Two study groups in the United States (US); the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI), have submitted that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was never ready for the presidential election initially fixed for February 14.
The two democratic institutions made the position known in a report submitted to the government and relevant stakeholders, including INEC, after a five-day study in Nigeria.
The study, which was undertaken with funding from the US Department of State, held between January 15 and 20, was undertaken by experienced resource persons on electoral matters and African affairs.
The report, further, indicated that INEC was not ready for the conduct of the election on February 14, contrary to claims in the media.
According to the report, the NDI and IRI delegations were in Nigeria between January 15 and 20, with the aim of assessing the current political and electoral environment in the lead-up to the February 14 presidential election; assess the preparedness of all stakeholders for the election and offer recommendations to enhance citizen confidence in the process.
The report noted that violence was a major threat to the election, including threats of post-election violence and the insurgency already unleashed on the north-eastern parts of the country by Boko Haram.
The institutions stated that no fewer than 4.5 million persons would have been disenfranchised in the states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe as a result of insurgency if the elections were held on February 14.
The report indicated INEC’s lack of readiness for the election, by highlighting its poor voter education measures, as well as what it called miscommunication on its part.
“The delegation is concerned that millions of permanent voter cards (PVCs) have not yet been distributed by INEC. Although INEC plans to move the distribution of PVCs from the local government level down to the wards (which are smaller units under the councils and closer to the polling points), that exercise has not started in the states.
“Moreover, some Nigerians stated that in a number of states, the distribution exercise has repeatedly been postponed in some locations, leading to further erosion of trust in INEC.
“Some Nigerians are still unsure whether a voter without a PVC, but whose name is on the register, will be allowed to vote on election day and what arrangements will be put in place to adjudicate such matters.
“Similarly, INEC brands the voter card readers (VCRs), a handheld machine that will be used to scan the biometric voter cards, as an innovation in Nigeria that would strengthen the integrity of the voting process; however, the procurement of the VCRs is still underway and not all card readers have been delivered to lNEC.
“INEC is confident the delivery will be made and has issued guidelines to address card reader malfunction. INEC also views the card reader as a confidence building measure that would allow the commission to track the number of accredited voters and make sure they match the figures to be reported on the results sheet.
“Yet, some Nigerians are apprehensive about what would happen should the remaining VCRs not be delivered on time, or should many of these new machines malfunction on election day.
“While INEC has specific plans for recruiting and deploying ad hoc poll workers that would include current and former members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and students in tertiary education institutions, some members of the public are concerned that training of these workers has yet to begin,” the report stated.
It also identified some of the challenges to the elections, with insecurity as a major challenge.
“The impact of Boko Haram ongoing attacks and killings have disrupted dally life in Borno State and several local government areas in Yobe and Adamawa states.
“The presence of Boko Haram poses a political risk in that, not conducting polls in significant parts of a region viewed as the stronghold of one of the contesting parties, even if for reasons of insecurity, would mean the disenfranchisement of a large number of voters.
“This would well call into question the legitimacy of the election in the eyes of the population, not only in the affected states but more widely. According to INEC, the three states have a cumulative total of approximately 4.5 million registered voters (Adamawa 1.5 million; Borno 1.9 million and Yobe, 1.1 million).
“Internally displaced persons (lDPs) in the North-East is an issue, with a number of councils inaccessible because of insecurity caused by Boko Haram. The presence and de facto control of territory in these states by Boko Hararn has resulted in the internal displacement of hundreds of thousands of people.
“Advocacy for steps to be taken to facilitate lDP voting continues to grow, as INEC pursues its consultations with political parties and other election stakeholders on ways to facilitate such. Nigerians recognise that it is imperative that their fellow citizens already traumatised by terrorist attacks be afforded the opportunity to exercise their constitutional rights.
“The delegation noted that a number of positive steps taken by INEC to enhance the integrity of the electoral system were either misinterpreted or misunderstood – sometimes willfully – by some segments of society. For example, while INEC introduced a biometric registry and machine-readable permanent voter cards (PVCs) to curb fraud and duplicate registrations, some critics of INEC argue that there are no legal provision for INEC to require a PVC (in lieu of a temporary voting card), and that the biometric features of the PVC go beyond minimum requirements of Nigerian law.
“Similarly, INEC explains the reduction in the number of voters in the voter registry from 73 million in 2011 to 68.8 million in 2014 as a result of steps taken to expunge from the registry double registrations and underaged and deceased voters. However, some critics of INEC are concerned that the new figure does not reflect the growing population of the country.
“According to a recently released Gallup poll, confidence in elections in Nigeria has eroded significantly since 2011: whereas 51 per cent of Nigerians expressed confidence in the honesty of elections in 2011, that number declined to 13 per cent in 2014. A number of Nigerians with whom the delegation met expressed concern that insufficient communication by the election management body – and disparagement of INEC’s efforts by some of its critics – could undermine the efficient administration of the polls.
“The delegation concluded that there is a paramount need for more and more regular, updates and increased service announcements to the public regarding progress in election preparations, including with regards to the procurement and distribution of PVCs and other materials, to dissipate mistrust among citizens,” the report added.
The delegation comprised Ambassador George Moose, former US assistant secretary of state for African Affairs and vice chairman of the board of directors of the US Institute of Peace; Brigalia Bam, former chairperson of the Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa; Honourable Patrick Muyaya, member of parliament, the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Also, among the delegation are Pauline Baker, former president of the Fund for Peace; Michael Bratton, distinguished professor of Political Science and African Studies at Michigan State University; Robert Lloyd, professor of International Relations at Pepperdine University, and senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center; Christopher Fomunyoh, senior associate and Regional Director for Central and West Africa at NDI; and Gretchen Birkle, Regional Director for Africa at IRI.