By Benson Olugbuo, PhD
The conduct of the Ondo State Governorship Election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is a marked improvement from the recently conducted governorship election in Edo State in terms of logistics and deployment of security personnel across all the polling units in the state. The Nigeria Police Force noted that a total of 33,783 police personnel were deployed to provide security to the electorates, stakeholders and the voting process and to maintain law and order in the state. Findings from our accredited observers deployed showed that the election was relatively peaceful though not without some avoidable hitches. It should be recalled that the build up to the election was characterized by tension, inflammatory statements and violent clashes amongst political actors. However, 86.4% of the respondents interviewed during CLEEN Foundation Election Security Threat Assessment which was released on Tuesday 6th October 2020 indicated that the election will be peaceful. Thus, we commend the residents of Ondo State and all stakeholders that made this possible. We commend INEC for making the voting process inclusive through prioritizing persons with disability, the elderly and pregnant women to vote first during the election. The professionalism and dedication shown by most of its ad-hoc staff despite challenging circumstances and the failure of technology in some polling units should be replicated in subsequent elections. In addition, we commend the security agencies especially officers and men of the Nigeria Police Force for their dedication to free and fair election in the Ondo State. .Despite the noticeable improvements recorded during the election, several gaps were observed which we hope will be addressed ahead of future elections to be conducted by INEC.
The Election Security Support Centre (ESSC) of CLEEN Foundation, in collaboration with the Police Service Commission (PSC) observed the conduct of security personnel deployed for the Governorship Election in Ondo State held on Saturday 10th October, 2020. The ESSC tracked, documented, escalated and followed-up on security related developments across the state through its fifty (50) INEC accredited observers deployed across the 18 Local Government Areas (LGAs) of the state. In addition, CLEEN Foundation deployed a mobile application known as ‘CLEEN Mobile App” which allows citizens to report security issues in their polling units by documenting these on the Application. Other information related to election security was tracked from verifiable newspaper and social media platforms. The following issues are highlighted as part of our post-election findings.
3.0 Opening of Polling Units
Reports from our observers deployed across the 18LGAs of Ondo state indicated that there was early and positive voters’ turnout for the polls across the state. Furthermore, it was observed in some of the polling units that security personnel, electoral officers and election materials did not arrive at the polling units as at 8:30 am. For instance, in Polling Units 31, 32, 33 of Ward 7, Ondo West LGA, CLEEN Foundation observers reported that INEC officials and voting materials had not arrived at 9.30 am.
4.0 Security Related Observations
4.1. Early Arrival of Security Personnel: According to the statistics generated through our observer reports, 86% of security personnel arrived at the polling units across the state before 8:00am,while 14% arrived between 8:00am – 8:59am. This is commendable and should be improved upon.
4.2.Possession of Firearms at the Polling Unit: CLEEN Foundation observed that 76% of the polling units across the state were protected by unarmed security personnel. However, there were reports of some security officials who were in possession of firearms in 18% of the polling units.
4.3 Adequacy of Security personnel at the Polling Units: CLEEN observed that on the aggregate, 94% of the polling units had three or more security personnel while 6% of the polling units had less than three security personnel on ground.
4.4 Identification of Security Personnel: CLEEN observed that 98% of the security personnel wore easily identifiable name tags. However, 4.8 % were not wearing easily identifiable nametags.
4.5 Approachability of Security Personnel: Reports from our observers showed that 44% of the security personnel at the polling units were approachable. 50% of security personnel were very approachable by their disposition, while 4% were observed to be somewhat approachable.
4.6. Impartiality of Security Personnel at the Polling Unit: Statistics available to CLEEN Foundation shows that 74% of security personnel were impartial while 22% of the security agents were very impartial. However, 4% were seen not to be impartial. For instance, at Unit 5, Ward 8, Idanre Local Government Area, security agents were observed not coordinating the queues as they allowed party agents to determine/dictate events in the polling unit.
4.7.Feeling of Safety at the Polling Units: CLEEN observed that 98% of the polling units were safe and secured while 2% were observed to be somewhat safe and secured. However, there were reported incidences of thuggery and violent conducts at Igbokoda Ward, Kelema Zion, Unit 16, Ilaje Local Government Area, as thugs allegedly delayed the commencement of the voting process at the polling units. When elections eventually commenced, two party thugs came with a bike with the intention to disrupt the poll. However, security agents intervened, seized the bike and arrested the suspects. Similarly, in polling Unit 4, Ward 4 in Ijomu/Obanla, Akure South LGA, gun-wielding men invaded the unit shooting sporadically to disperse the voting process. During the incident, a young man was shot and was rushed to the hospital on a motorcycle. Security personnel reportedly brought normalcy to the polling unit and voting continued smoothly.
5.0 General Observations
5.1.INEC Result Portal: CLEEN Foundation observed the upload of polling unit results on the INEC results portal. The practice is commendable as it enhances transparency in the collation of results during the election, thus reducing the usual violence at collation centres.5.2.Crowd Control: CLEEN Foundation observers reported that some polling units in Ondo state had issues of poor crowd control due to large voters’ turnout and activities of party agents. This was observed in Polling Unit 4 (Adumasi Ilepa), Ward 2, Akoko North-East LGA and at Ifedore Local Government Area, Polling Unit 1, Ward 6.
5.3. Priority Provided to Persons with Disabilities: CLEEN observed that persons with disabilities, the elderly, pregnant women and nursing mothers were given preference in some polling units observed in the state and there was distribution of ballots in Braille to guide voters with visual impairments. For instance, at Akure South LGA, Ward 4 Unit 14, deaf voters were able to cast their votes and accorded priority during the voting exercise as PWDs. However, in Polling Unit 18, Ward 2, Aje-Bamidele, and Polling Unit 35, Ward 2, Owonifari, Isikan West, both in Akure South LGA, PWDs were unable to exercise their franchise due to the difficult topography, and drainage infrastructure which is in a state of disrepair.
5.3. Deployment of INEC Officials: CLEEN observed early arrival and setting-up of polling units before 8.00am in most Local Government Areas of the state where our observers were stationed. However, in Polling Units 31, 32, 33, Ward 7, Ondo West, LGA, our observers reported that INEC officials and voting materials had not arrived as at 9.30 am. Furthermore, voting did not commence early in most areas of Ilaje Local Government Area due to the capsizing of the boat conveying INEC materials.
5.4. Welfare of Security Officials: At Imafon Unit 1, Igbatoro Ward 4, Akure North LGA, security personnel abandoned the polling unit in search of food leaving voters at the mercy of party agents. In another incident, security personnel on duty requested for food and water from INEC officials on duty. This portrays a pathetic case and one that brings to fore the issue of welfare of the officers involved in election duties. This appears to be a recurring trend despite discussions at dialogue sessions with the police leadership.
5.5. COVID-19 Protocols: Most electorates apart from those that wore face masks, did not comply with all the non-pharmaceutical measures stipulated by the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and INEC. In most polling units observed, there was no physical distancing in addition to glaring absence of hand sanitizers. In Polling Unit 010, Ward 5, Oka Akoko, Akoko South West Local Government Area, voters were observed not complying with physical distancing at the Polling Unit. Similarly, in Polling Unit 2 Ward 3, Igboroko, Owo Local Government Area, voters did not comply with physical distancing. Furthermore, in Polling Unit 22, Ward 2, Okitipupa LGA, voters were observed not wearing facemasks.
At St. Patrick’s Primary School, Unit 3, Ward 8, Akoko South East Local Government Area, voters did not maintain social distancing. Similar incidents occurred in Polling Unit 3 Ward 8, Ondo West Local Government Area, voters were also observed voting without physical distancing. At Araromi Market, Unit 3, Ward 4 Akoko South West, the polling unit was reportedly overcrowded as physical distancing measure was not observed or complied with. Furthermore, at Kelema Zion, Ward 5, Ilaje LGA, our observers reported that physical distancing was observed. At Polling Unit 3, Ward 4, Akoko South East Local Government Area, there was no adherence to physical distancing as the polling unit was overcrowded. However, At Polling Unit 8, Ward 3, Ondo West Local Government Area, there was some commendable compliance to Covid-19 protocols by voters and these were enforced by security agents posted to the unit. Similarly, at Polling Unit 8, Ward 10, Odigbo Local Government Area, security personnel were observed ensuring compliance to Covid-19 protocols.
5.6. Vote Trading: CLEEN Foundation observed disturbing incidents of vote trading across the state. For instance, at Polling Unit 4, Ikare, Akoko North East Local Government Area, there were reported inducements of voters. At Polling Unit 15 & 16, Ondo West, a major political party was observed inducing voters with the sum of N5,000. At Polling Unit 12, Ward 7, Akoko South West Local Government Area, a political party was observed inducing voters with N5,000 with evidence of voting for their party before payment. At Polling Unit 8, Ward 3, Ondo West, all the major political parties were observed engaging in vote buying. At Alagbaka Primary School, Polling Unit 12, Ward 5, Akure South Local Government Area, party agents were observed inducing voters in the presence of security personnel. At St Patrick Primary School, Polling Units 3&4, Ward 8, party agents were observed infringing on voters’ choices through massive vote buying. Similarly, at Polling Unit 16, Ward 3, Ilaje Local Government Area, massive vote buying was observed with complicity of INEC officials and party agents. Also, soft drinks were bought and distributed to INEC officials, security agents and voters at the same polling unit and ward by a political party. At Polling Unit 4, Ward 6, Akoko North East Local Government Area, there was a reported incident of vote buying by party agents.
However, security officials at Polling Unit 8, Ward 10, Odigbo Local Government Area prevented vote buying in the unit. At Unit 1, Ward 4, Akure North East, a leading political party allegedly induced voters without the knowledge of security personnel. Similarly, in Unit 12, Ward 8, Ondo West, voters reportedly displayed their ballot to party officials after voting and got paid for the votes. At Unit 1, Ward 5, Akure North, a member of a leading political party was arrested after being involved in vote buying. At Unit 3, Ward 4, Akoko South-West, party agents were observed helping persons with disability to vote. At Babalola Memorial Primary School, Units 31, 32 and 33, Ondo Town, Ondo West LGA, discreet vote buying was observed as well. Some voters deliberately revealed whom they had voted for while dropping their thumb printed ballot paper into the box, so that they can be paid later. We commend the security agents that rose to the occasion and call for the arrest, investigation and prosecution of party agents engaged in vote trading during the election.
5.7. INEC Logistics/Operational Challenges
CLEEN Foundation observed smart card readers malfunctioning in Unit 7, Ward 1, Itagbolu, Akure North as voters’ cards were not authenticated. Similarly, at Unit 10, Ward 5, Akoko South West, voting was delayed due to malfunctioning of the smart card reader in the unit. At Polling Unit 15, Ward 1, Ese Odo Local Government Area, the smart card reader malfunctioned and INEC officials opted for manual accreditation and voting. Furthermore, in Polling Unit 10, Afulu, Akoko South West Local Government Area, the card reader malfunctioned leading to disruption in voting. At polling Unit 5, Ward 8, Idanre Local Government Area, the smart card reader was not authenticating the fingers of voters. In Akure South Local Government, Unit 12, Ward 09, INEC officials experienced some challenges logging into the card reader thus delaying the voting process.
At Ifedore Local Government Area, Polling Unit 2, Ward 4, the Smart card reader reportedly failed to authenticate finger prints but was subsequently resolved and voters were able to commence voting. At Polling Unit 8, Ward 3, Ondo West, the smart card reader was unable to authenticate voters. INEC officials refused to use manual accreditation and insisted on following the laid down procedure. However, in Akure North, Polling Unit 11,Ward 9, voting was conducted without accreditation due to smart card reader failure.
Despite the improvements noticed in the conduct of the Ondo State Governorship Election by INEC and security agencies, several gaps were observed that could undermine the electoral integrity and process. In view of the observations made during the just concluded governorship election in Ondo state, CLEEN Foundation recommends the following to deepen the democratic process and improve election security management in Nigeria as we plan towards subsequent elections.
- There is a need for INEC to improve on logistics and leverage on technology to deliver more transparent and credible elections through the pilot of E-voting.
- The INEC result portal can be improved for more transparency through automation of sum of votes received by political parties at the polling units.
- INEC should ensure improvement in the deployment of materials and the use of functional smart card readers in subsequent elections.
- INEC should prosecute electoral offenders to reduce the tendency by political thugs to disrupt elections.
- INEC should disaggregate data for persons with disabilities to enable special provisions and more involved inclusion and participation in subsequent elections
- INEC should provide enough sensitive materials such as Braille for voters with visual impairment.
- Ensure compliance with Covid-19 protocols during elections through adequate provision of temperature thermometer, hand sanitizers and other non-pharmaceutical requirements.
- Sustain voter’s education and awareness creation through various channels and platforms
- Train and retrain electoral officers and ad-hoc staff to enable them meet with the changing needs of the electorates in Nigeria.
- i) We call on the security agencies deployed for election duty to arrest and investigate all those involved in vote trading in different parts of the state and hand the culprits over to INEC for prompt prosecution.
- ii) There is a need for training and retraining of security personnel deployed for election duty on the Covid-19 guidelines produced by the Nigeria Police Force.
iii) Should adhere to the principles of impartiality and neutrality of security personnel as reports of security personnel displaying partisanship were prominent in some polling units. We therefore call for investigation and prosecution of those found culpable.
6.3. Federal Government
Government agencies including the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control & the Presidential Task Force should ensure adherence to covid-19 guidelines and protocols during elections.
6.4. Politicians and Political Parties
- i) Should maintain the peace and be magnanimous in victory.
- ii) Should work with Ondo citizens including those in the opposition parties to improve the governance of the state in a peaceful atmosphere.
Thank you and may God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Benson Olugbuo, PhD, is the Executive Director, CLEEN Foundation