As the disagreement over the 2019 presidential poll results continues, stakeholders have emphasised the need for the Independent National Electoral Commission to release the total number of accredited voters via the Card Reader across the country, ALEXANDER OKERE writes

The rejection of the results of the February 23 presidential poll by the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, did not come to many as a surprise, considering some of the issues raised earlier by concerned Nigerians, observer groups and opposition parties over the conduct of the election.

The National Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, had on Wednesday declared the incumbent President and candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Muhammadu Buhari, winner of the controversial election.

Mahmood had announced that Buhari polled 15,191,874 votes to defeat Atiku, who got 11,262,978 votes.

According to the electoral umpire, the President won with a margin of 3,928,869 votes. Although the two major candidates got the required 25 per cent of the votes cast in at least two-third of the states, it said that Buhari won by the simple majority rule and was returned elected.

But few minutes after Buhari was declared winner, the PDP candidate said that the results left much to be desired as the process and outcome was devoid of the credibility that it deserved and would, therefore, be challenged in court.

Atiku, in a statement on Wednesday, had alleged that the election was characterised by “manifest and premeditated malpractices in many states” which he said negated the results announced.

He had stated, “One obvious red flag is the statistical impossibility of states ravaged by the war on terror generating much higher voter turnouts than peaceful states. The suppressed votes in my strongholds are so apparent and amateurish, that I am ashamed as a Nigerian that such could be allowed to happen. How can total votes in Akwa Ibom State, for instance, be 50 per cent less than what they were in 2015?”

His running mate, Mr. Peter Obi, questioned the authenticity of the huge number of votes cast in Yobe and Borno states which had come under attacks by insurgents in the last three years, leaving behind fatalities and many surviving residents displaced.

Obi queried how INEC’s Card Readers worked so well in war-ravaged states like Borno and Yobe and failed to work in the South-East.

The former governor of Anambra State further stated that in the South-East, faulty card readers and late arrival of electoral materials among other deliberate acts led to the alleged disenfranchisement of over eight million eligible voters in the region.

For instance, from the results released by INEC, the total number of valid votes from Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states stood at 2,245,305 while those from the five states in the South-East were given as 2,097,598.

Obi said, “When over 4,000 card readers got burnt, it became clear that something was wrong somewhere and the Independent National Electoral Commission could neither save the situation nor allow people to vote manually. But in some other parts of the country, people were allowed to vote manually and it was accepted by the electoral body.

“How can you tell me that states like Yobe and Borno produced more voters than Anambra and Ebonyi states put together? The two states have been at war. I wonder how they got card readers that were working so well, despite the war situation in which they found themselves.”

Not done, the opposition party on Tuesday called for the cancellation of the presidential election results from not only the two of the North-East states but also Zamfara State over what it described as the alleged concoction of figures from the states to suit the desire of the APC and INEC.

It had also demanded that the collation of the results be halted until the data from the Smart Card Readers on the accreditation of voters were made available to the parties.

There had also been reports of alleged irregularities during the poll held across the country, some of which were occasioned by the inability of the card reader to authenticate the Permanent Voter Cards.

Narrating his experience, a corps member, identified as Timothy Msughter, who decried the level of electoral malpractice in Nasarawa State, where he served as an INEC ad hoc worker, was quoted to have said, “Out of about 900 registered voters in my unit, the card reader could authenticate only 15. The rest had to do manual accreditation, which opened more room for rigging. Quite sad!”

“Because we reported late at the polling unit, we were forced to extend voting time till around 7:30pm. When it was dark, these people requested the remaining ballot papers, that it is the tradition of the polling unit not to return ballot papers to INEC. Before we knew it, the atmosphere became very tensed.

“The short of it is that we allowed them to do their wish but I pray the result is cancelled. The fact is, most of rigging is done in the rural areas. There is no electoral law; anything goes. Party agents do the voting for the people and you don’t dare talk.”

In its assessment, the European Union Election Observation Mission to Nigeria said, “On four occasions, voting continued even when smart card readers malfunctioned. There were evident problems in completing result forms and they were not publicly displayed in half the counts observed, weakening transparency. Positively, in almost all cases party agents received copies.”

While expressing concern over the results announced by INEC, some civil society groups, under the aegis of Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, had prior to the final declaration said that, considering the fact that there was simultaneous accreditation and voting, a careful look at some of the figures of accredited voters and the total number of votes cast showed inconsistencies.

The Convener of the group, Mr. Clement Nwankwo, had said, “We have recorded 1,084,358 cancelled votes across 1,175 polling units in 18 states. The pattern of this cancellation requires some close interrogation to show fairness and objectivity. The reasons provided for the cancelled votes include over voting, card reader malfunction and violence.

“Situation Room demands that INEC provide clarification on rationale and compliance with its guidelines regarding the cancellation of polls. Accusations that these cancellations may have been contrived to suppress votes need to be taken seriously and addressed before the close of tabulation.”

Efforts to reach the leadership of the APC for comments were unsuccessful. The electoral commission could not also be reached as calls put across to the Chief Press Secretary to the Chairman, Rotimi Oyekanmi, rang out.

But reacting to Atiku’s decision to challenge Buhari’s re-election, the Secretary to the Government of Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha said, “We are not jittery at all because the process was open and transparent. It was a credible election and we will continue to savour in the victory but in the process too, we will extend the hand of friendship for the purpose of nation-building and reconciliation.

“Our Electoral Act and the constitution have both provided a window for whoever is dissatisfied with the process of election to seek redress. That is the path and we will encourage them to go along that path.”

However, these issues raised about the keenly contested election pose a question.

Can the card readers used in the just-concluded presidential election show the number of voters accredited on a state-by-state basis in order to put to rest the doubts cast on the final results INEC announced on Wednesday?

A former INEC National Commissioner, Prof. Lai Olurode, is of the view that the card reader could determine the number of voters accredited electronically and manually, as it was introduced to promote credibility and transparency in elections, especially in terms of the equality of votes.

He, however, noted that it would be subject to a judicial process.

Olurode explained, “With the incidence form, I think, you are expected to put thumbprint on your name in a box there (on the voter register). Otherwise, there is no way you can know how many people voted in an election. In 2011, we used the temporary voter card. There were no machines but we then had a sanitised register.

“But look at the outcome of that election; we had about 40 million people who voted. So, (the votes were) inflated, probably because technology was minimal in the electoral process. In 2015, when we used the card reader, we had 29 million votes; almost 10 million votes had vanished.

“The register is there. It is not the first time; so many cases have gone to court and the good news is that the judiciary is becoming more positive, more responsive and more open to technology.

“It is a question of evidence. You go to court, you call INEC and the commission cannot deny you access to the register and card reader.”

However, for some election monitoring groups, the votes received by the two major presidential candidates were a reflection of the choices made by the electorate.

An election observer, Partners for Electoral Reforms, said that while it acknowledged that the election did not go down without inadequacies, such shortcomings did not undermine the outcome of the exercise.

“We did make a projection that no party would win 55 per cent of the votes and our projection matched INEC figures. No election anywhere can be perfect. You have close to 120,000 polling units, meaning that if you have to engage, you have to engage holistically what happened in majority of the polling units.

“There are issues about cancellation. There are issues of card reader failure. There are issues of violence. But the reports of our observers have shown clearly that those cases do not in any way affect the outcome of the election,” the Chairman of the group, Mr. Ezenwa Nwagwu, stated.

Like Olurode, Ezenwa, agrees that a judicial option was open to aggrieved parties, a path Buhari had toed when he lost the 2003, 2007 and 2011 presidential polls.

“The electoral process does not end with the announcement; judicial review is also part of the contest. The constitution and Electoral Act are clear on the fact that judicial review is part of it.

“So, if the opposition feels very concerned and is able to gather its evidence, it is within its right to do. But as an election observer, our position is that the votes cast reflect the will of the people,” he added.

With Atiku’s resolve to seek redress in court, attention is expected to shift to the judiciary to validate or invalidate the claims and counterclaims.

Consequently, stakeholders can only wait to see what the verdict will eventually be.

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