By; ALEX UANGBAOJE, Kaduna
Some Domestic Observer Groups, that participated in the just concluded gubernatorial and State Assembly elections in Kaduna State, have scored the process low.
The group, led by Prof. Banake Sambo, of Initiative for the Promotion of Civic Obligations and Sustainable, cited high level irregularities, intimidation, vote buying, violent acts during voting, counting, amongst others.
“Our delegation observed that, the elections were marred by irregularities, instances of intimidation, vote buying, violent acts during voting, counting and collation of results as reported in some places. However, no loss of life was reported anywhere as a result of the elections day violence.
“The actions and impunity with which some electoral actors conducted themselves, using the military, INEC officials and polling agents, subvert citizen confidence in elections and threaten the legitimacy of the outcome of the elections.” He said.
They however, noted that there was significant improvement in the distribution of election materials from the state to local government areas, from local government areas to registration areas, and to polling units, compared to the Presidential and National Assembly elections.
According to them, “during the gubernatorial and state assembly elections in Kaduna state, it was obvious that, there was significant improvement in the distribution of election materials from the state to local government areas, from local government areas to registration areas, and to polling units. In general, voting commenced in most of the places on scheduled time, compared to the Presidential and National Assembly elections held on the February 23, 2019.
“This report is a product of the observer groups observation by their members deployed to 189 Registration Areas (Wards) in the 23 local government areas of Kaduna states.
“The observer groups underscore the significance of the state level polls for the strengthening of democracy in Kaduna State in particular and Nigeria in general. No doubt, it is easier for citizens to hold elected leaders accountable at the state level than those at the Federal level, because they impact more directly on the people. We seek to provide accurate and unbiased report on the electoral process from the polling units, wards, local government and state collation centers.”
They enumerated incidents and areas where they happened as follows; “the distribution of election materials was timely, cases of insufficient election materials was minimal and voting commenced peacefully and calmly in places where elections held.
“However, election materials meant for 7 polling units in Haskiya ward, Kubau local government area were hijacked by some of the political actors and no election took place in the said polling units. Despite that and surprisingly, election results were collated and declared at the collation center, under the protection of armed security personnel.
“Voter turnout was significantly low in comparison with that of Presidential and National Assembly election.
“As the elections progressed, our members observed irregularities in the voting processes; vote buying and voter inducement, metres away from the polling units were witnessed in some polling units in Kaduna North, Kaduna South, Ikara, Kubau and Kachia where supplementary election for House of Representatives was conducted; Igabi, Giwa, Zaria, Kagarko, Lere, Soba and Kauru.
“Non-usage of card reader characterized the election in Yakawada, Idasu, Giwa, Shika, Kakangi and Guga wards of Giwa local government area. Moreso, some polling units in Zaria, Sabongari, Ikara, Lere, Igabi, Soba, Kaduna South, and Kaduna North were not exempted.
“Incidents of snatching and stuffing of ballot boxes were recorded in 13 polling units in Magajin Gari III of Birnin Gwari Local Government Area. Such cases were reported to the police by our members, but they decided not to act promptly. Instances of voters and agent’s intimidation; and violent acts aided by the military were noted in Kwasallo ward in Soba Local government area.
“The military led by senior local council official disrupted voting, unleashed terror and carted away ballot boxes in some of the polling units in Ikara, Fala, Sayasaya, Kurmin Kogi, Rumi Auchan, Kuya, Paki, Jamfalan and saulawa wards in Ikara local Government area. Some of our observers fell victims of these attacks.
“In Yakawada, Idasu, Giwa, Shika and Kakangi wards in Giwa Local Government Area, the same reports of incidences were recorded by our staff.”
At the collation centre, they identified; “apparently, the observer groups identified most of the manipulations, irregularities, falsification of results, harassments and intimidation of party agents, observer groups and the media at the collation centers, at the local government levels.
“In Ikara, Jamfalan, Fala, Kurmin Kogi, Rumi, Auchan and Paki wards in Ikara local government area; Tudun wada, Ungwan Fatika and ungwan Juma wards in Zaria local Government Area; Pambeguwa and Haskiya wards in Kubau Local Government Area; Idasu, Kakangi, Yakawada, Giwa and Shika wards of Giwa Local Government Area; Hayin Banki/Ungwan Kanawa and Maiburuji wards in Kaduna North Local Government Areas; Kukuyi ward in Kagarko Local Government Area.
“Kwasallo ward in Soba local government area; and Makera constituency collation centres, security agents in collaboration with political actors prevented or chased away observers from collation centres in the places mentioned above. These gave some political actors the cover to manipulate and rig elections in the mentioned areas.”
On pre-election period, they noted, “in Kaduna, state-level elections are fiercely contested, as the two major political parties compete for vote and access to public offices and resources; and engage in campaigns at the local level. Intra-state politics and campaigns embitter pre-existing religious and ethnic tensions.
“Our members noted how religious or ethnic divisions fueled by political actors, the clergy and the media create fault lines that could enhance election-related violence and acrimony for a long time, if not abated. Prior to the election, the political space was characterized by accusation, counter accusation and cross carpeting by political actors.”
On averted incident of violence, the observers reported that “a case where 54 vehicles carrying INEC on election duty stickers loaded with suspected political thugs armed with weapons, wearing tags of a political party on election day successfully passes through over 10 security check points unabated, from Kaduna to the Southern part of the state, only to be accosted at Zonkwa by vigilant members of the public, who were suspicious of their movement.
“The incident led to high tension, burning down of three vehicles, before the police and senior political actors doused the tension. Before then, four persons were arrested by the police in Zangon Kataf Local Government.
“It is worthy to note, how such mass movement of vehicles and people were able to cross the boundaries of Local Governments in Kaduna State during the elections in spite of the heavy security presence is quite intriguing and worrisome.
“Very worrisome was the new method of indiscriminate cancellation of results at the collation centers based on frivolous and unsubstantiated allegations. These happened with the connivance of INEC officials and the security agencies.”
“It was obvious that INEC officials compromised the electoral processes in most places where manipulations were prevalent. The groups condemned the militarization of the political space, as this has the tendency to erode voter confidence and engender apathy.
“Secrecy of ballot was not adequately protected within polling units observed. Voters cast their ballot very close to party agents, polling and security officials and the general public, this violates the sanctity of ballot.
“It is instructive and perplexing that, despite the apparent low voter turnout across the state, number of accredited voters, and votes scored by the two major political parties are higher than those recorded during the Presidential and National Assembly elections held on the February 23, 2019.”
They therefore recommend the following; “we recommend that INEC should review the age of presiding officers and appoint only ad-hoc staff who are experienced and matured for critical positions of polling officers, as many of those used were immature, very young and lacked the composure to handle challenging situations and take timely decisions.
“INEC should organize workshops for security agencies, who are to participate in the electoral processes, to sensitize them on their role in elections. INEC should conduct a comprehensive review of the conduct of the 2019 polls, involving all stakeholders in the electoral process.
“Security agencies should investigate the conduct of their personnel and other political actors involved in election malpractices and prosecute them accordingly. Politicians should learn to abide by the Law, failure to adhere to that should attract the appropriate sanctions.
“It behooves on INEC to do an in-house investigation of its officials who participated in the conduct of the 2019 elections; and where they are found to have compromised, appropriate sanctions should be meted on them as prescribed by law.
“EFCC equally should own up to its duty to corroboratively investigate the activities of all staff of INEC and other security agencies who participated in the 2019 General Elections. We call on the Federal government to implement the Justice Mohammed Uwais-led commission’s report of 2008 and the Ken Nnamani-led electoral reforms committee’s report of 2017.
“The groups call for a comprehensive review of the electoral Act, by the National Assembly and timely assent by the President, to facilitate and regulate proper conduct of subsequent elections in the country. We urge Nigerians to remain calm, protect and defend democracy and respect all rights of fellow citizens to peacefully participate in politics.”