A civil society report on the conduct of the Nigerian elections
In early 2019, Nigeria held its sixth cycle of elections since its restoration of democracy in 1999. This included two main sets of elections: Presidential and National Assembly polls, in February (after a week-long postponement, announced during the middle of the night before they were due to take place), and Governorship and State House of Assembly elections, in March. Although incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari was ultimately re-elected by a significant margin, in the Niger Delta, the elections were marked by fraud, violence, and major disruption to voting processes. More than 100 people died through the election season, a damning indictment of the limited progress made in embedding peaceful politics in Nigeria.
These problems were documented in nearly 700 incident reports submitted by citizen election observers as part of Niger Delta Watch 2019, an independent civil society election observation project. Active between late November 2018 and April 2019, the project’s observers identified the following key issues:
- Violence, targeting voters, security personnel, and both temporary personnel and staff from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), in particular. The latter also came under pressure to alter results, with interference by uniformed and military personnel in vote collation. Two ‘ad hoc’ personnel were killed in Rivers state in clashes around collation. There were clashes between armed gangs—including cult groups, which are commonly understood to be in the pay of politicians—throughout the election period.
- The blatant destruction and theft of voting materials. This included vehicles transporting materials being set on fire, as well as voting cards being taken from polling stations to other locations for fraudulent thumb printing.
- Vote buying, which was characterised by donations of cash, food and other gifts such as livestock on campaign tours. This tended to target more vulnerable groups such as women and children.
- Logistical issues faced by INEC, particularly concerning the distribution of voting materials to polling units. This contributed to a lack of trust in INEC’s ability to organise the elections, especially after the last-minute postponement of the Presidential election. This caused major difficulties for voters, many of whom could not afford or were unable to return to vote the following week.
- The late opening of voting and technical failures on election days, such as with card readers. This resulted in significant numbers of polling stations resorting to manual accreditation.
- Threats and allegations during campaigning between political opponents, hostile rhetoric, and the intimidation of party candidates and their supporters.
- The use of a number of tactics to confuse voters online, including the dissemination of outright fake news about political parties and their candidates on social media.
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