Training election observers
On Thursday 03rd December, SDN trained 45 people to become election observers and provide on-the-ground reporting of elections and to monitor any irregularities around polling units during the December 5, 2020 Bayelsa West and Central by-elections—as well as for future elections. Elections at all levels (state, governorship, and national) are often compromised in the Niger Delta by irregularities that can include vote-buying, count manipulation, violence and intimidation, and ballot-box snatching.
Focus on monitoring polling unit results
SDN’s training focused on improving trainees’ capacity to monitor the process of uploading polling unit voting results so they can be combined with other polling units to declare the election result. This is a critical step in the election because if enough polling units fail to upload their results, an election result cannot be declared. This also makes it a target for political parties to attempt to manipulate the election in their favour.
Vote buying, electoral manipulation, and violence
Newly trained election observers reported cases of vote buying, electoral manipulation, and violence (especially in parts of Ekeremor, Yenagoa, and Southern Ijaw Local Government Areas) which created delays in the polling unit results uploading process. SDN-trained election observers also reported the polling unit results that election officials paste on a nearby wall for the public to see. 20% (8) of 40 polling unit results did not match what was uploaded to the official Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) vote-reporting portal suggesting the publicly pasted results or the uploaded results were manipulated. Some election observers were unable to report polling unit results due to insecurity in the area or because the election official could not paste the results publicly because they were under pressure from a political party not to. This in itself indicated interference in the election.
In an election observer’s own words…
We caught up with Keme Opia after he attended SDN’s election observer training, and asked why he wanted to get involved:
“The importance of democracy cannot be over stated. Consider those ugly days of military rule, where Civil Society never had a say in the entire process of governance. Freedom is the key word”.
When we asked what his biggest concern was for observing the elections, Keme didn’t think of himself but rather of the voters, “people still short-change themselves by accepting peanuts in exchange for true governance and democracy”, referring to the electoral irregularities that compromise democracy in the region. When comparing Nigeria’s democracy to that of the United Kingdom (UK) more broadly, Keme felt one of the stand-out differences was the need for greater objectivity in the governance of INEC, compared with the UK’s counterpart, the ‘Electoral Commission’.