Millions of Nigerian voters will be returning to the polls on Saturday, March 18, 2023 to vote in new governors and members of the Houses of Assembly in the 36 states of the federation. This will be three weeks after they voted in the largely flawed Presidential and National Assembly elections. One expectation of the voters and the international community is that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) would use the opportunity of the second round of elections to correct the flaws and glitches that marred the February 25 elections.
The voters’ turnout in the February 25 elections was massive following repeated assurances by INEC that the use of the Bi-Modal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS) would digitally transmit results from polling units to INEC’s central server in real time, thereby bypassing the collation centres, where most of previous election rigging took place. That meant that voters would stay back, watch their votes counted and go home with the figures that would appear on INEC’s server. The successful use of the BVAS system in the off season elections in Anambra, Ekiti and Osun States further bolstered the confidence of the voters.
But when Election Day came, INEC failed on its promises. Election materials and personnel arrived late at many polling units, creating anxiety and tensions; the BVAS machine could not recognise for accreditation many registered voters and did not work at all in some polling units. In spite of the problems, most of the voters were patient and resilient. Across the country, particularly in Lagos, there were reports of threats and attacks on voters. The resolve of one particular female voter in Lagos, Mrs. Jennifer Efidi, who was wounded in an attack by hoodlums deserves commendation. She went home to treat her injury and returned to the polling unit with blood still dripping from her wound to cast her vote.
As if the violence and shortcomings during voting were not enough, sponsored hoodlums and even some security men attached to some public figure invaded many polling units and carted away ballot materials before votes were completed and counted. Election officials that resisted the hoodlums were attacked and injured. There were cases where underage voters were chaperoned to vote particular candidates, while in some areas election officials were caught mass thumb printing. At the end of voting, where it ended, results were not transmitted to the INEC server.
The irregularities continued at collation centres where collation officers in many local government areas and states declared falsified results entered manually. There were widespread reports of bribery of election officers. In one case in Port Harcourt, a collation officer alleged that she rejected a bribe of N30 million to change the figures to favour a particular candidate. The polling eventually attracted wide condemnation, international observers alleged lack of transparency on the part of INEC and declared that the Presidential and National Assembly elections were flawed.
As the governorship and House of Assembly elections approach on Saturday, it is expected that INEC would have learnt lessons from the errors of the Presidential and National Assembly elections and has put its house in order, especially with the effective use of the BVAS machine and protection of its personnel and materials from attacks. The voters and other stakeholders must exhibit vigilance and ensure that the right things are done so that the problems that came with the previous election are not repeated.
Nigeria cannot afford to fail again. Let the votes count. The world is watching.
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