Before the 2023 general elections, the 2022 Electoral Act signed by President Muhammadu Buhari appeared to be the best to have happened to the nation’s electoral system. The Electoral Act gave much hope to Nigerians, who were eager at the time to recruit new sets of leaders at the state and national levels.
When some Nigerians expressed concerns that the new Act may not guarantee the required standard, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, was quick to assure the citizens that their votes would count, especially with the introduction of technology.
But there were obvious loopholes exploited by politicians to manipulate the process.
A review of some sections of the Act.
It is no more news that the 2023 general elections witnessed pockets of violence across the nation, resulting in the death of some persons. The attacks on polling units as seen during the just-concluded elections were orchestrated by politicians, who were aware of a lacuna in the electoral law.
For every attack that happened at any polling unit, a political party had organised the same to stop it from losing the election.
Politicians seem to have studied Section 24 of the 2022 Electoral Act and are availing themselves of the lapses in the Act. To them, it is better to disrupt voting and stop counting wherever their opponents are leading.
The section reads: “(1) In the event of an emergency affecting an election, the Commission shall, as far as practicable, ensure that persons displaced as a result of the emergency are not disenfranchised.
“(2) Where a date has been appointed for the holding of an election, and there is reason to believe that a serious breach of the peace is likely to occur if the election is proceeded with on that date or it is impossible to conduct the elections as a result of natural disasters or other emergencies, the Commission may postpone the election and shall in respect of the area, or areas concerned, appoint another date for the holding of the postponed election, provided that such reason for the postponement is cogent and verifiable.
“(3) Where an election has commenced and there is reason to believe that there is or has been substantial disruption of election in a polling unit or constituency or it is impossible to continue with the election occasioned by threat to peace and security of electoral officials and materials, the Commission shall suspend the election and appoint another date for the continuation of the election or the process.
“(4) Where the Commission appoints a substituted date in accordance with subsections (2), (3) and (4), there shall be no return for the election until polling has taken place in the area or areas affected.
“(5) Notwithstanding subsection (3), the Commission may, if satisfied that the result of the election will not be affected by voting in the area or areas in respect of which substituted dates have been appointed, direct that a return of the election be made.
“(6) The decision of the Commission under subsection (4) may be challenged by any of the contestants at a court or tribunal of competent jurisdiction and on such challenge, the decision shall be suspended until the matter is determined.”
Subsection 3 of this section stated that wherever there is substantial disruption of election in a polling unit or constituency and it is impossible to continue with voting due to threat to peace and security of electoral officials and materials, INEC shall suspend the election and appoint another date for the continuation of the election.
However, subsection 5 says that if INEC is satisfied that the result of the election will not be affected by whatever result that may come out of the polling units where voting has been suspended, the commission may go ahead to announce a winner.
With these provisions of the law, politicians reignited violence by disrupting voting in polling units where they were not popular.
They targeted the strongholds of their opponents and attacked polling units. In some places, electoral materials were either carted away or burnt to ashes. In places where these happened, the elections were cancelled in accordance with the provisions of the law. But the fact remains that some voters have been disenfranchised by political hoodlums who took undue advantage of the lapses in the new law. Even if such elections are rescheduled, many voters would never turn up again for the exercise.
Statistics from the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), had identified violence as a major factor that undermined INEC’s performance during the 2023 general elections, in which 39 persons were said to have died.
Director of CDD, Idayat Hassan also noted that the motive of perpetrators of violence was to disrupt election processes.
Hassan disclosed that, “Victims of this violence were voters, some of whom were disenfranchised as a result of having their ballot boxes snatched.”
According to the Inspector-General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba, no fewer than 781 persons were arrested for various electoral offences- 203 during the presidential and National Assembly elections, while 578 others were apprehended during the governorship and state assembly polls.
It was stated that about 66 firearms of various types were recovered from political thugs during the period.
According to reports, videos from different polling units in Lagos, Ogun, Rivers and others confirmed that the 2023 polls were flawed with deliberate irregularities carried out by political thugs. Some of these acts were brazenly carried out even under the supervision of law enforcement agents.
Another section of the new electoral act being abused by politicians is Section 51. The section deals with over voting and the need to cancel votes in any polling unit where it occurred.
Section 51 reads: “(1) No voter shall vote for more than one candidate or record more than one vote in favour of any candidate at any one election.
“(2) Where the number of votes cast at an election in any polling unit exceeds the number of accredited voters in that polling unit, the Presiding officer shall cancel the result of the election in that polling unit.
“(3) Where the result of an election is cancelled in accordance with subsection (2), there shall be no return for the election until another poll has taken place in the affected polling unit.
“(4) Notwithstanding the provisions of subsections (2) and (3) the Commission may, if satisfied that the result of the election will not substantially be affected by voting in the area where the election is cancelled, direct that a return of the election be made.”
This section, as expected, does not allow having more votes than the number of accredited voters. Nigerians had expected that there would be no room for over voting with the assurances from INEC that only individuals who were accredited by the Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS) would be allowed to vote.
However, many were taken aback to see that votes were cancelled in many polling units due to over voting. How did some people vote without being accredited?
Findings revealed that the over voting recorded in many places were deliberately planned to achieve the cancellation of votes in such polling units.
Politicians who are aware they may lose the election in any polling unit would have connived with INEC officials to create room for over voting by allowing unaccredited persons to vote. For instance, if a polling unit has 200 accredited voters and the total votes cast is 201, the election in that unit would be cancelled, regardless of whether a party is already leading with 170 votes.
Our correspondents gathered from some party agents that electoral officers were, in most cases, bribed by politicians to give room for over voting and eventual cancellation of votes in places where their opponents are leading.
This, they reportedly do, either by allowing an unaccredited person to vote or by issuing more than one ballot paper to one vote.
Though the elections have come and gone with many voters disenfranchised, Nigerians are worried of what shape future elections would take if the 2022 Electoral Act remains as it is.
A public affairs analyst, Kolawole Fasasi said, “politicians have opted for violence as a way out of BVAS. The strategy now is to overrun your opposition in his/her stronghold and force INEC to cancel the result.”
Fasasi added that, “We’ll see more of violence in elections until INEC reviews the lacuna in its rules and processes.”