The level of enthusiasm exhibited by the electorate during the recent general elections showed clearly that Nigerians are no robots or politically naive as erroneously presumed in some quarters. It was observed that prospective voters came out in their numbers and early enough too to exercise their civic responsibility though there decline in some states during the governorship/state assemblies’ election. In several places voting ended well before the 2pm deadline set to cut off the queue for accreditation.
Unlike in previous elections when youths convert streets and major roads to football field, the massive participation of youths in voting last Saturday was a clear indication that our youths are gradually realising that they have greater stake in elections. The youth, according to INEC, constitute the bulk of the voters. And it was observed they came out in their numbers to vote. Aware of the opportunities in exercising their franchise, the youth seized the opportunity and did the needful.
Unfortunately though, in some parts of the country, including aforementioned states, skirmishes were reported during the sorting and counting of votes in some polling stations. Although the balloting processes went on smoothly in most parts of the country, there were reported attacks on already sorted ballot by hoodlums. It is feared that people who had cast their ballot but claimed they were waiting behind to protect their votes, became informants to thugs quartered nearby that the ballot was not going in the expected direction which led to attacks in such places.
From observations so far, it appears that deployment of voting materials and INEC ad-hoc staff, accreditation of voters, voting, sorting and counting of the ballot and recording the figures on the result sheets, appear to be an easier process than the collation of such figures at the ward, local government, state and national collation centers.
Agreed some distance would be covered moving the figures and balloting materials to the collation centers, we however make bold to state that because accreditation and voting started as early as 8am Saturday in some places, and the processes up to entering the outcomes of voting on the result sheets ended in some places before 8pm, collation processes did not get to an appreciable level even as at 7pm on Sunday, when the INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu announced that collation of the presidential election will commence at 11am today, Monday, February 25th, more than 30 hours after counting of votes had ended at most polling stations.
To several Nigerians, it definitely means that mere collation of results are more difficult than combining all the processes which take place at the voting centers. Otherwise, why should INEC hire people who arguably possess higher academic credentials, yet inexplicable delays occur during collation of results? It equally defies logic that deploying a scientific calculator to sum up figures already processed at a lower level takes almost 24 hours or more to undertake.
The AUTHORITY is miffed that in spite of improved logistics for the collation officers and the fact that their duties are limited in scope, it takes them several hours to complete the collation of such figures, thus raising the calls for a scrutiny of what actually happens in-between.
Based on issues raised by political parties and candidates from previous elections, worst forms of electoral fraud are suspected to be carried out during collation. Petitions forwarded at the Election Petition Tribunals usually raise questions on the figures emerging from collation centers. When Tribunals order a recount of votes, it is usually because collation of such votes were less than satisfactory.
If collation officers purport to hold higher academic credentials than members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and their equivalent who are assigned to the polling stations, it defies logic that collating results from polling stations take almost an eternity to conclude. Moreover, calls for rejection of results were often not directed against results from polling stations, but against results emanating from the collation centers.
Information usually emanate from aggrieved parties that so-called security operates collude with unscrupulous politicians to change the actual figures of ballot from the polling stations. Equally we hear of collation officers allegedly mutilating result sheets. It should be recalled that during the Ekiti State governorship election, a university professor was seen to have pretended to have become partially blind and started stammering trying to extricate himself from mutilated figures on the result sheet he turned in. That professor said it was result written for him by unknown person(s).
Also, it defies logic that election results are presented from areas where elections were claimed not to have taken place. If it is established that voting did not take place in a particular place, or that ballot papers and result sheets were carted away, then appropriate sanctions should be meted out to the perpetrators. Not doing so sends wrong signals and consequently promotes electoral malpractices and such acts must be brought to a definite end. If nothing is learnt on complaints from previous elections and if appropriate remedies were not put in place to check recurrence, then we shall be running round the circle and the race will never end.
What Nigeria needs to do at the moment is to holistically review the constitution and extant electoral laws and remove all encumbrances that precipitate delays during collation of results. We equally need to unbundle INEC so emerging bodies could handle clearly defined assignments. Except we do this, we shall continue to hold ourselves on the ground.