Lagos Demonstrates Commitment to Efficient and Inclusive Electoral Process
The Progressive Solidarity Forum (PSF) election observer delegation today announced that the Lagos Local Government elections that took place on July 22, 2017 was a largely peaceful atmosphere and were efficiently organized. Election officials, in this case, the Lagos State Independent Electoral Commission (LASIEC) officials, were well trained and professional. Party agents and other observers were present in most polling units. While there were issues ranging from pockets of violence in some polling units to allegations of rigging, most voters were able to cast votes without any significant impediment. “While there were isolated problems, most voters were able to exercise their rights. The PSF and other organizations will use the mission findings as benchmarks for ongoing work with the Lagos State Independent Electoral Commission (LASIEC), political parties, the government, and the Lagos Assembly to help as they work to increase the levels of transparency and effectiveness in the political process,” Olalekan Adigun, a political scientist and leader of the PSF election observation team for the Lagos Local Government Election said.
The Lagos State Independent Electoral Commission (LASIEC) appeared to have the resources and freedom necessary to conduct a successful election, and the delegation congratulates the people of Lagos for expressing their political preferences and choosing their representatives to the 20 Local Government Areas (LGAs) and 37 Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs).
Political and technical improvements in the 2017 LG elections included:
- The inclusion of advocacy campaigns conducted by civil society as part of the organisation of the election;
- In contrast to previous elections, no major incidence of violence was recorded among the main political factions 2017 polls;
- Public announcements of results at the polling units based on the agitations of civil society groups;
- Increased technical safety features for ballots and streamlined election day procedures;
- More efficient and standardized training of polling centre staff;
- Communication by the LASIEC on election day, including the timely announcing of turnout figures;
- Additional efforts by the LASIEC to make polling centres more accessible; and
- In most cases, the conduct of security officials at polling centres was professional and within their mandate.
In cases where the delegation observed problems on election day, most were quickly addressed by polling officials or the LASIEC.
Shortcomings remain, such as:
- Although the election law prohibits campaigning within 48 hours to the commencement of the polls, this restriction is routinely flouted. Active campaigning was observed directly outside many polling stations by some party agents and chieftains – and in some cases, campaign materials were observed inside;
- Secrecy of the vote was not always ensured, as observers noted numerous instances of “public voting”, where voters declared their allegiance or displayed their votes;
- While polling station staffs willingly provided assistance to persons with disabilities once in the polling station, many polling locations had very limited access to persons with disabilities; and
- In some instances, opposition party agents, security agencies, and others simply looked away leaving rooms for thugs to have free access to ballot papers and electoral materials.
BACKGROUND AND ELECTORAL CONTEXT
The Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari has, since he was elected two years ago, articulated the need for enshrining democratic values in the nation describing himself as a “reformed democrat.”
The government has introduced a Bill to the National Assembly for an electronic voting which seems to have the acceptance of most Nigerians of different political divides and persuasions. The new law will make electronic voting compulsory in all general elections in the country. Several political parties and civil society organizations expressed concerns over the law, claiming that the country’s infrastructural deficits and corrupt officials may still influence the process in subsequent elections. However, the largest political parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) expressed cautious support for the e-Voting even though both parties disagreed on the use of Electronic Card Readers (ECRs) during the 2015 presidential election. But the fact that neither e-Voting or ECRs were used during the July Local Government elections cast serious aspersions on the outcome of the election largely worn by the ruling APC.
Though there have been no statewide political protests since the results were announced, there remains considerable public frustration with the performance of the LGAs and LCDAs. Criticisms include the inability to complete a policy agenda, the perception of corruption, and a lack of an open, transparent relationship with the public, lack of autonomy for the Local Government. Many Lagosians—parties, legislators, opposition leaders, civil society activists, and political commentators—are skeptical that the elections held under the new law will result in a different composition of the LGAs or will significantly alter political decision-making in the state.
Pre-Election and Campaign
The PSF deployed an 11-member observer team two weeks prior to the election to interview stakeholders in each district on a wide range of topics throughout the pre-election period.
Campaign Environment and Electoral Framework. Party affiliation plays a significant role in the Lagos political environment, though its intensity and manifestations vary from district to district. The political parties in their strongholds expect their members to win emphatically in their own areas of influence. The question of ethnicity is still largely unanswered since Lagos is one of the few metropolises in Nigeria. Those interviewed by observers noted that, in their selection of candidates and the development of their campaign strategies, they looked primarily at the candidates’ “roots” in the community, with political affiliation or platform playing a largely secondary role.
Election Administration. Many candidates, voters and domestic election monitors interviewed by the delegation expressed varying degrees of confidence in the local election committees and the LASIEC, which is empowered by law to conduct local government elections in Lagos and appeared to receive sufficient financial support. The commission implemented a standardized training program for polling centres and tabulation staff, and those responsible for voting administration appeared to be well prepared prior to election day. The candidate registration process was completed in a timely manner without any significant incidents.
In addition, some senior party leaders noted that, as LASIEC commissioners are appointed, they may not be fully independent, and many lack background or expertise in election administration. Observer groups noted that data and information released by the LASIEC were not always as timely and accurate as it could have been.
Citizen Attitudes, Participation and Voter Education Efforts. Voter apathy and lack of interest in the election process, as well as poor understanding of the voting procedures, seem to be matters of significant concern for many candidates, parties, and analysts during the pre-election period. In the weeks before elections, there was no noticeable increase in activities from the LASIEC or the media to reach and educate citizens on the system and voting procedures, possibly due to the heavy downpour on the election day in most parts of the state. Candidates acknowledged this gap and many included voter education as part of their outreach efforts.
There were a number of civil society efforts to engage in voter education, but these were relatively limited, primarily due to a lack of funding and limited time to prepare in advance of elections. Additionally, many organizations viewed voter education as LASIEC or local party organisations’ responsibility. A number of civil society-led election events, particularly those encouraging youth participation, were delayed or canceled during the pre-election period.
Participation of Women and Youth. The mission notes that the election law’s impact on women candidates has been mixed. In some cases, interlocutors have indicated that the e-Voting and ECRs encouraged more women to run, and their appearance on ballots and campaign posters is a net positive for women’s political participation. Others, however, noted that the impact of the new system was somewhat negative, encouraging lists to include women as “fillers”, which led to the marginalization of some women candidates. Some women candidates from many parties decided not to use their photos on their campaign materials to avoid negative reactions from more conservative voters. Many women voters, particularly in strong tribal areas, may have cast their ballot based on their husband or father’s direction, and some women indicated that their votes might be “sold” without their knowledge.
Youth inclusion in the political process is essential, as nearly 40 per cent of voters in Lagos are between the ages of 17 and 40. Youth representation appears to be lacking in civil society, among LASIEC volunteers, and in domestic observation efforts. Young Lagosians often participate as campaign staff and volunteers on social media, not as voters in most cases. Yet, few candidates are under the age of 40, and political apathy among youth remains significant.
Election Complaints and Appeals. According to police sources, nearly 20 cases of improper financial donations and expenditures were reported, some of them alleging vote buying. Allegations of vote buying, common in previous elections and in this pre-election period, present a significant challenge to voter confidence in Local Government elections. It appears little progress has been made on this issue since the 2015 elections.
Security and Political Violence. The security situation remained calm and controlled during the pre-election period except the APC centralised primaries held at Teslim Balogun Stadium where there was a report of free-for-all violence. While a number of interlocutors predicted that minor clashes may occur on election day or as a result of dissatisfaction with the results and lack of full understanding of the counting procedures, all have expressed confidence in the security apparatus and their ability to control the situation should such clashes occur.
Election Day Observations
General Environment and Security. Voting was conducted in a mostly peaceful environment and in an orderly manner in observed areas. Police were present in centres and rarely interfered with the work of election officials. Nigerian media reported several isolated violent incidents on election day in Agege, Odi-Olowo and some parts of Oshodi. The delegation did not observe any significant security issues in or around the polling stations they visited.
Campaigning. The delegation observed significant campaigning in and around polling units, while elections were on, in violation of the election law. Campaign materials were occasionally displayed on buildings housing polling centers and, in other cases, cars with loudspeakers and displaying candidate photos were parked directly outside centers. Candidate supporters, and in some cases, thugs made a forceful entrance to the polling stations to intimidate the polling officers also in contravention of the electoral law.
Election Procedures and Accessibility. Overall, the polling centres visited by the delegation had received all essential materials but most of the electoral officers arrived late, some at about 12 noon when voting was supposed to have commenced by 9 am, without legitimate explanations. Even then, voting stopped at 3 pm irrespective of when the electoral officials arrived. Throughout the voting and tabulation processes, most polling officials conducted their duties in a professional and neutral manner. However, observers noted instances where officials did not follow the procedure: ink was occasionally applied to the wrong finger, and the identity of veiled women was not always verified. Our observers also noted some officials may have been poorly trained or had no training at all.
Observers noted several instances of public voting, either through voters’ pronouncement of their intentions or due to improper administration of assisted voting procedures.
While the polling centre staff were helpful and professional in assisting people with disabilities, unfortunately, a significant number of buildings that housed polling centres were not accessible to people with disabilities.
Voter Participation. Observers reported significant differences in voter participation, varying by polling units, processing very few voters and long lines present outside others. Very few young voters were seen in the majority of visited centres.
Some voters were sent away as they were not on the list for that centre or did not bring their Voter Cards. In some cases, voters’ names did not appear in the nationwide voter registry, though they claimed to have voted in 2015.
Observers positively assessed the voters’ understanding of the procedures for marking the ballots, and the number of invalid ballots did not seem significantly high. When asked, poll workers usually explained the voting process in a neutral manner.
Observers. Election officials were generally welcoming to observers, though delegates were denied access to two polling stations. One of our delegates was attacked by thugs in Ojuwoye area of Odi-Olowo when he tried to ask questions regarding the officials granting access to some hoodlums into the polling units. Some domestic observer groups reported being denied access to some locations.
Vote count and tabulation. The delegation notes that this statement was issued before the counting and tabulation process is complete.
Advancing LASIEC capacities
- Data management and communication capacities should be reviewed and enhanced where necessary to ensure timely, comprehensive and accurate information about all aspects of the election process.
- Key decisions should be made well in advance to allow for proper voter education and information sharing.
- The LASIEC should consider investing in additional training of polling and counting officials to better ensure observer access and transparency of election day processes and protect fully the secrecy of the vote.
- While polling station staff provide assistance to people with disabilities, many polling station locations have limited access. Further efforts should be made to provide uninhibited access to elderly voters and people with disabilities to polling centres and stations and ensure the right to vote for home-bound voters.
Strengthening the electoral framework
- To achieve more equitable representation of voters in the LGAs, a further rebalancing of the distribution of voters per seat is needed.
- The State Government(s) should continue to encourage multi-party democracy at the local level or strongly give consideration to independent candidacy at the LGA elections.
- Enhanced measures are needed to increase the representation of women in political life and party leadership.
- The candidates list should be finalized before the start of the campaign.
- The LASIEC should review and enhance the campaign finance regulations and monitoring mechanisms.
- In reviewing the effectiveness of the new election law, consideration should be given to designing a counting and tabulation system that identifies the allocation of seats as accurately and expediently as possible.
- Alternative ballot formats should be explored that would allow for simpler voting and a more efficient and timely counting process in special cases.
- Consideration should be given to lowering the age requirement for Local Government elections to encourage youth participation.
- The rules regarding election day campaigning should be reviewed and revised as they are routinely flouted. The new rules should be uniformly enforced.
Enhancing citizens’ confidence in Nigeria’s elected institutions
- The government should continue to support the development of effective Local Government administration’s capabilities and enhance its role in proposing policy and development.
- The government should support civic education initiatives, specifically targeting youth, to encourage meaningful political participation through seeking elected office and holding their political representatives accountable throughout their mandate.
THE DELEGATION AND OBSERVATION
This preliminary statement is offered by the Progressive Solidarity Forum (PSF) election observer delegation to the Lagos Local Government election July 22, 2017 The delegation, comprising 15 observers from 6 of the 20 LGAs and 37 LCDAs of the state, including political scientists, journalists, activists and election experts.
The delegation’s findings were informed by a pre-election assessment mission conducted from April 24 to July 27, 2017. On election day, the mission delegates visited more than 150 polling stations in all 57 LCDAs.
The delegation is grateful for the cooperation it received from voters, election officials, candidates, domestic election observers, and civic activists. The PSF was NOT officially accredited to conduct an election observation mission by the Lagos State Independent Election Commission and is grateful for the opportunity to participate in the process. The delegation offers this election statement in the spirit of supporting and strengthening democratic institutions in Lagos, Nigeria.
The purpose of the delegation was to demonstrate the interest of the people in the development of stronger democratic political processes in Nigeria and to provide an impartial assessment of the character of the election process.
This statement of findings is delivered and strictly the opinion of the authors of this report.
PSF is a socio-civic, non-profit, nonpartisan organization working to support and strengthen democratic involvements through citizen participation, openness and accountability in government. The group is based in Nigeria with its head office in Abuja.
Olalekan Waheed ADIGUN,
PSF Lagos State Local Government Election Observation Team, 2017
Media, Information and Publicity,
PSF Lagos State Chapter
For: PSF Lagos State Local Government Election Observation Team, 2017