Yiaga lists inducements, low turnout as factors that may affect Saturday’s governorship polls

Yiaga Africa, a pro-democracy organisation, has highlighted factors that may affect the successful conduct of the governorship elections which will hold on 18 March.

The non-profit organisation said on Friday in its pre-election observation statement that the inducement of voters by politicians, low turnout and ethnic divisions, among others, are factors that may shape the forthcoming elections across 26 Nigeria’s states.

The think-tank also said it has observed some improvements in the logistic deficits that marred the 25 February presidential elections but noted the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) may need to upscale its performance in many areas.

Read the full report below.

Dear Friend,

On March 18th, 2023, Nigerians will once again go to the polls to elect Governors in Twenty-eight (28) States and State Lawmakers into 993 state constituency seats. Undoubtedly, these are high stake elections. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is presented another opportunity to address the logistical, administrative and technological shortcomings during the February 25 Presidential and National Assembly elections. How the electoral commission manages the election will have grave implications for rebuilding public trust and confidence in the electoral process. Additionally, the election will test citizens resilience to participate in the electoral process against the background of the hardship imposed by the naira scarcity, fuel crisis and unmet expectations with elections management.

As observed by Yiaga Africa on the February 25 Presidential and National Assembly Elections, the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) device functioned optimally across majority of polling units. Yiaga Africa also highlighted cases where voters bypassed the accreditation with BVAS and cast their ballot in some polling units. The late commencement of polls, shortfalls in election materials and failure to conduct election in some polling units resulted in voter disenfranchisement. These infractions and non-compliance with electoral guidelines call for behaviour change on the part of electoral officials, voters and political stakeholders including sanctions to deter future occurrences.

Yiaga Africa notes corrective actions taken by INEC to sanction its staff. In the aftermath of the February 25 elections, INEC took action against RECs in Anambra, Sokoto and Abia states for undermining election preparations and failure to implement the commission’s guidelines. The suspension of the Sokoto State Resident Electoral Commissioner and redeployment of Electoral Officers in Rivers state is a confidence building measure, but it is insufficient to serve as a deterrence. INEC should extend punitive measures to other RECs and staff who manipulated election results and allegedly sabotaged the deployment of election materials by either centralizing the deployment of election materials and failing to fulfil contractual obligations to transporters employed by INEC to convey election materials and personnel to the polling units. Yiaga Africa also hopes the glitches with the INEC Results Viewing (IReV) Portal have been resolved to allow for a seamless electronic transmission of results on election day.

For the March 18 Governorship election, Yiaga Africa is deploying a comprehensive and systematic observation of the elections which involves deploying the Parallel Votes Tabulation (PVT) to observe the governorship elections in Benue, Delta and Kano States. Yiaga Africa will also be deploying stationary and roving observers to observe and report the election day process in the other 25 states. Further, at the end of polls, Yiaga Africa will be deploying observers to all the Local Government Areas (LGA) and State Results Collation Centers in all the states where elections will be conducted to observe and report on the Governorship results collation process.

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This briefing is the first in a series of three planned press conferences to be hosted by Yiaga Africa
for the March 18 election.

Summary of Key Findings from Yiaga Africa’s Pre-Election Observation

1. Deployment of Election Materials: Yiaga Africa notes the deployment of election materials across the States with at least 26 States confirming the deployment of sensitive and non- sensitive materials to the Local Government Areas. While this is a positive sign, Yiaga Africa calls on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to ensure proper coordination and communication with the transport companies/unions providing logistics support to ensure early deployment of materials and personnel to polling units on election day. This will reverse the trend of late commencement of polls during Nigerian elections.

2. The Status of the BVAS: Yiaga Africa received reports from across the states that the Commission reconfigured a substantial number of Bimodal Voter Accreditation Systems ahead of the Saturday polls. Some states like Oyo reported receipt of additional 406 BVAS as a backup. As of 15 March 2023, Yiaga Africa received reports from Rivers state that 22 BVAS devices are missing and 3 damaged BVAS.

3. Cases of Voter Inducement: As citizen mobilisation efforts intensify ahead of the elections, Yiaga Africa received reports of voter inducement through the distribution of gift items and wire (money) transfers by the political actors. Specifically, Yiaga Africa received reports of the distribution of money and food items by supporters of the APC in Mbakyaa Mbachougul, Tarka LGA, Benue State. The APC and PDP representatives were seen collecting voters’ bank account details in Damaturu and Potiskum LGAs in Yobe State, to make wire transfers ahead of the elections. From Akwa Ibom, Yiaga Africa also received reports that PDP youths in
Ibeno LGA were given a cash amount of N1,000,000 for endorsing a candidate on Sunday, March 12, 2023.

4. The Security Climate: Yiaga Africa observed relative calm since the February 25 election. However, the organisation received disturbing reports of proliferation of light arms and small weapons in Abua-Odual, Andoni, Akuku Toru, Asari Toru, Eleme, Gokana, Khana and Tai LGAs in Rivers State. The House of Assembly candidate for Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni State constituency was allegedly abducted in Rivers State. These incidents have created a tense atmosphere ahead of the elections in the state.

5. Rising ethnic and religious tension: Yiaga Africa is concerned with the divisive campaign rhetoric that has shaped the campaign in some states following the 25 February elections. Social media is awash with hate speech and attacks against ethnic groups in the build-up to the election. Politicians are visibly exploiting these fault lines to mobilise for the election. Yiaga Africa also received reports about recurring clashes between herdsmen and farmers in Ucha Gbeji, Vaase and Boiko Ayti communities in Ukum LGA and Mkomon, Moon, Mbaikyor and Liev1 communities in Kwande LGA, in Benue State. Yiaga Africa is deeply
concerned with this development as it has created an atmosphere of fear and apprehension in some states like Lagos.

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6. Lingering Impact of Naira Scarcity: Yiaga Africa is worried that the Commission may experience further logistics challenges if the scarcity of cash is not addressed.

7. Low Voter Turnout projections: Yiaga Africa is concerned that the low turnout of the presidential elections will be repeated for the governorship elections. While INEC and others continue to encourage voters to turn out for elections, citizen confidence in the Commission, poor voter education coupled with lingering impacts of the Naira scarcity may impact voter turnout.

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1. INEC must ensure the shortcomings observed in previous elections are properly addressed ahead of the Governorship elections. INEC should ensure proper and consistent communication with the transport union and companies providing logistics support to ensure early election day deployment. This also includes the need to ensure that only trained ad-hoc officials are deployed on election day. Contingency plans should be put in place in situations where transport unions /companies withdraw or default in their contractual obligation to deploy election materials and personnel.
2. INEC Should ensure proper and timely communication with stakeholders on the election day process, challenges experienced and immediate plans to address those challenges to inspire citizens’ confidence in the process.
3. Yiaga Africa calls on the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Elections Security (ICCES) to ensure that security personnel deployed complies with the code of conduct on election security. This includes professionalism in their conduct, arrest of electoral offenders and respect for the rights of citizens, media, and observers, including the right to freedom of movement on Election Day for duly accredited observers and media practitioners.
4. Yiaga Africa calls on Political parties, candidates and their supporters to commit to peaceful campaigns ahead of the election and on election day and refrain from vote-buying and compromising the secrecy of the ballot.
5. Yiaga Africa urges voters to resist efforts to purchase their votes, to turn out in their numbers and vote according to their preferences on Saturday, March 18.

Watching The Vote Observation of the 2023 Governorship Elections

On March 18, 2023, Yiaga Africa will deploy a total of 1,547 duly trained and accredited stationary and roving observers to observe the conduct of the Governorship election in 28 states. Yiaga Africa will be deploying the Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT) methodology to observe the governorship elections in Benue, Delta and Kano states. This will involve deploying 900 stationary observers to a representative randomly selected sample of 300 polling units for each of the states, Yiaga Africa will also be deploying 97 roving observers in the three states. Additionally, Yiaga Africa will deploy 517 stationary observers and 33 roving observers in the other 25 days where the governorship elections will be held, to observe and report on the entire election day process from setup of the polling units, accreditation, voting, announcement and posting of the official results and will send in periodic reports to the Watching the Vote National Data Centre. At the end of polls, Yiaga Africa observer will deploy to all LGAs and State’s results collation centres to observe and report the results collation process. This deployment will enable Yiaga Africa to provide the most timely and accurate information on the governorship elections in the states.

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Using the PVT, Yiaga Africa will also provide an independent projection of voter turnout in Benue, Delta and Kano States, and will be able to project the vote shares that each party should receive within a narrow-estimated range. If the official results fall within Yiaga Africa’s estimated ranges, then the public, political parties and candidates should have confidence in the ballots cast at the polling units.

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Only INEC, however, has the legal mandate to announce the election results. As soon as INEC announces the official results, Yiaga Africa will follow up with a result verification press conference to share its statement on the accuracy of the election results.

Utilizing information communications technology and statistical principles, PVT is the gold standard for citizen election observation and has been utilized throughout Africa and the world. Yiaga Africa has also deployed this methodology in the 2023 presidential election and eleven (12) off-cycle gubernatorial elections in Nigeria.

Yiaga Africa restates its commitment to the objective, non-partisan and credible observation of the election. The Waatching Thae Vote is “Driven by Data – For All Nigerians – Beholden to None!”
Thank you and God Bless the people of Nigeria!

Ezenwa Nwagwu
For Chair, Watching The Vote Working Group
Yiaga Africa

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