Off-season governorship elections were held across three states of the federation on November 11, 2023.
Before the elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) assured Nigerians of an improved, seamless, and transparent outing.
But the aftermath of the November 11 polls, held in Bayelsa, Imo, and Kogi states, is a reminiscence of the anticlimax of the February 25 Presidential Election, when lofty promises made to the general public who throng registration centres to get their Permanent Voter Cards turned out to be a mirage.
So far, 2023 has been a bad electoral year for the country. Nigerians had gone to the 2023 Presidential and National Assembly elections of February 25, 2023, with high hopes and deep trust in INEC, the electoral umpire. The polls, however, were deeply flawed, characterised by disruptive incidents, impunity, and ugly reports that evoked resentment from the electorate and criticism from local and international observer bodies. In the end, the 2023 general election seemed like the worst ever in the history of the country.
Yet, citizens’ resentments against INEC were justified because Nigerians had high expectations. With the constitutional power at the disposal of the electoral body, especially the Electoral Act, INEC chairman Professor Mahmood Yakubu and those working directly under him ought to live up to their promise of delivering a general election that would have, at least, brought hope to the citizenry.
Everything was done to have a decent election. INEC ensured the Electoral Act Amendment Bill was signed and issued electoral guidelines that mandated the transmission of results from the polling units. Moreover, there were frequent repetitions of the deployment of technological devices to cut off human-based election rigging (such as ballot box snatching and falsification of results at the collation centres) and electoral violence.
Most Nigerians were certain that their votes would count when the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) was introduced by the Yakubu-led INEC and its use was piloted in the Anambra, Ekiti, Osun, and other by-elections.
The youth population, buoyed by optimism, had rushed to acquire Permanent Voter’s Cards (PVC), leading to the recording of 9,518,188 new registrants. The optimism was such that, ahead of the February 25 poll, the figure in the national voter register rose from 84,004,084 to 93,522,272 within one year
Sadly, the positive build-up ended in anticlimax: the electoral umpire failed rather woefully when it refused to transmit the election results as promised. Consequently, a bundle of election cases ended in court.
After the general elections, INEC promised to improve its conduct of elections where necessary. The commission promised greater transparency in its operations. And one would expect that the off-season election was going to be an opportunity for INEC to redeem its image.
Indeed, the electoral body made promises to that effect. For instance, Prof. Yakubu had said the results for the Bayelsa, Imo, and Kogi governorship elections would be uploaded on INEC’s Result Viewing Portal, and he avowed that the commission would follow the laws for accreditation and results collation during the state’s elections.
According to him: “The method is as provided by law, electronic accreditation, electronic upload of results on the IREV portal and that is why we are doing this mock.”
November 11 turned out to be a travesty and Nigerians are shocked by the level of electoral fraud that took place during the November 11 polls.
Lapses were recorded in the elections. There were controversies surrounding the data provided on the IReV. Allegations of pre-written results were rife. Worse still, INEC affirmed the controversial results despite alleged evidence of overvoting, disruption of the voting process and clear instances of security agencies aiding the snatching of ballot boxes.
DAILY POST reported an incident where some officials of INEC were alleged to have been caught with pre-recorded result sheets.
One of the accredited observers from YIAGA Africa raised an alarm about the proliferation of the pre-filled result sheet in Polling Unit 020 in Eika/Ohizenyi, Okehi Local Government Area of the state.
The same development was witnessed in PU 004 in Eni Ward of Ogori/Magongo Local Government Area.
In Imo, videos were in circulation where security personnel were accused of allegedly helping the government in power disrupt the voting process and make away with electoral materials.
One such incident happened at the Umuchoko Umuohiagu Junction Polling Unit in Ward 11 of Ngor Okpala LGA, where thugs allegedly working for the All Progressives Congress (APC) carted away ballot boxes and other election materials.
This reportedly happened after the votes were counted and PDP led with 65 votes against APC’s 35 votes and LP’s 17 votes.
Following the alleged gross manipulation and rigging of the polls, some political parties have since rejected the results.
The Action Alliance (AA) rejected the outcome of the election in Kogi State, with the party’s chairman, Fred Ambo, describing the election as fraudulent.
“INEC promised us a free and fair election, but what we saw was a show of shame. There was ballot box snatching, while the result had already been written before the commencement of the election to favour a particular political party,” he complained.
Similarly, the governorship candidate of PDP, Dino Melaye, also rejected the election, calling for its cancellation.
Said he: “There was no election; accreditation was done manually, BVAS was not used, and prepared result sheets were available before the election.
“INEC must cancel the election. We have evidence to back it up. INEC has manifested gross incompetence. It cannot be trusted. It is biased and compromised.”
The governorship candidate of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, Murtala Ajaka, also toed the same line, alleging that INEC compromised the elections in favour of Usman Ododo, the candidate of APC.
“It is INEC officials that compromised this election,” he avowed.
In Imo State, the story is not palatable either. Shortly before the polls, the governorship campaign organisation of Senator Samuel Anyanwu, the candidate of PDP, had accused APC, the ruling party in the state, of plotting to manipulate the November 11 election.
He accused Governor Hope Uzodimma of having imported over 4, 500 pre-loaded Bimodal Voter Accreditation Systems (BVAS) into Imo State to rig the poll.
Anyanwu rejected the election result on account of alleged widespread vote-buying, ballot box snatching, and other irregularities in some polling units. He particularly accused party agents of the ruling APC of “coercing voters to vote for the party.”
He said: “I have evidence that one of the thugs is a member of the House of Assembly. In the process of snatching the ballot boxes, the lawmaker’s identity card fell off and I have it here with me.
“I call on INEC to consider the available evidence and cancel the results of elections in the affected areas.”
His call was also echoed by the Labour Party candidate, Athan Achonu, who accused security operatives of colluding with APC to manipulate the outcome of the election.
“Recorded evidence abounds such as that of a police officer who was beaten by voters for attempting to snatch a ballot box. This nation’s security agencies violated our democracy yesterday. I’m still recovering this morning from the huge shock.
“Our democracy was raped by the DSS, police, and military; it was not INEC; it was more like a security agency coup,” he lamented.
Achonu added: “Let’s save the drift into anarchy; let’s save our country and her democracy; there was no election yesterday and we call on the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, to cancel the purported results.”
INEC, nonetheless, went ahead to declare Hope Uzodimma of the APC as the winner of the Imo State governorship election. According to INEC’s result, Uzodimma polled 540,308 to beat his challengers from PDP and LP who scored 71,503 and 64,081, respectively.
In Kogi, INEC also did not see anything wrong with the conduct of the polls and went ahead to declare APC’s Usman Ododo the winner with 446,237 votes to defeat SDP’s Muri Ajaka, who scored 259,052, and PDP’s Dino Melaye, who finished with 46,362 votes.
The electoral umpire has been pilloried in the court of public opinion.
Dr Emeka Nwosu, a political analyst and former Special Adviser on Media and Public Affairs to ex-Senate President Evans Enwerem, said the way the elections were conducted on November 11 was embarrassing and unacceptable.
“Sincerely speaking, Nigerians are losing confidence in INEC. That is my perspective. People thought that these off-circle elections would provide an opportunity for INEC to redeem its image, going by what transpired during the general elections, and INEC was supposed to do better because we’re talking about just three states out of the 36 in the federation.
“Nobody expected anything like glitches or sabotaging the process even with the presence of security personnel because elections were taking place in only three states, so it was easy to flood those areas with security men pulled from the other states of the federation. Even with the presence of security, the reports we heard—we were not there—showed that it was even more chaotic than what we had in the past.
“The reports from places in Kogi State, for instance, for the first time, we’re talking about prefilled result sheets. We’ve not heard this before about these sensitive materials that were supposed to be delivered on election day. How did it get into the hands of presiding officers, even youth corpers who were managing the election? Some of them were found with millions of naira in their possessions.
“From the information we have, there’s nothing like electronic transmission of results. In any case, going by the judgement of the Supreme Court, INEC has the power to determine whichever means to use. They can change their rules midway, which is embarrassing and unacceptable. So, sincerely speaking, what we saw was not an election.”
Assessing the Imo situation, where Uzodimma cleared the 27 local government areas in a landslide victory, he said: “My reading of the situation is that opposition parties in Imo are very weak. I don’t think they presented good candidates. You could see that even during their rallies, in the case of PDP, the prominent people did not show up. It’s like they disowned the candidate. Even before the election, people knew they would not present a formidable opposition to Hope Uzodinma, who is the incumbent.”
He continued: “You know the power of the incumbent; he used it to the maximum. Hope Uzodimma may have more or less taken advantage of the weakness of the opposition, coupled with the power of the incumbency to deploy resources. You know there is hunger in the land, too. From some of the analyses I watched, people were selling their votes for N2000 and N3000.”
His prognosis for future elections is bleak.
“At the end of the day, the point is that we still have a long way to go in terms of reforming our electoral process. I don’t know how we’re going to do it, because the last time people came out, they believed INEC when they talked about electronic transmission of results. A lot of people believed their votes would count and talked about the BVAS but you saw what happened.
“Now we’ve gone back to square one, where we now talk about over-voting. Which means that the BVAS is not being deployed. It’s really sad. I don’t know how we’re going to get it right. Because even if you choose to go to court, you won’t get any results there,” he said.
The way forward, according to him, requires a paradigm shift.
“The only way is that we might have to deal with this issue of the winner-takes-it-all syndrome. We may have to go for proportional representation, where you have to acquire power based on how many seats you’ve won. Just like the parliamentary system. So that it would no longer be the case where the winner wins everything,” he said.