The February 23 presidential and National Assembly elections were marred by widespread irregularities at ward level collation of results, the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) has said.

CDD, which monitored the elections alongside its partners including PREMIUM TIMES and Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), stated that feedback from its observers who were deployed to 8,809 polling units in the 36 states in the country and Federal Capital Territory, indicated that the ward level collation was marred by logistical challenges, “misconduct, inefficiency and poor technical knowledge of INEC and ad-hoc staff; security lapses and intimidation of collation staff by security agencies; inappropriate activities of political thugs and party agents; and the denial of access to media and observer groups.”

The CDD, in the report released on Monday, stated that apart from its observers, it also deployed software and apps such as Zabe SR, to provide real-time information from polling stations, voting process and collation exercise.

The organisation stated that collation of results was particularly important as how it was handled can increase or decrease the credibility of the election.

“Ward-level collation in the 8809 political wards is very important because it is the first stage of the collation process, with errors at this stage being fed into, and shaping, the overall collation process,” he said.

The report stated that despite stating clear procedures for collation of results from polling units to the national level in its election guideline release on January 12, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) struggled with the exercise.

Logistics Failure

According to CDD, the first kind of challenge INEC encountered in the collation of results was logistical in nature. In Enugu, for instance, results from polling units could not be easily taken to ward collation centres (WCCs) due to inadequate transport provisions.

The collation in the state, as well as in Abia State, was also marked by confusion as INEC did not clearly state where the collation centres are designated.

“In other cases, there was confusion and delays among stakeholders in deciding on the WCC [Ward Collation Centres] venue. For instance, in ward 2, Aba South LGA, Abia State, as polls closed, a collation centre venue remained undecided, delayed the collation process. There were also many instances of last-minute changes of locations of WCC’s, while in some places the venue being used as the WCC was changed midway into the collation process due to the absence of electricity or other necessary logistics,” the report highlighted.

Misconduct, Poor Technical Know-how

The collation was also flawed by several reported cases of misconduct, inefficiency and poor technical know-how by INEC’s ad hoc staff.

“While some officials lacked knowledge of the collation process, others lacked the basic arithmetic skills needed for quick collation of results thereby leading to errors in the result sheets, inconsistencies in collated figures and delays to the whole collation process.

“In Kaduna, collation was slowed by late arrival of materials and the incompetence of some presiding officers. Our (CDD) observers on ground also reported that the state governor, Nasir El-Rufai, returned to his polling unit around 6 p.m. on election day to observe the counting of ballots but when he left out of frustration at 9.30pm, the presiding officer was still battling to reconcile the figures.

“Beyond issues caused by human error, there were also clear cases of misconduct from officials involved with the collation process. For instance, in Badarawa ward, Kaduna North LGA, it was reported that at least three presiding officers absconded with result sheets. Results for this ward did not arrive the local government collation centre until Monday evening; 48 hours after polls had closed.

“In Bauchi LGA of Bauchi state, collation was halted for almost 48 hours at the Baba Sidi Primary School WCC – the largest ward in the LGA with 78 polling units due to widespread cases of alterations to the result sheets. Some ad hoc staff and materials from polling units in the ward were still missing almost 40 hours after the election ended. The collation officer for Baba Sidi primary school WCC was jittery, confused, filled all the forms wrongly and his writings were largely illegible. The case of alteration of results was widespread in Bauchi LGA.”

Security Lapses

According to CDD, security arrangement provided at the ward collation centres were either inadequate or the security personnel behaved in clearly unprofessional manners, intimidating voters and electoral officials as well as disrupting the collection exercise.

“An INEC official in Okrika LGA, Rivers state, said personnel from the security forces invaded the INEC office and snatched the results of the elections for the council. Before the results were snatched, the same security personnel had threatened the collation officials by shooting sporadically into the air.

“A similar incident was reported at Isiokpo, Ikwerre LGA – again in River state – where according to our observers between 7-8pm on election day the military stormed the INEC Office at Isiokpo and walked out all the ad-hoc staff who were there to present their results to the collation officers. No collation took place. In Akwa Ibom, police officers threatened and assaulted some accredited party agents, election observers and journalists.

“The case of Rivers State in terms of electoral day [post voting and collation] violence appears to be worst compared to other states that witnessed election day violence during the 2019 presidential and national assembly election.”

According to reports from CDD observers, political thugs and party agents threatened collation officers with violence and disrupted the collation process.

“(In) Okrika LGA, Rivers State, it was reported that at the end of polls, there were heavy gunshots and electoral officials could not collate form EC8A (result sheet) at many polling units. A Premium Times journalist was forcibly evicted from the collation centre for the Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial election. The interference of politicians, their thugs and agents, seriously marred the collation process, for instance in Borno State, the interference of politicians delayed collation,” the report stated.

In Delta State, for instance, observers and journalists were banned from reaching collation centres.

“Media reports have it that a special team of mobile policemen, soldiers were stationed at the three entrances of the collation centre from Post office road, Olotu and Oteri state to prevent observers from accessing the centre.”

Troubled States

While the irregularities occurred across the nation, they were more prevalent in some states.

“Ward level collation challenges were widespread, but Lagos and Osun combined were responsible for 22% of incident reports. Other states with high levels of incidents reported were Sokoto (9%), Rivers (8%) and Kaduna (7%). The incidences in Rivers State were largely associated with the activities of political thugs and security personnel. This may be connected with the long-running battle among the top political figures in the state

“It is interesting to note that states most affected by the Boko Haram insurgency – Adamawa, Borno and Yobe – did not feature among the states with the highest level of reported incidence associated with collation challenges. Kano, Katsina and Plateau, which each had turnout in excess of one million votes, did not feature among states with high reported number of collation incidence.

“This implies that the drivers of collation challenges are not just associated with party dominance or the political landscape in any state but can be accounted for by the multiplicity of factors we have identified,” the report stated.

CDD posited that the disruptions at the ward level collation if not corrected in future elections will result in voter apathy and increase post-election litigations. The organisation, therefore, asked INEC to commence early training for its personnel and ad-hoc staff, easy identification of collation centres and the prosecution of those found to have been involved in misconduct.

It advised media organisations and civil society organisations to continue pushing for better and more effective election legislation. It also appealed to security agencies to be more professional.

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