The litany of controversies trailing the conduct of the 2019 general elections took another dimension this week as the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) released a new report faulting ward level collation of results by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The detailed report titled; Counting the Votes and Ward-Level Collation during Nigeria’s 2019 Presidential Election: A Post-mortem, scrutinized the process by which INEC aggregated and tabulated polling unit level results, with a conclusion that the process did not meet up with global best practices.
“In the 2019 elections, however, civil society observers across Nigeria saw a collation process that was chaotic, open to manipulation and, in some locations, badly disrupted and opaque,” the CDD said in a statement summarizing the report’s findings. CDD described the process of ward results collation as an “important vulnerability that receives little domestic scrutiny or international attention. Left unresolved, Nigeria’s widespread ward-level collation problems will continue to embolden election spoilers, weaken public trust in INEC and undermine the credibility of election results.”
With respect to ward level collation, the group identified five major challenges including misstep and misconduct by INEC officials, denial of access to observers and media, disruption of the collation process by politicians, party agents and thugs, and the intimidation of collation staff by security agents. Also, CDD documented in its report that five states—Lagos, Osun, Kaduna, Rivers and Sokoto—experienced significant problems with the ward-level collation. “Together, these states accounted for 46% of incidents of concern noted by our observers. The situation was especially bad in Rivers State where clashes between political thugs and security personnel—de facto proxy battles between top politicians in the state—disrupted several collation centres.”
Similarly, the pro democracy think tank flayed INEC’s refusal to refusal to publish detailed election results on its website. The group said it was wrong for INEC to only publish national-level totals for the 2019 presidential election, while it choose to keep sub-national results data hidden from public view. “This opaque approach reverses the tangible—albeit incomplete—progress on results transparency that accompanied the 2011 and 2015 elections. Furthermore, in its rush to certify state-level results, INEC has yet to publish a verifiable and credible paper trail for their ward-and local-level results that demonstrates to Nigerians and the world how they arrived at their official results. Without evidence voters are asked to trust that INEC’s final results have been calculated accurately and free from outside manipulation despite numerous reports of disruptions to ward-level collation.”
To address the various anomalies detected in the collation process, the Centre made a wide range of recommendations to INEC, security, observers and the international community. Some of the key recommendations include that INEC should improve processes for conducting collation in line with international best practices, which could be tested in off-cycle elections, ahead of the next national ballot in 2023. INEC was called charged transparently and proactively publish via the INEC website and through civil society organisations official results for all election contests, showing a full and accurate breakdown of figures down to polling unit level.
“INEC should work towards developing a way of transparently making ward-level results easily accessible to, and searchable by, the general public. INEC should discipline or, if necessary, investigate and then prosecute its personnel alleged to have been involved in misconduct during the collation process. Nigeria’s security agencies should hold its personnel—and their commanding officers—accountable for unprofessional or illegal conduct while deployed on election duty.”
It would be recalled that the pro-democracy think tank in partnership with Premium Times and the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC) trained and deployed over 8,809 accredited ward-level observers for the 2019 polls. CDD observers were deployed to polling units and ward collation centres in every state and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) during the Presidential and National Assembly elections held on 23 February 2019. Using Zabe SR – an application specifically designed for election observation – CDD observers recorded data on the operational status and conditions at individual polling units in real time and provided qualitative descriptions of the voting process and incidents affecting the collation exercise.