Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The good, the bad and the ugly sides of 2015 elections

The much awaited 2015 elections started with the presidential and National Assembly polls on Saturday, March 28. I am glad, extremely happy, to have voted in the elections. It’s such a big deal for me being part of history as I participated fully in determining my political leaders for the next four years. As of the time of writing this, results are still trickling in. The projection is however that the wind of change has blown on Nigeria and that Aso Rock may actually have a new occupier by May 29, 2015. It is also still hazy whether the opposition will clinch a majority in either of or both chambers of the National Assembly. I have been doing media rounds as an invited panelist on election analysis both on television and radio. As we receive news feed from the field and analyse the political development, I am more tutored on the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of last Saturday’s elections.
Starting with the good side, there are quite a few of them. Nigerians showed their patriotic nature when they assisted the Independent National Electoral Commission to succeed in the conduct of the elections. They trooped out en masse to exercise their franchise. They were largely orderly in their conduct even in the face of provocation by INEC poll officials’ lateness to commence the elections as well as malfunctioning Smart Card Readers. When the elections dragged till nightfall, some voters volunteered to provide lightening for the smooth conclusion of the exercise which included voting, sorting, counting and announcement of the results. Even where elections had to be postponed till the following day, many voters still turned out to exercise their right to elect their leaders. In the Polling Unit where I voted, by the time I got there at 7:35am, some volunteers had taken it upon themselves to issue numbers to the electorate in order to facilitate smooth conduct of the polls. It is also noteworthy that there was a significant turnout of the elderly, women and persons with disabilities.
Another positive development was the outcome of the elections. In spite of the huge sums spent by some candidates and the power of incumbency exercised by some governors who contested the senatorial seats, some upsets were recorded as some of these candidates with deep pockets lost to their opponents who did not have as much resources and influence. This goes to show that money alone is not the sole formula to winning elections. Instances of such upsets took place in Benue, Kebbi, Niger and Bauchi states where incumbent governors reportedly lost their senatorial elections to opposition candidates. It is also significant that the Igbo in Lagos had decided to put their numerical strength to good use by electing some of their own as their representatives in the House of Representatives. This newspaper reported four of such in its Tuesday edition. This is unprecedented and shows that elections are winnable when popular candidates are fielded irrespective of their states of origin.
It is equally significant that in Anambra State, two out of the three senatorial seats will be occupied by women. In fact, Senator-elect Uche Ekwunife actually defeated a former governor of the state, Dr. Chris Ngige. This feat is historic. The security agents should also be commended for performing their election duties in a very professional manner in many places across the country while the media coverage of the polls was very superb. The accredited observers also acquitted themselves well by ensuring transparency of the entire political process.
Also noteworthy and commendable is the electoral umpire’s transparent and accountable handling of its activities. The sorting, counting, announcement of results as well as final collations and declaration of results were all done in the open and where there were petitions, preliminary investigations were ordered such as with the case of Rivers State where the commission dispatched three national commissioners to investigate the petitions submitted by one of the contesting parties.
On the flip side, the elections were greeted with some perennial challenges one of which is the late commencement of the polls in many of the polling units. Where I voted, the poll officials came in at about 8:35am but the accreditation did not commence until about an hour after as they set up the polling centres and sorted out materials into voting points. This is not an isolated occurrence as the same scenario played out in many other polling units across the country. The late commencement of accreditation made the poll officials tense and was partly responsible for the late conclusion of the exercise in many areas. One wonders when INEC will overcome this recurring challenge. Also, there were noticeable glitches with the Smart Card Readers as the device malfunctioned in many polling units. Although INEC claimed that the device only had problem in about 0.25 per cent of the total Pus, it was widely believed that many of the handlers did not remove the polythene seal on the scanning device hence the inability to authenticate voters. It was also alleged that some of the handlers pressed some wrong buttons hence the malfunctioning. The SCR was also said to be very slow in many polling units.
Aside from that, there were also unproved allegations of swapping of the trained poll workers with others who did not participate in the training. There were also isolated cases of multiple voting particularly where the SCRs malfunctioned and poll officials had to revert to manual accreditation, underage voting, ballot box snatching and electoral violence. A newspaper reported that the National Human Rights Commission claimed that about 50 lives were lost to the Election Day violence across the country. For instance, a soldier was said to have died in Port Harcourt; gunmen also killed some persons in Gombe and Bauchi in attacks said to have been masterminded by some insurgents. In Benue, three poll workers died in vehicle accidents. May the souls of the departed rest in peace. The postponement of seven House of Representatives elections in Jigawa State as a result of insufficient ballot papers is unfortunate.
The ugly side of the last Saturday’s election includes the inability of the SCRs to verify and authenticate President Goodluck Jonathan at his Otuoke polling unit in Bayelsa State. This was despite the fact that four SCRs were deployed to his unit. Also, the attempt by the Peoples Democratic Party presidential collation agents to scuttle the announcement and declaration of results was scary, undemocratic and reprehensible.
All said, INEC should return quickly to the drawing table to tighten the nuts and bolts of its preparations for the April 11 governorship and state House of Assembly elections. The issues of late commencement of polls, malfunctioning card readers and other challenges noticed in last Saturday’s elections need to be quickly fixed. Congratulations Nigerians!
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