agencies deployed for election duty.
The Situation Room, however, noted that the menace of vote-trading appeared to have worsened, decrying that “politicians are increasingly investing monies to buy votes, with voters appearing to be willing to sell their votes”.
It urged the National Assembly to urgently proceed with legislative action to ensure the passage of the Electoral Offences Commission Bill that creates a body to enforce respect for election laws.
The statement, which was signed by the convener of Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, Mr Clement Nwankwo, read: “The administration of the Edo State Governorship Election appears to have been a marked improvement on recent previous governorship elections.
“INEC’s processes appeared to operate smoothly. The logistics issues of distribution of materials, deployment of staff and challenges in the Voters’ Register were significantly reduced. In addition, security personnel acted professionally.
“The usual issues cited such as logistical challenges and overbearing security presence were less of an issue in this election, although the challenge of vote-buying/trading was still prevalent.
“This election was faced by a never before seen challenge of COVID-19 and efforts were made to ensure the safety of persons, although a lot more can be done to ensure compliance.
“This election showed that Nigeria can learn from previous setbacks in its electoral process and take a step towards achieving credible elections.
“Situation Room observed delay in the opening of polls in most polling units, although this did not affect voting thereafter.
“There was the early deployment of materials and officials across several polling units in the State.
“There were however reports of late commencement of voting in some polling units owing to the late arrival of officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
“In some cases, this was due to late arrival of security agents at Registration Area Centres (RACs) to escort election officials and materials to polling units, majorly in Edo South Senatorial District.
“INEC introduced the use of a Result Viewing Portal to upload polling unit results. This was a commendable action on the part of INEC and Situation Room commends it in its effort at transparency in the electoral process.
“However, a significant amount of results were yet to be uploaded, even at the time of collation, raising fears of possible political interference at some polling points.
“There was an improved use of Smart Card Readers in the election, as they were widely deployed and utilised across the State.
“Isolated cases of card reader malfunctions observed were reported to have been rectified, with voting resuming soon afterwards.
“On a general note, Situation Room commends the professionalism and conduct of the Police and some of the security agencies deployed for election duty.
“Reports received by Situation Room indicate that security personnel wore identification tags and intervened to resolve disruptions that arose in some voting locations.
“Situation Room, however, received reports of some Nigerian military personnel harassing and intimidating citizens, including election observers and mounted roadblocks around the vicinity of collation centres in Edo North Senatorial District, firing gunshots and generally being disruptive of the work of election observers seeking to participate in the collation process.
“Other incidents of security challenges were a few reports of intimidation of voters and snatching of ballot boxes by thugs in several polling units, including reports from Polling Unit (PU) 4, Ward 7 in Esan West Local Government, PU 2, Ward 7 in Etsako West Local Government and PU 28, Ward 10 in Ikpoba-Okha Local Government.
“A few other critical incidents of violence were reported, including the shooting of an INEC official in Etsako Central Local Government Area.
“The voter turnout was low compared to numbers of collected Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs) registered for the election.
“This may have been caused by the rhetoric of violence perpetrated by the main candidates and their supporters ahead of election day.
“There may also have been a reduction in voter turnout caused by the prevailing public health concern of COVID-19.
“The menace of vote trading which includes buying and selling appears to be deepening in Nigeria’s elections.
“Politicians are increasingly investing monies to buy votes with voters appearing to be willing to sell their votes.
“In the Edo State election, this practice was widespread with all of the major political parties engaging in this infringement”.
Though the Situation Room acknowledged that safety tools such as hand sanitizers, methylated spirit and cotton wool for card readers and infrared thermometers were widely provided, it said the level of compliance with their use and general COVID-19 protocols were unsatisfactory.
“Situation Room calls on INEC and the Nigerian election stakeholders to ensure improved compliance with health protocols as provided by INEC and relevant health authorities, especially as we move towards the Ondo State Governorship Election on October 10, 2020.
“Overall, the Edo State governorship election was violence-free to the relief of stakeholders who had feared that the violence laden rhetoric of the election participants could pose a threat to peaceful elections.
“It is noteworthy that efforts at mediating peace and reducing political tension mounted by INEC, the Police, the National Peace Committee, the Benin Monarch, the Oba of Benin and civil society groups paid off.
“The incidence of vote-buying during this election was high. Situation Room calls for more effective enforcement of election laws that prohibit vote-buying and other election offences.
“Situation Room calls on the National Assembly to move quickly and urgently proceed with legislative action to ensure the passage of the Electoral Offences Commission Bill that creates a body to enforce respect for election laws.
“Situation Room calls on INEC to deepen and expand the use of its Election Result Viewing portal in order to increase the transparency of Nigeria’s elections.
“Situation Room commends INEC for conducting a much-improved governorship election in Edo State and urges the Commission to ensure that the progress made with improvements in its conduct of the election are deepened and sustained during the Ondo State Governorship Election scheduled for October 10, 2020”, the statement further read.