#AnambraDecides 2021: Post-election Report

Key Takeaway

  • The Anambra governorship election experience is an indication of the difficulties that might affect the conduct of the 2023 general elections as insecurity spreads and deepens in most parts of the country.
  • The failure of the current democratic dispensation to cater to citizens’ socio-economic wellbeing and safety, expectations that politicians with the biggest purses can buy their way to public office, the prevalence of fake news and fears that the federal government will use federal might to subvert the will of the people all drove voter apathy.
  • Glitches with the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) raised important questions about the need for extensive preparation and training before adopting technology. But there was a noticeable improvement in the supplementary election in Ihiala Local Government Area (LGA) and overall the use of BVAS highlighted the benefits of integrating technology to prevent electoral malpractice.
  • The late arrival of election materials and poll officials calls for a review of INEC’s current logistics template, particularly under the prevailing insecure conditions.
  • The pace of transmission of results to the INEC Results Viewing portal (IREV) was comparatively slower than in previous elections.
  • The peaceful conduct of the electorate, even in the face of delays and risk of disenfranchisement, contributed immensely to the smooth conduct of the election. Voters are beginning to realise that transactional elections harm them more. We observed several instances where voters rejected attempts by party agents to buy their votes.
  • The large deployment of the media, citizen journalists and local observers to cover this election ensured restraint in the conduct of electoral officers, party agents and security officers.
  • The resilience of INEC to conduct the election professionally despite a multitude of challenges is noted.

Introduction

On 6 November voters in Anambra state cast their ballots to elect a new governor. Thousands of citizens voted despite an  atmosphere of fear and uncertainty that persisted even after the last-minute announcement of the cancellation of the sit-at-home order by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) commends the bravery and resilience of those who exercised their democratic right to vote for a candidate of their choice on what was a largely peaceful polling day. However the 2021 off-cycle election recorded the lowest turnout figures since the return to democracy in 1999, with just 10.27% of the nearly 2.5 million registered voters casting a ballot. This is a decline from the figures in the past three governorship elections in the state, which have still been low at 16% in 2010, 24% in 2013, and 22% in 2017.

However the failure to conclude the election due to challenges with deploying materials and personnel in Ihiala LGA came as a disappointment, even if a supplementary election was quickly held  on November 9th, 2021 and a final result was announced, with a clear and undisputed winner., Charles Soludo who won 19 out of 21 local government and  45 per cent of the total vote cast.

KEY ISSUES

Conducting elections in conflict contexts

The Anambra election demonstrated the challenge of conducting elections in situations of high insecurity. The militarisation of what ought to be a civic activity and the fears and uncertainty it generated among voters and even critical election stakeholders, undoubtedly contributed to low voter turnout. The police deployed 14 Commissioners, 31 Deputy Commisioners, 48 Assistant Commissioners, and 34,587 Whilst other sister security agencies and the military also made significant deployments to the state. These come with significant financial implications. As we look ahead to the 2023 general elections, CDD is concerned that if Nigeria’s many conflicts are not resolved, the cost of conducting elections in troubled parts of the country, particularly northwest and southeast Nigeria, where non-state armed groups continue to enhance their capacity to threaten the state security, will place a huge financial burden on the country. But importantly threaten support for democracy.

Democracy without dividends drives apathy

In accounting for the apparent low voter turnout in this election, pundits have identified the threat of IPOB as a major factor. While IPOB’s posturings and actions undoubtedly impacted the turnout rate, CDD’s pre-election engagements with stakeholders in the state found that many Anambrarians question the rationale for voting when doing so has yet to produce desired socio-economic benefits and democratic dividends. This is not peculiar to Anambra. The statistics on federal, gubernatorial, and State House of Assembly election turnout since 2011 suggest a declining voter interest in participating in elections.

Technology remains key

The reported malfunction of the BVAS in some polling units has raised concerns about the reliability of the device. However on the whole the successful deployment of the device across polling units, as reported by our observers, demonstrates its utility. Furthermore following our post-election preliminary report on the challenges with the BVAS, INEC improved the performance of the devices in the supplementary election in Ihiala LGA. According to our observes, the BVAS can prevent voter impersonation, meaning it is an improvement on the previously used smart card reader. Whilst implementation glitches are to be expected in the roll-out of this technology INEC must take measures to enhance the infrastructure behind the technology and ensure adequate training for ad-hoc staff on the efficient use of the device ahead of the 2023 poll.

INEC’s logistics

The widely reported late arrival of INEC personnel/or and polling material at polling units (over 65% of polling units covered by CDD’s observers on 6 November reported either or both) points to the need for the Commission to review its logistics strategy, especially in difficult and conflict-prone areas. Reports that some transporters refused to convey the Commission’s staff and voting material to the polling units even after receiving 50% upfront payment is a recurring issue. We also note allegations that some transporters charged more than three times the agreed rates despite signed agreements. In addition,  some trained ad-hoc staff refused to turn up on election day because of security threats. Concerningly, these logistical challenges recurred during the supplementary election in Ihiala LGA. CDD’s observers reported that as of midday, election materials and INEC staff had not arrived in nearly 50% of polling units observed. INEC must review its approach to logistics to improve the delivery of materials and staff. In instances where logistical delays prevent the prompt arrival of INEC’s personnel and materials at a polling unit, it would be best if voters are informed early and reassured, and contingency measures communicated quickly. INEC is also encouraged to revisit her current transportation arrangement, which continues to be a perennial challenge. A new partnership model with private transportation firms may seem expensive but prove more effective in the long run and imbue trust in the commission.

Slow upload of results to IREV

INEC’s Results Viewing (IREV) can improve electoral transparency. However, the pace of transmission of results to the portal during this election was comparatively slower than in previous elections. At 10 pm on election day only 63% of results had been uploaded. This is significantly lower than the 70% rate for Ondo state. The slow upload of results generates concerns about whether LGA results may have been compromised, even if they have not been. Our analysis of the uploaded results showed a perfect match between the photos taken by our observers at polling units and what was uploaded to the portal. It is important to note that the submission of results to IREV from the supplementary election in Ihiala LGA showed remarkable improvement. As of 10 pm, more than 96% of the results were online. It is important that INEC places increased priority on the prompt and complete transmission of results to the platform in subsequent elections to boost public confidence.

Results Upload to IREV (November 6th and 7th)

 

Results Upload to IREV (November 9th and 10th)

Fake news and disinformation

The Anambra election saw the weaponisation of fake news and disinformation to mislead, confuse or frighten the electorate. False information appeared to be targeted at undermining faith in the process, reducing participation and questioning the credibility of the outcome. On the day before, and the day of, the election stories appeared online claiming that the African Action Congress (AAC) candidate, Chidozie Nwankwo had stepped down in support of Valentine Ozigbo, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) candidate. Another narrative that appeared in several different iterations on social media, WhatsApp during polling day, and which was fact-check as false by CDD, claimed that the All Progressives Congress (APC) had already determined results in advance in 10 LGAs. These examples demonstrate the need for info-vigilance with respect to elections. In the supplementary election in Ihiala LGA, the online space again saw false stories, this time related to violence and forceful removal of party agents from polling units.

Conduct of electoral stakeholders and vote trading

Despite the fact that the conduct of the election encountered challenges, the election remained peaceful, even during the supplementary election in Ihiala LGA. We note efforts by party representatives to make their grievances known through proper channels, rather than resort to thuggery which could have escalated tension and possibly, truncated the process. This had a positive impact on the successful conduct of the election.

Our observers reported widespread incidents of vote-buying during the elections, with different strategies, both discrete and not-so-discreet cases of “see-and-buy” recorded across polling units in the state—this practice, which cut across party lines and impugned on the integrity of the elections. However, CDD is happy to report voters’ resilience and commitment.

CDD observers reported several instances where voters, especially women, resisted attempts by party agents to corrupt the electoral process by buying votes. In Enebene town in Awka, North LGA women rejected a bribe of N5,000 from agents of a political party seeking to buy their votes. This display of political awareness punctures the theory that voters lack the moral strength to turn down proposals to buy their votes due to poverty and want. It further shows that the civic education carried out by civil society organisations and other stakeholders can yield results. More public enlightenment on the dangers of vote-buying and how voters can say no to it are required.

Media and citizen journalists participation 

Our observers noted that despite the atmosphere of fear that permeated media coverage ahead of the poll, a large deployment of media and local observers were in the state to cover the conduct of the election. Their presence exercised positive pressure on key election stakeholders. This is further evidence that the media plays a powerful role in entrenching a democratic culture in the consciousness of the public.

Recommendations for INEC

  • We call on INEC and other stakeholders to do all within their power to avoid inconclusive elections as it dampens confidence in the transparency and credibility of elections.
  • We call on the federal government to take urgent measures to address worsening insecurity in the build-up to the 2023 elections, as this has clear implications on voter turnout.
  • We urge INEC to swiftly address the hiccups with the BVAS and strengthen the infrastructure supporting the device.
  • We urge INEC to review its current logistics strategy and hire private logistics companies who can be held accountable in case of a breach.
  • We urge INEC to improve the pace of transmission of results to IREV to assure stakeholders of the integrity of the process.
  • We urge all stakeholders to address the challenge of election-related fake news and disinformation ahead of subsequent elections.
  • We support continuing efforts to engage citizens about the merits of not selling their votes to political actors.

Recommendations for Civil Society

  • There is a need for more investment of financial resources and time in tackling electoral disinformation.
  • Use diverse and non-violent tactics to increase pressure on the government.
  • Civil society should also develop a specific voter education program to counter vote-buying in elections.
  • Undertake civic education programs to attract more people to participate in elections and hold the government to account.
  • Increase election monitoring capacity.

Recommendations for Political Actors

  • Work towards the immediate assent by President Buhari to the Electoral act amendment bill 2021.
  • Regulate the role of money in politics to retain trust in the democratic system.
  • Increase election monitoring capability;
  • Engage in voter education to increase turnout.
  • As part of promoting democratic accountability and presenting themselves as an alternation, opposition parties are encouraged to monitor the activities of the elected; the opposition could even present itself as a unified front working as a democratic opposition to monitor incumbents.

Recommendations International Actors

  • Impose sanctions on erring political actors and government officials who impugn the integrity of elections.
  • Fund elections civil society work in elections as a circle, not as a process.
  • We call on INEC and other stakeholders to do all within their power to avoid inconclusive elections as it dampens confidence in the transparency and credibility of elections.
  • We call on the federal government to take urgent measures to address worsening insecurity across the country in the buildup to the 2023 elections, as this has clear implications on voter turnout.
  • We urge INEC to swiftly address the hiccups with the BVAS and strengthen the infrastructure supporting the device.
  • We urge INEC to review its current logistics strategy and improve it and look into hiring private logistics companies who can be held accountable for any breach of contract.
  • We urge INEC to improve the pace of transmission of results to IREV to assure stakeholders of the integrity of the process.
  • We urge all stakeholders to address the challenge of election-related fake news and disinformation ahead of subsequent elections.
  • We support continuing efforts to engage citizens about the merits of not selling their votes to political actors.

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