The long-awaited presidential and National Assembly elections finally took place on Saturday, signalling a crucial departure from the string of postponements that characterised.
Moreover, reports of early arrivals by ad hoc staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) drew accolades.
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The commission’s apparent desire to meet expectations was matched by the palpable enthusiasm among voters across the country who showed up en masse to perform their civic duty. Voting, sorting and counting even continued into the dead of night at several polling units – several hours after the 2:30 pm limit for voters to present themselves for the exercise.
Despite these significant wins for Nigeria’s democracy, the electoral process at a number of polling stations was beleaguered by what some considered to be false starts.
Polling To The Presidency
In the twilight months of President Muhammadu Buhari’s incumbency, the top political office is a lofty aspiration 18 contestants share. And hope for the presidency hinges on how many of the 87.2 million voters with permanent voter cards (PVCs) they can secure.
But for whomever emerges the winner, the road to Aso Rock essentially would begin at the 176,606 polling units across the country – 240 less than originally planned due to the absence of voters at these voting stations.
The INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, on February 13, met with political parties in Abuja, resolving that the polling units with no registered voters be exempted from the elections.
At many of the polling centres where elections did take place, not even the weather could dampen voters’ spirits. In Abuja, Abia and Edo states, sudden rains defied the humid harmattan but numerous voters remained undeterred.
I salute Abia state voters.
This is my best video of election 2023. Far away from the violence of self-seeking desperados.
Under the rain in praise; in waiting and in hope. This is the definition of nation building. A refreshing rain from heavenly grace and mercy.
Exercising one’s franchise is perhaps the single most important duty for a democrat. It’s a task that shines a light on a country’s ideals, some might argue.
But one needn’t be eagle-eyed to notice that many of the prominent politicians who headed to the polls on Saturday were accompanied by their spouses or other family members.
The presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu, went to his polling booth arm in arm with both his wife, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, and daughter, Mrs. Folashade Tinubu-Ojo.
His counterparts of the Labour Party, Peter Obi; and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, who voted in their home states of Anambra and Adamawa, were accompanied by their wives, Mrs Margaret Obi, and Mrs Titi Abubakar.
President Muhammadu Buhari and Mrs Aisha Buhari were photographed together during the polls in Daura, Katsina State, whereas Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo and his wife, Dolapo, cast their votes in Ikenne, Ogun State.
BVAS: Success Or Failure?
2015 and 2019 were the election years of the Smart Card Reader, a device for accrediting voters by way of biometric data verification. However, frequent cases of failure to read voters’ fingerprints left voter accreditation open to compromise at the polls, and election riggers appeared to have used this hitch to their advantage.
Enter the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS).
With the dual option of fingerprint and facial capture, voters were assured that their PVCs and prompt arrival at their polling unit were all they needed for their accreditation to be foolproof.
But this was not the case with Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and his wife, Justice Suzzette Eberechi Wike, who were the first voters at Polling Unit 7 in Ward 9 in the Obio/Akpor Local Government around 10:30am.
The failure of the device to recognise either of the couple left them feeling disappointed. After over 20 minutes of unsuccessful tries, an electoral official appealed to the Wikes to check back while technicians from INEC would be sent over to rectify the fault.
They returned later and cast their ballots. But not without a word of advice from the governor urging the electoral umpire to extend voting to 6 pm to make up for the late commencement of voting.
On the average, BVAS is still widely considered to be a huge success next to the card readers of recent history.
Violence Meets Vehemence
BVAS hiccups aside, the elections on Saturday had other more destructive adversaries in the form of hoodlums and insurgents. Threats were made and ballot boxes snatched as thugs went on the rampage carrying out physical attacks in locations across Lagos State – home of the greatest number of Nigerian voters.
In Surulere, there were reports of voting being disrupted over sensitive and non-sensitive materials stolen or set ablaze. Among others, polling units in Ikate, Okota, Mafoluku, Oshodi and Elegushi were also invaded by criminal elements, bringing the exercise to a halt.
The INEC Chairman acknowledged the violence in Lagos and elsewhere, adding that accreditation devices were grabbed in other attacks by thugs and bandits in Niger, Delta and Katsina states.
Insurgent gunfire also threatened the polls in Gwoza, Borno State.
Surely, it would seem that criminal elements see the contribution of devices to credible polls in the country. “In these locations, the target of attack was actually the BVAS machines – no longer our ballot papers or ballot boxes,” Yakubu stated.
In spite of the voter intimidation occasioned by these incidents, several individuals displayed resilience.
A viral video shows one young lady who appeared to have survived a recent grisly attack. With blood dripping down her plaster-covered face onto her T-shirt, she insisted on casting her vote.
Netizens were quick to point out the voter’s boldnes and bravery.
Going into the elections, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) – with Buhari’s green light – did something unprecedented. A redesign of the three highest naira denominations was issued and the old banknotes rendered obsolete by February 10.
In the opinion of the Federal Government, the policy would boost the uptake of electronic payment solutions, while also tackling the influence of money in the electoral process. But did it work?
Buhari’s supporters would argue yes.
Case in point, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) on Saturday disclosing the arrest of nine suspected vote-buyers in Osun, Ondo, Borno, Akwa Ibom, and Sokoto states during the polls.
In a similar vein, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) intercepted a woman with 18 voter cards in her possession as well as a 17-page list containing the names of eligible voters, their bank details and phone numbers as accredited under Badarwa/Malali Ward 01 and 08, Kaduna North Local Government Area of Kaduna State.
The EFCC also arrested a man with N194,000 for alleged vote-buying at Gidan Zakka polling unit in the Goron Dutse area of Kano Municipal Local Government Area (LGA).
Similarly, a party agent was arrested in Abaji FCT on the accusation of buying votes through bank transfers to voters.
With some polling stations resuming or simply commencing voting today, it remains to be seen how many more daredevil vote-buyers are lurking in the shadows.