Lagos — The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) today released a detailed new report on one of the most vulnerable parts of Nigeria’s election process: the collation of election results at the ward level.
Counting the Votes and Ward-Level Collation during Nigeria’s 2019 Presidential Election: A Post-mortem provides independent and objective assessment of the process by which the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) aggregates and tabulates polling unit level results.
The integrity of this collation process is critical to the overall success and credibility of Nigerian elections. If conducted in a transparent, organised and well-regulated way, collation can help produce credible election results and boost voter confidence in the process. 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.
Although ward-level collation is just one of the many challenges to Nigeria’s electoral process it is 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.
Ward-level collation disruptions and manipulations give opportunistic political parties and individual candidates opportunities to dispute the outcome and legitimacy of elections, especially in Nigeria’s most politically contentious wards. Such disputes frequently exacerbate local political tensions, empower local political thugs and even help fuel long-running communal conflicts.
Context: CDD’s 2019 Ward-Level Collation Monitoring Effort
Ahead of the 2019 election, CDD—in partnership with Premium Times and the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC)—trained and deployed over 8,809 INEC-accredited ward-level observers 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. Four key takeaways emerged.
Key Takeaway 1: Ward-Level Collation Faced Five Main Challenges
The five main challenges CDD observers identified were:
- Missteps and misconduct of INEC staff;
- Deliberate denial of access to observers and media;
- Logistical shortfalls;
- Intentional disruption by politicians, political thugs and party agents;
- Intimidation of collation staff and other malfeasance by security agents.
Key Takeaway 2: Collation Problems Significant in Five Key State
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.
Key Takeaway 3: INEC Less Transparent in 2019 than in 2015 and 2011
One of the most noticeable—and avoidable—missteps INEC has made following the 2019 election is its refusal to publish detailed election results to its website. INEC has only published national-level totals for the 2019 presidential election, choosing 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.
CDD Provides a No Nonsense Recommendations
With the aim of improving ward-level collation in forthcoming elections, CDD makes the following recommendations:
- INEC should improve processes for conducting collation in line with international best practices. These can be trialled in off-cycle elections, ahead of the next national ballot in 2023.
- INEC should also 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. It 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.
- Security agencies should also notify the public—via the press and online—which units will be undertaking election security duties in each local government area of each state to ensure that individual units can be held accountable for their conduct on election day.
- Political party leaders must commit to holding their party agents and other members accountable for their election day actions, particularly those present at collation centres. They should discourage the use of political thugs and formalise penalties for party members involved in mobilising and financing them. Publishing the names and locations of party agents would be a welcome first step.
- Civil society organisations should continue to lobby INEC to improve its transparency and dissemination of election tabulations and results, particularly at the ward and local government level. Freedom of Information Act requests and legal actions (as necessary) can ensure that INEC is compelled to publish full and detailed results data for all elections held since 2015.
- Further amendment of the Electoral Act (2010) will allow for the introduction of electronic vote transmission which will reduce error in the calculation process and improve the pace of collation.
- The international community and development partners should provide international election observers with the support and protection needed to observe after-hours collation at the ward and local government levels.
- International entities should also impose travel and financial sanctions against individuals involved in disrupting ward-level collation and other kinds of election malfeasance as well as their political sponsors.
The full report can be downloaded on www.cddwestafrica.org