Election Monitoring Groups Decry Heavy Presence of Security Agents in Bayelsa

0

By Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Stanley Nkwazema

There have been mixed reactions from different election monitoring groups that observed Saturday’s governorship contest in Bayelsa State.

Many of them condemned the heavy presence of security agents, saying it was a pointer that Nigeria’s democracy is still not civil.

Since the return to civil rule in Nigeria in 1999, it has become an accepted practice to have Nigerian and international observer groups accredited by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to carry out unfettered assessment of the process.

The Executive Director, Sustainable Initiative for Nurturing Growth (SING), Mr. Idris Usman, said his organisation’s engagement with Bayelsa goes back to 2015 when it researched and documented a first-of-its-kind report on violence attending elections in Bayelsa.

“Our report traced the victims, identified the perpetrators, sponsors and communities where these violence were recorded with a view to encourage prosecution so that it will serve as a deterrence. We also engaged in a pre-election enlightenment campaign tagged, ‘Vote A Must’,” Usman said.

Assessing the 2019 governorship contest in Bayelsa State, Usman said: “The heavy presence of security indicates that our democracy is still not civil. It is as if we are at war, as opposed to people freely making a choice of their leaders under a peaceful atmosphere.”

His position was corroborated by Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, President, Women Arise, who said she could not sleep with her eyes open if she was not physically present in either Bayelsa or Kogi State.

According to her, “My interaction with security has shown that many of them are willing to be educated and are actually humble about the way they conduct themselves in civil society. Our participation has helped to deepen our democratic culture. We are not there yet, but there is hope that things will get better. This is our country and we should continue to insist on what we want. What we do for ourselves will be forgotten, but what we do for the world will remain.”

The Executive Director, Kimpact Development Initiative, Bukola Idowu, said there was late commencement of the election.

“This was common to all the places I went to. There are reported pockets of violence in some areas. We have been doing this since the 2019 general election. We are working on the Nigerian Election Violence Report (NEVR). We share our report with the security agencies so that they can mitigate and deploy appropriate responses.

“I think they acted on our report. With the report we have so far, there is no reduction in the incidents of violence from what happened in the general election. As at 4pm, there were 10 incidents of violence in Yenagoa, three in Ekeremor, six in Southern Ijaw, four in Nembe and two in Ogbia. Some of them include death and destruction of electoral materials,” Idowu said.

President of Rev. John Pofi Foundation, working in collaboration with the United States Nigerian Law Group called for the withdrawal of military men to forestall what happened in Buguma, Rivers State in the last general election.

In a statement jointly issued by Dr. Aisha Abdullahi, Ezenwa Nwagwu and Cynthia Mbamalu for YIAGA Africa Watching the Vote, Bayelsa Observation Mission, the group deplored “the Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT) which is an advanced and proven methodology that employs well established statistical principles and utilizes sophisticated information technologies for election observation. Using this methodology, YIAGA AFRICA can independently determine if the official result announced reflects the votes cast”.

The Watching The Vote observation highlighted findings that enable a systematic assessment of seven process-related issues which includes the opening of polling units and presence of polling officials and election materials; presence of security personnel, commencement of accreditation and voting; deployment of the smart card readers; and presence of party agents. It also highlighted critical incidents observed that may threaten the credibility of the election.

1. As of 7:30 am, YIAGA AFRICA WTV observers reported that INEC Officials had arrived at only 24% of polling units across the state. Arrival of polling officials was identical across the three senatorial districts.

2. By 12:30 pm, only 56% of polling units had opened across the state. Opening rates again varied by LGAs. WTV citizen observers reported that 23% of polling units were open by 9am; 18% between 9am and 10am; 15% between 10am and 12 noon; 12% not open by 12 noon; and 33% not yet reporting.

3. On average open polling units had four polling officials present of which two were women.

4. 79% of open polling units had security agents present.

5. Card readers were observed in 83% of polling units.

6. Register of voters were seen in 82% of open polling units, indelible ink (marker pen) in 79% of open polling units, official stamp in 82% of open polling units, voting cubicle in 79% of polling units, ink pad (in voting cubicle) in 82% of open polling units, governorship ballot box in 82% of open polling units, polling unit booklet were present in 80% of open polling units.

7. The Braille Ballot guides were present in 28% and the PWD poster (Poster EC 30E) were present at 68% of open polling units.

8. Accord Party agents were seen at 10% of open polling units, APC party agents were seen at 83% of open polling units, and PDP at 74% of open polling units.