Nseobong Okon-Ekong, Vanessa Obioha and Ojo Maduekwe, write that the rescheduled and highly anticipated 2019 presidential and national assembly election held on Saturday, February 23 was marred by technical glitches, malpractice and violence
When Google experienced a glitch that caused the Nigerian Naira to trade at 184 per US dollar few hours before the presidential election, a clairvoyant would have interpreted it as a sign the election would be marred by glitches and violence; and would have been right.
The 2019 presidential and national assembly election held across the country on Saturday, February 23, was marred by technical glitches, malpractice and violence in states like Lagos, Rivers, Bayelsa, Borno, Yobe, Kogi, Ebonyi, and Zamfara, that resulted in 16 deaths.
At a press briefing, a coalition of over 70 Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), under the auspices of the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, that chronicled the deaths also expressed concern over incidences of smart card readers failure in some polling units.
Aside the South-east and South-south recording the lowest number of early poll openings at about 27 percent and 21 percent respectively at 10am, states where card reader challenge was prevalent include, Imo, Lagos, Ogun, Abia, Nasarawa, Kebbi, FCT and Kaduna.
Before the elections started, there had been reports of election related violence according to a report by analysts at the SBM Intelligence. According to SBM, there were about 233 deaths in 67 incidents of election-related violence from last October to Friday, February 22, 2019.
“Situation Room received reports of several instances of smart card reader failure which necessitated INEC officials resorting to manual accreditation,” according to Barrister Clement Nwankwo, who briefed newsmen on behalf of the civil society coalition.
In Lagos eyewitness accounts said suspected thugs belonging to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) disrupted voting in areas considered strongholds of opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), like Okota, Isolo, Oshodi, Alaba and Ajegunle.
In Okota, the thugs were said to have arrived on motorbikes before the voting started threatening anyone who voted against the APC and then later caught on video destroying thumb printed ballot papers, and in one instance alleged to have set electoral materials on fire.
The Okota incident took an ethnic colouration, with both the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) and Pan Yoruba organisation, Afenifere, denouncing the ballot box snatchers while appealing for calm.
News report had it that between 10am and 11am, thugs belonging to the APC “begun arriving and from one polling unit to the other, burning ballot papers and ordering voters, most of whom were of Igbo extraction to leave the polling units or face ‘deportation.’”
In a press statement signed by the OPC publicity secretary, Mr. Yinka Oguntimehin, the mastermind of the Okota incident, a certain Ademola, was not a member of the OPC, but a thug.
Reaffirming the group’s commitment to democracy, Oguntimehin said his faction of the OPC, “Is a group of professionals, and well educated members. We have our structure across the country, and everybody can attest to the fact that the Aare Gani Adams-led members of the OPC are not vagabonds or thugs.”
Suing for peace amongst Nigerians during the election, the OPC scribe said, “For a very long time now, we have transited into a brand new OPC, with a clear-cut ideology. And part of our ideologies is to ensure peace, across the country, most especially, in the south west.”
In the same vein, the Afenifere spokesperson, Yinka Odumakin, in a statement, while decrying the incident in “strongest terms”, described the Okota violence as barbaric and unfortunate.
Odumakin said, “Dirty political merchants and their band of thugs apart from engineering political disenfranchisement of the Igbo, went ahead to visit violence on them and burning their votes en-masse.”
Lending support to the OPC, Mr Odumakin said, “Our checks with the genuine leaders of the group (OPC) have shown that the deranged elements had no affiliation with the OPC known by Afenifere.”
The Pan Yoruba group went ahead to “frown seriously at the failure of the security agencies to give adequate cover to Ndigbo in the affected communities as these thugs went berserk carrying out the instructions of their sinking political godfathers.”
Vote snatching aside, there was also the issue of vote buying in states like Lagos, Niger, Edo, Kwara, Kano and Katsina; an incident that saw a thinly-spread security personnel turn a blind eye.
The most marred polling units with electoral violence was in the South-south states of Rivers and Bayelsa. In the Andoni area of Rivers state, unknown gunmen shot dead a former local government leader and his brother, according to state police spokesman, Nnamdi Omoni. Both were said to be members of the APC.
According to Omoni, there was also an incident of hoodlums, dressed in military uniforms, invading some polling units in the Okrika area of the state, snatching voting materials. He told pressmen that the police had moved in to restore order, and that INEC was making efforts to ensure voters were not disenfranchised in the area.
In a related incident in the oil state of Bayelsa, armed men in military uniform killed Reginald Dei, a Government House photographer, and Seidougha Taribi, the Ward Chairman of the PDP in the Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa State.
Highlighting the inadequacy of security personnel at some polling unit, the coalition said, “In some polling units there was only one police officer while in others, in addition to the prescribed three per polling unit, there were other security personnel totalling up to 10”.
One sad incident that could have been avoided were there to be adequate security across the polling units was a case of a killing of an INEC adhoc staff, Ibisaki Amachree.
Amachree’s father, in a heartfelt tribute titled, ‘We are counting our losses’, said the postgraduate degree holder and mother of two, “full of cheer, love and kindness”, was shot dead by a trigger happy and jittery soldier while she was on a national assignment with INEC.
The bereaved father while lamenting the sad death of his daughter, said, “I have never arranged for the death of any youth. I hate violence and thuggery. If law enforcement agents have to kill an enemy, should it be my responsible and peaceful daughter? It is well. Only God knows why it happened. He will surely repay the wicked.”
There were instances where elections could not hold at the stipulated time, like the case of the electoral officials assigned to four wards of Bakassi Local Government Area of Cross River State who couldn’t get to the area after being stranded at sea for about 10 hours.
It took the intervention of the Navy Command who sent a rescue team to the officials later in the evening for them to get to the polling units. Due to the hiccup, voters in the area were unable to vote, and as at the time of writing this article, the electoral officials were still waiting for instructions from INEC Abuja on when to hold the polls.
The poll that was rescheduled to hold on Saturday February 23, was marred by logistical lapses, such that on Sunday February 24 when INEC said it would begin national collation of the results to announce the winners, the commission had to move it till 11am today.
The impact of INEC’s logistical lapses meant that there were reported cases of late opening of polling units in several parts of the country, with the average opening time being 45 percent as at 10 am. This meant late arrival of materials and ad hoc staff, and accounting for much of the delay in polls opening across the country.
As expected the glitches and violence did not go without both the APC and PDP trading blames. The PDP”s candidate, Atiku Abubakar, while thanking Nigerians for their “massive support”, said he was “familiar with how brazen and the complete lack of shame the APC can exhibit, but even I was shocked to witness just how low they went last night by accusing the PDP of ‘recruiting armed thugs’ to do just that.”
In the statement by his Special Assistant On Public Communication, Phrank Shaibu, Atiku said the PDP had a “high tech, cloud-based SVC system which is able to collate in real-time the results from the 119,973 voting units across the nation”, and so “the Presidential candidate could boldly assure his supporters that victory was at hand.”
Falling short of declaring himself the winner, Atiku said, “With strong shares of vote in SS, SE as well as an increased share in SW and NC we are very pleased with the progress the PDP has made. We look forward to sharing some exciting news in other parts of the country very soon, which will confound all the armchair pundits.”
The PDP presidential candidate went ahead to charge Nigerians “On the need to maximise their eternal vigilance in the next 48 hours to prevent the majority votes recorded at the polling units being disrupted by force by the APC at the collation centres.”
In a counter statement, the APC National Publicity Secretary, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu, described Atiku’s statement as, “A provocative insult to democracy and to Nigeria”, saying it was “An unwarranted strike against democracy and the people of Nigeria.”
According to Mr Issa-Onilu, the PDP’s “reckless” call on INEC to “arbitrarily name its candidate, Alh. Atiku Abubakar the winner of the presidential election” was “shameful and alarming.”
Mr Issa-Onilu said the PDP, unwilling to wait for INEC the constituted legal authority to complete its task, “seeks a short cut by false and premature claims of victory. This cannot stand.”