The last hope of the common man

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Dr Joyce Banda and Barry Andrews

Nigeria’s presidential election of Saturday, 25 February, was widely said to be flawed. According to local and international eye-witnesses, there were glaring evidences of late arrival of electoral officers and electoral materials to polling units – which allegedly disenfranchised many voters after they got tired of waiting for hours. Eye witnesses mentioned ballot box snatchings, intimidation of voters to vote against their consciences, intimidation of the electoral staffs that were forced to announce rigged election results, vote buying, vote manipulation, physical violence and a host of other electoral malpractices that were widely said to have marred the electoral process.

Foreign observers like the BBC pointed to a lack of transparency and operational failures. African Union observers noted “isolated incidents of violence.” The preliminary statement offered by the international observation mission of the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) pointed out some of the anomalies that they said prevailed during the elections.

The 40-person delegation, with members from 20 countries, was led by Her Excellency Dr. Joyce Banda, former President of the Republic of Malawi. She was joined by Ambassador Mark Green, President and CEO of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and former administrator of the United States Agency for International Development; Ambassador Johnnie Carson, former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs at the U.S. Department of State; Constance Berry Newman, former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs at the U.S. Department of State; Stacey Abrams, American political leader, lawyer, and voting rights activist; Dana White, former Assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs; Ambassador Derek Mitchell and Dr. Daniel Twining. The mission visited Nigeria from February 20 to 27, 2023, and deployed observer teams to 20 states covering all six geopolitical zones and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

Through the mission, the team of observers sought to reflect the international community’s interest in and support for democratic electoral processes in Nigeria. Their statement was meant to provide an accurate and impartial report on the election process and to offer practical recommendations to improve future elections.

The mission conducted its activities in accordance with Nigerian law and the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation. It collaborated closely with other international and regional observer missions that endorsed the Declaration, while coordinating with impartial and independent citizen observer organizations.

The team observed: “The Electoral Act 2022 introduced much-needed reforms aimed at increasing transparency in results collation and timely organization of pre-electoral processes. However, the elections still fell well short of Nigerian citizens’ legitimate and reasonable expectations. Failures of logistics, challenges with voter registration and voter card distribution, inadequate communication by INEC, lack of transparency in the publication of election data, and unchecked political violence before and during the elections overshadowed incremental administrative gains achieved in the pre-election period, and impeded a substantial number of citizens from participating in voting.

“Ongoing currency and fuel shortages also imposed excessive burdens on voters and election officials while marginalized groups, especially women, continued to face barriers to seeking and obtaining political office. On Election Day, logistical failings caused late openings across the country, creating tensions, and the secrecy of the ballot was compromised in some polling units given overcrowding.

“Although the application of new electoral technology aimed to increase integrity and efficiency on Election Day, challenges in the electronic transfer of results and their upload to a public portal in a timely manner continued to undermine citizen confidence at a crucial moment of the process. These logistical challenges, together with the scale of electoral insecurity, were foreseeable and avoidable. Failure to address these issues prior to Election Day was a missed opportunity. Moreover, voters’ trust in the process has been considerably shaken by INEC’s lack of transparency about the cause and extent of Election Day challenges. The combined effect of these problems disenfranchised Nigerian voters in many parts of the country, although the scope and scale is currently unknown.

 “Despite these real and troubling issues, Nigerians once again demonstrated their commitment to the democratic process. Voters displayed extraordinary resilience and resolve to have their voices heard through the ballot, often waiting for several hours due to logistical shortcomings. In particular, youth engagement was noteworthy, with significant increases in youth registrants on the voter roll. The National Youth Service Corps members once again served as poll workers across the country. The election management body, INEC, administered a nationwide election according to the electoral calendar and in the majority of polling units despite widespread insecurity and severe currency and fuel shortages.”

The European Union Election Observation Mission officially said elections were held on schedule, but lack of transparency and operational failures reduced trust in the process and challenged the right to vote. The mission noted that on 25 February, Nigerians went to the polls in highly anticipated presidential and National Assembly elections that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) kept on schedule despite a volatile and challenging environment. Fundamental freedoms of assembly and movement were largely respected, yet the full enjoyment of the latter was impeded by insufficient planning, insecurity and the prevailing Naira and fuel shortages. Abuse of incumbency by various political office holders distorted the playing field and there were widespread allegations of vote buying. The mission said: “INEC’s operational capacity was hampered by the ongoing fuel and Naira shortage. Insecurity prevented it from accessing some Local Government Areas (LGAs), notably in the South. Attacks on INEC premises, including just days before polling, hindered preparations in affected areas, while instilling fear in voters. Overall, stakeholders had expressed confidence in INEC’s independence, professionalism, and voter information efforts, but this decreased ahead of elections. INEC lacked efficient planning and transparency during critical stages of the electoral process, while on Election Day trust in INEC was seen to further reduce due to delayed polling processes and information gaps related to much anticipated access to results on its Results Viewing Portal (IReV).

 “In the lead-up to elections, the widely welcomed Electoral Act 2022 introduced measures aimed at building stakeholder trust, however leaving some important gaps in terms of accountability and INEC’s power to enforce the law. Weak points include a lack of INEC empowerment to enforce sanctions for electoral offences and breaches of campaign finance rules. Positively, INEC benefited from timely financing than for previous contests.

“Other new provisions also aimed to enhance transparency of results. The introduction of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and the IReV for the 2023 elections was perceived as an important step to ensure the integrity and credibility of elections. However, delayed training of technical personnel, an inadequate mock testing exercise, and a lack of public information on the election technologies diminished expectations and left room for speculation and uncertainty. During the early stages of collation, presidential result forms from polling units were not displayed on the IReV, while Senate and House of Representative results were slowly published. Presidential election result forms started to be uploaded after 10 pm on Election Day, raising concerns and reaching only 20 per cent by noon on 26 February. Later the same evening, INEC explained the delay with “technical hitches.” 

Thabo Mbeki

Another observer mission from the Commonwealth of Nations, led by the former South African President Thabo Mbeki said the election was largely peaceful, but Mr. Mbeki also said observers had recorded “incidences of election-related violence and insecurity, some of which regrettably resulted in the loss of life and postponement of elections in some polling units.” Observers from the United States said the number of violent incidents in the run-up to the election was double that in previous years, while there were probably at least as many episodes on the day of the election as there were in the last vote in 2019.

Supreme Court: the last hope of the common man

The Peoples’ Democratic Party and the Labour Party headed to the courts. Invariably, the Supreme Court would have the final word. In his acceptance speech, Mr Tinubu called for reconciliation. “I take this opportunity to appeal to my fellow contestants to let us team up together. It is the only nation we have. It is one country and we must build it together,” he said in a televised speech.

He also said that they had the right to challenge the results in court, and explained that the lapses in the election “were relatively few in number and were immaterial to affect the outcome of this election”. Tinubu said he was ready to defend his mandate in the court.

At a news conference later, Mr Obi’s running-mate Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed urged his supporters to stay calm. Labour’s lawyers were “putting the papers together” to challenge Mr Tinubu’s victory in court, he added.

Currently, the Justices of the Supreme Court include: Olukayode Ariwoola, Musa Datijo Muhammad, Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, Chima Centus Nweze, Amina Augie, Uwani Musa Abba Aji, John Inyang Okoro, Lawal Garba.

Nigerians will have to bring them up before the Court of Heaven every day and pray that the God of the poor and the innocent will take hold of their consciences, give them grace, courage and wisdom to deliver good judgement in favour of the Nigerian people concerning the presidential election 2023. The heart of kings and judges are in the hands of God. Nigerians should pray that no satanic power of any kind, no divination or sorcery will work against them as they hear these cases.

The people of Nigeria should pray against every power assigned to manipulate them not to give judgment in favour of the right candidate that is the choice of the majority. They should pray that the judicial decision of these trusted servants of God will bring into office a President that God will use to heal and bless Nigeria, and put the nation on the part of solid economic recovery and growth.

They should pray for a prosperous New Nigeria. Nigerians should pray that the judgement of the Supreme Court unite Nigeria and not set it on fire. And may God continue to uphold the Supreme Court as it mirrors and projects itself as the last hope of the common man.

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