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24.03.2023 Featured ‘The Hope That Kills Ultimately’ — First-Time Voters Describe 2023 Elections

Published 24th Mar, 2023

By Tarinipre Francis

“I expected that the rigging in plain sight would be difficult this time around with the amount of people involved and awoken. But it was the hope that kills ultimately…,” King said.

King, a first-time voter in Bayelsa State, thinks “Nigeria is rotten and cannot be saved”. After his first experience voting, he told FIJ, “I’m just not ready for the war and chaos”.

Like many first-time voters, King had high hopes for the elections, hopes partly inspired by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)’s new innovations: the Bimodal Voter Assisted System (BVAS) and a result viewing portal (IReV). These hopes were, however, dashed.

Whether or not King will vote again depends on how things are when the time comes. “If no difference, then no involvement from me,” he said, adding that “with a better structure, it’s a no brainer”.

READ ALSO: Voters Protest in Yenagoa as INEC Fails to Deliver Electoral Materials

Nigeria’s highly anticipated elections have come and are wrapping up. A president-elect has been declared, gubernatorial election winners have been announced in 26 out of 28 states, and hundreds of winners have been announced for state and national assembly seats. The citizens are, however, not pleased with the electoral commission, which raised their expectations and let them down.

In the run-up to Nigeria’s 2023 elections, there were significant developments that sought to improve voter confidence in the electoral process and institution, and they did.

The Electoral Act was amended, INEC introduced BVAS and IReV portal. The commission also introduced the Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS) with which it delisted 2,780,756 invalid registrants among the 12,298,944 newly registered voters. The voter register was published online, and citizens were allowed to make claims and objections for a two-week period, after which the register was sanitised.

Furthermore, INEC introduced Regulations and Guidelines for the Conduct of Elections and released a Manual for Election Officials 2023.

Although the processes were not perfect, for many registrants, they were good enough to instill some confidence and optimism that the election would be transparent and credible.

Together with the success recorded in the Ekiti and Osun State governorship elections held last year, public confidence in the process strengthened and so did expectations.

But for many, those expectations did not live long.

READ ALSO: Four Polling Units Share a BVAS Machine in Rivers Community

First-time voter Desiree told FIJ, “I did have expectations, but it died in record time. Really fast.”

The Rivers State-based voter said that the electoral commission was unprepared and was either negligent or in cahoots with corrupt politicians.

“Was I impressed? No, I was not. I will only ever vote again if I have absolutely nothing to do and don’t feel like sleeping,” she told FIJ.

Desiree had anticipated that the electoral commission would be organised, and that there would be sufficient electoral materials and trained officials, and then officers to control the process and protect voters’ rights; “a proper system, not buckets”.

She disclosed that elections started really late at her polling unit. “I was there before the officials, and even I was late,” she told FIJ.

During the election, delayed voting was common across the 36 states. INEC officials arrived late at multiple polling units, and voting did not start until late in the night at some.

There were also multiple recorded instances of BVAS failure and insufficiency, and chaos ensued at polling units where INEC officials declined to upload polling unit results to the IReV portal.

READ ALSO: Obi Defeats Atiku, Tinubu in 4 of FCT’s 6 Area Councils

“I won’t ever vote again. Your vote really doesn’t count in the grand scheme of things,” Tare, a first-time voter in Abuja, told FIJ.

While the elections carried on smoothly at his polling unit, Tare said that INEC officials did not arrive until about 12 pm, and that the results from his polling unit were uploaded days after INEC announced Nigeria’s president-elect.

Like many others, Tare said his expectations were not met, and he was not at all impressed. He had anticipated that his polling unit’s result would be uploaded live on the IReV portal as INEC chairman Mahmood Yakubu had reiterated several times, but that was not the case.

The INEC officials at his polling unit said they were experiencing technical difficulties and left without first uploading the polling unit’s result to the IReV portal.

Snapshot of the IReV portal

Despite having lowballed her expectations, Grace revealed that she was still very disappointed. Nonetheless, she is resolute about continuing to exercise her constitutional right to vote.

“It’s my right to keep voting,” the Akwa Ibom first-time voter said. Grace had expected that the voting process would commence early and end early as well, but the electoral officials assigned to her polling unit arrived late.

She, however, said that the process was peaceful at her polling unit, and a peaceful conduct of the election was one of the things she had hoped for.

In Bayelsa State, first-time voter Joy has decided never to vote again. She told FIJ that the INEC officials came late, and that they were not prepared.

“Their system shut down an hour into voting. I gave them my power bank because it was my first time voting and there were a lot of first timers like me waiting to vote,” she said.

Joy’s case was not peculiar at all. In many polling units, voters gave their power banks to electoral officials to power BVAS and provided them with internet to upload voting results to the IReV portal.

Although the elections at her polling unit were peaceful, Joy was utterly unimpressed.

“I went to vote sick because I really wanted to exercise my electoral franchise. I had to register to get my PVC against all odds. My polling unit was changed days to the election, and it was quite a task locating my new polling unit,” she said.

Joy’s list of failed expectations was endless. She complained about corrupt police officers stationed at her polling unit, who watched as certain people circumvented the waiting line without intervening. Her major disappointment, however, is that Peter Obi, her preferred presidential candidate, did not win the election. She said the collation process was filled with lapses.

“I was so disappointed. I told myself I would never vote again,” she told FIJ.

READ ALSO: 2023 Elections: How INEC Brought Its Integrity Into Question

For Tina, whose polling unit was marred with violence, there is no convincing her to vote ever again. The first-time Lagos voter rated INEC’s performance very poorly, stating that her polling unit was disrupted by thugs who carted away ballot boxes and rendered their already cast ballots useless.

Also a first-time Lagos voter, Ope, is not certain of ever casting her vote again. Ope rated INEC’s conduct 3/10. “They had four years to prepare,” she said.

Ope had expected that the electoral commission would place the interest of the people above its own. “I was disappointed,” she told FIJ. She said the elections were a “mixture of hazards and peace” at her polling unit.

True to both Tina and Ope’s report, several violent attacks on voters and the disruption of the electoral process were recorded in Lagos, which left many injured, disenfranchised, and some reportedly dead.

READ ALSO: ‘I Don’t Want to Die’ — Lagos Voter Harassed by OPC Members Shares Experience

Ebenezer, a first-time voter in Plateau State, told FIJ that the election was smooth and well-coordinated at his polling unit. He nodded to participating in the electoral process again if he was still in Jos. Ebenezer scored INEC a generous six out of 10, and said he had hoped for a peaceful, fair and credible election. “I’m not so sure if the election was credible,” he added.

Daisy, a resident of Enugu State, is slighted by the loss of Labour Party presidential candidate Peter Obi. Left for Daisy, the polling booths will never meet her presence again, except “Obi reclaims his mandate”. She is convinced INEC rigged the elections.

First-time voter Anas, who voted in Nasarawa State, divided his voting experience in two, the voting process and the result collation and announcement process.

Praising the voting conduct at his polling unit, Anas noted that “it was swift, there wasn’t any tension, and everyone conducted themselves in an orderly manner”.

The collation process was where the problems seemed to have arisen with Anas, as he declared never to vote again until the process became completely electronic.

Anas, who had expected the result collation process to be smooth, noted it was otherwise.

“After saying they were going to transmit results electronically, plus the funds allocated to them, I was beyond disappointed. My expectations were not met at all,” he said to FIJ.

READ ALSO: JUST IN: INEC Explains ‘Challenges’ With Its Results Viewing Portal

Even with low expectations, Treasure, a first-time voter in Akwa Ibom State, said INEC disappointed her.

“Not in the slightest,” Treasure told FIJ when she was asked if she was impressed by INEC’s conduct. She said there was no security.

“My expectations were not high, but even my low expectations were not met at all.”

Treasure said regardless, she would vote again if there were good candidates contesting.

On the contrary, first-time Abuja voter Esther has resolved to never vote again. This is despite acknowledging that she enjoyed a violence-free electoral process at her polling unit.

She said all she wanted was a free, fair and transparent election. And all of these, INEC promised to deliver but failed.

Almost everyone interviewed by FIJ agreed that INEC refused to live up to expectation, and as such, reduced voter’s confidence in its integrity.

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Published 24th Mar, 2023

By Tarinipre Francis

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