Election Observation Report: Osun State Gubernatorial Elections, August 9 2014

A.

Preamble:

On

Saturday 9 August 2014, the people of Osun State went to the polls to elect a Governor

for the next four years. Expectations were high, fears of violence and

intimidation had already been built up before this date and different

stakeholders had made pronouncements of decisive processes (short of

proclaiming the famous “do or die”). Outside the state, media moguls who wanted

to make money through news of horror circulated scare news about the state

being under security siege. They informed everyone outside Osun that on the appointed

date, it was safer to be anywhere else outside Osun State and people believed

them. Actually the media moguls were the only one speaking and in the absence

of actual available water, people will trust and drink the mirage in the

desert.

Nevertheless,

the people concerned felt they were ready to go for the elections and indeed

they were.

As a

member of the election monitoring team for “Reclaim Naija”, an organisation set

up to rebuild confidence and competence in the demoralised Nigeria, as an

observer, I was involved in the verification of claims that the elections would

be free and fair.

Because

of the size of Osun State and the high number of polling units, it was

impossible to cover all parts, so we divided ourselves into different groups

each group focusing on different areas of Osun state. My group focused on

Oshogbo South senatorial district and covered every polling station in

Ede LGA.

B.

Our

Mission Specifics

The

observation team for the Osun governorship election was on a mission to

ascertain if:

i.

If voters came out to

vote (high or low turn out);

ii.

If voters were accorded

the dignity and honour of citizens coming to exercise their rights;

iii.

If voters were allowed

access to the voting venues without fears or intimidations (whether on the

basis of religion, gender or creed);

iv.

If materials were

available for the voters to cast their votes;

v.

If the voters voted in absolute

secrecy;

vi.

If the votes cast were

counted in a transparent manner and recorded as counted;

vii.

If the processes were

professionally carried out to the degree of competence that allowed the voters

to vote freely;

viii.

If the processes were

free and fair using the existing legal provisions as basis and international

best practises as major yard-stick

C.

Accreditation

of the Electorate

From

the wee hours of the morning, voters started trooping out and walking to their

polling stations so as to arrive early for the mandatory accreditation process

which preceded the casting of ballots. The fear of danger and violence already

created by the media did not deter voters; they trooped out and walked the distance

to their stations.

Each

polling station visited recorded more than the registered voters. Voters

arrived early and were completely orderly as they conducted themselves and

followed the directions of election staff (which included INEC returning

officers, police officers, civil defence officers and the distant watching army

officers who carried guns). The accreditation process was tedious because of

the turnout but the election officials did their best and helped to smoothen

the processes managing the voters’ expectations with their own competences.

At

some centres, the accreditation was so smooth that officials completed the

processes early and started to sleep while waiting for the allotted hours for

the casting of ballot. This is a pure indication that voters were peaceful, the

processes were orderly and that indeed the logistics for free and fair

elections complemented one another.

Casting

of votes commenced on schedule at the observed stations. Even though some of

the voters who wanted to be the first to cast their votes confused the order of

numbering made during accreditation which resulted into fresh accreditations

before casting and lose of hours, still, the huge crowd understood the confusion

and respected the need for order. The weather was hugely favourable and complementary.

Had climate been unkind, it would have created tension and the crowd would have

been impatient and uncontrollable and the perfect arrangement of the processes

would have been grossly compromised.

D.

Casting

of Ballots

Voting

went very well and orderly in all the polling booths visited. After casting of

ballots, most voters hung around the centres waiting for counting to commence

and in all the polling centres (at least 4 polling centres) where we waited to

experience counting, we witnessed evidence of competent and highly trained INEC

polling officers. The INEC polling officers in charge, (mostly) NYSC member,

conducted the processes competently “by the books” and in less frictional

manners. These officers appeared thoroughly trained and they demonstrated

initiatives to their education and trainings. Every political party representative

on ground was shown what the polling officer would do and why they would do

such. They sought agreements at every stage before proceeding and when they had

completed the processes with party agents, they openly displayed the selection

of ballot paper on each of the party with minimal disagreements from the crowd.

There were few cancelled ballots and few undecided. In all the centres where

counting was witnessed, even the crowd cheered and applauded the polling

agents. Counting was kindergarten style; anxious voters were encouraged to join

in the counting of each ballot paper loudly and jovially which made results

known to all before they were declared. This made every process transparent,

unbiased and acceptable without any controversy.

This was the style and mode of counting in all the

other polling centres briefly visited before the close of the day.

E.

What Went Well

What

went well with this Osun State election were the followings

1.

The voters were highly

motivated and interested in voting

2.

Expectations were high

amongst all stakeholders; voters, political parties, contestants, interested

observers from inside and outside the State, media moguls, Federal Government

of Nigeria and a huge array of other nameless stakeholders which made the

processes exciting and carefully guarded for success

3.

INEC, for the first

time in many decades, demonstrated appreciable level of competence. The

logistic arrangements were fairly well coordinated and delivered. The staffs

were adequately trained and it showed in the ways and manners they conducted

the processes, the early arrival of all ballot related materials and the complements

of the armed forces were very matured and helpful. There was commendable coordination

of everyone and every logistic for the successful conduct. Of course these

observations are important when comparing Osun-INEC-Output with other recently

conducted elections (ala Edo, Anambra, and Ekiti)

4.

The conduct of the

armed forces also requires special comments and reports. They conducted

themselves with utmost professional competences. They assisted the polling

officers where necessary and they stayed apart and watched from a distance

where that was all they could do. In some areas also, they assisted in calming

anxious crowd and used flattery technics to deal with vocal and over excited

voters so as not to aggravate the crowd. They did not destroy my camera nor

shove guns under the noses of observers or voters (none that this observer saw)

F.

What

Did Not Go Well

In

every human conduct, there is always room for improvement. This election was

not different. We observed some processes that ought to have been perfected

over the years. Of special mentioning are:

1. In

most polling centres visited, the crowd was too large making it a challenge for

election officials to coordinate things with ease

2. The

crowded centres recorded a repeat of accreditations before elections simply

because those who were accredited did not know that casting of ballot will

follow the same numerical arrangements as accreditation. Voters rushed at the

polling points and because they were scattered accreditation had to be repeated

before casting

3. The

polling centres with large voters showed the inadequacy of INEC staffs deplored

to these centers

4. We

observed leadership tussles amongst polling officers where there are “A and B”

units. This manifested during the counting of ballot papers when one prefers

the counting at a point against the wishes of the other colleagues. Luckily nothing

drastic happened but if the crowd had agitated, there would have been problems

of evacuation of human and material resources and this crucial tussle could

have marred the processes

5. Some

police officers sat or stood too closely to the polling box making it intimidating

for voters to enjoy the air of freedom

6. The

presence of armed forces was highly necessary. It makes the entire polity

militarized and creates fears in ordinary people.

G.

Implication

for INEC and Future Conduct

The

governorship election in Osun State has become a modelelection for INEC as it highlighted

improvement of the election body’s performance. However, this observer noticed

some things that might have serious implication for the future conduct of

elections in the states or at National levels. Perhaps INEC might want to:

a.

Consider having a data

base of Youth Corpers who were trained, used by INEC and who demonstrated

remarkable initiative at the polling stations with the view to using them in

future elections which will require minimal training and to some degree,

greater assurance of competences than relying on fresh graduate. Such data

based can be recalled at moments’ notice and since it is just a weekend exercise,

availability of these experienced human resources might not be too much of a

challenge for them. At least, one will be sure that on an election period,

where INEC’s logistic competence and attention are spread between 36 states

plus Abuja, to a certain appreciative degree, these ones will provide

professional competences at minimum supervisions. This will make INEC look good

and build confidence in people

b.

The military officers

kept at border points of cities, towns and the states were seen hungry and

without food for days. They are the ones allowed with guns to come near polling

booths and the first and last line of defence when ballot papers are rigged. We

did not observe any logistic arrangements that targeted providing succour in

terms of food and drinks to these ones. The army is a force that relies heavily

on logistics, and we saw a lack in this. This observation in Osun means someone

might be playing with the fate of these officers. A hungry officer is very susceptible to compromises and abuse. He could

be paid to look the other way where he should have raised alarm and justify the

reasons for the check points. Perhaps INEC might want to consider a

separate arm of its operation aimed at providing food logistic to everyone

involved in its elections. Just as INEC had provided room for election observers

and had perfected this provision over the years, it might also want to consider

this important complement to credible elections and it is strong enough to mar

the perfectly planned process

c.

Still on the military

presence at elections, there is need for

us to begin to play down on militarisation of elections. We have come to

believe that elections are only secured and or credible when there is massive

presence of military forces on the ground with helicopters hovering in the air.

The recently conducted Anambra State Elections hardly needed any military

presence. Ekiti State Election (2014) had shown us that this is not necessary.

Osun State Election rendered the men in Khaki useless and sleeping on duty

because they were absolutely unnecessary and bored. With these three instances,

there is need for policy makers to review the speed at which they unleash the

ruthless dog of military into civilian polity during elections and turn a

democratic process into militarised election.

d.

Perhaps this is an

individual officer’s behaviour but INEC might want to add to its training

manual, the fact that police or any law enforcement officers need to move far

away from the voters’ stands when ballot castings are going on. We noticed

overzealous officers sitting so uncomfortably close to a voter. This is internationally regarded as “might

provide” a sense of intimidation of the voter. Conscious training in this

direction might make everyone involved in the electoral processes to be aware

of any form of intimidation that could mar the processes

e.

Similar to the above,

we observe journalists, observers moving too dangerously close to the casting

podium. These elections were meant to be secret ballot style. What is secret

when my cast is broadcast on television and or seen by an observer who is meant

to report that I had my election in absolute secrecy according to the spirits

and provision of the law?

f.

In polling centres that

have “A” and “B” leadership should be properly defined before INEC staff are

deployed. We observed a couple of situations where some official recommended

sorting of the ballot papers and counting them at a more strategic and crowd

controlled point but the other over-zealous colleagues insisted on another

point which allows them to be the hero of the crowd. The implication of this is

a minor situation of ego resulting into a mess that is absolutely unnecessary

but which is made to mar an intensively prepared process

Once

again, this observer’s conclusion is that the election that took place in Osun

was largely free and fair and can be seen as commendable and a good indication

that INEC as an electoral body has stepped up beyond the conduct of previous similar

elections in recent times. Nonetheless, Osun, and the few previous ones are pockets

of isolated elections that had global focus on it at the same time. Can INEC

record such evidence of stepping up in a nationwide election that has 36 states

going to the polls at the same time? Can (voters/Nigerian) expectations meet

(INEC) preparedness and competence in the forthcoming national and states

elections in 2015? Indeed, the same 2015 will provide answers to that.


Written by
Dele A. Sonubi
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