Women political Inclusion Under Threat as FCT heads to the Polls.
The administration and management of local government as the third tier of government in Nigeria has consistently fallen below the expected standard of democratic leadership. This is further enabled by the absence of credible and transparent elections at the local level in the states. For a level of government established to be the closest to be the people, it is, however, a level of government that is majorly inaccessible to the people and failing to provide democratic governance at the local level. While the nation awaits the amendment of the constitution to guarantee the autonomy of local government, regular election at the local level presents an opportunity to entrench democracy in the local government areas. The FCT Area Council election presents an opportunity to improve the electoral process at the local level and deepen democracy within the Area councils. As an election conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), it is also critical for assessing INEC’s preparation for the 2023 election and to provide policy recommendations that promote transparent elections at the local level and nationally.
This February 12, 2022, Area Council elections will be held in 2,229 polling units spread across the 6 Councils and 62 wards. A total of one million three hundred and seventy-three thousand, four hundred and ninety-two (1,373,492) voters are registered to vote in the polls. Yiaga Africa’s Watching the Vote (WTV) will deploy citizens observers to observe the process. The observers are expected to visit a minimum of 3 polling units each and report on the conduct of the election. The WTV observers will observe the entire election day process from the polling units’ setup, accreditation, voting, announcement, and posting of the official results and will send in periodic reports to the WTV Data Centre where they will be processed, analyzed, and shared with the public. Yiaga Africa is also deploying observers to all the 6 Area councils results collation centres. It is important to note that Yiaga Africa is not deploying the Parallel Votes Tabulation (PVT) Methodology for the FCT Area Council elections.
Yiaga Africa observation of the pre-election environment adopted a mixed method which included a long term observation for the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise, desk reviews and in-depth interviews with stakeholders including, civil society organizations, security agencies, the election management body, political parties and citizens. Emerging concerns from our findings ahead of the February 12, Area Council elections in the FCT include :
- Poor Voter Education Campaigns: While acknowledging the ongoing promotion of the Area Council election on television and social media, voter education campaigns by the election stakeholders especially INEC and political parties have been poor. During a community outreach conducted by Yiaga Africa in Gwarinpa and Dutse market, feedback revealed that while a handful of residents are aware of the elections, a good number neither knew about the election nor candidates contesting in the elections. The LGA election which is considered closest to the people has not received the intensive grassroots campaign for citizens’ participation in the process. Political parties are largely culpable in poor voter mobilization ahead of the elections.
- Possible Low Voter Turnout: Due to little or no campaigning by political parties participating in the election, low voter mobilization and publicity, Yiaga Africa fears the possibility of low voter turnout on Saturday, February 12 for the LGA polls. More worrisome is the almost lack of awareness of the LGA election in the FCT. Observation also revealed the lack of impact from Local Governing Councils and issues around multiple taxations has also contributed to the disinterest amongst citizens.
- Opportunity to Improve the Deployment of Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS): As the commission continues to stabilize the deployment of technology to improve the transparency of the process, Yiaga Africa expects that the capacity gaps and technology challenges experienced during the 2021 Anambra Governorship elections with the deployment of the BVAS have been addressed. This will both prevent the disenfranchisement of eligible voters on technical grounds and inspire citizens confidence in the new technology.
- New Polling Units and Imbalance in the Distribution of Voters to Polling Units: Yiaga Africa commends efforts by INEC to improve voter access to polling units by creating additional 2,260 polling units in FCT increasing the number to 2822 PUs. Yiaga Africa is however concerned that there are 546 polling units with over 1,000 registered voters. This contradicts the idea behind expanding access to polling units. On the other hand, there are 1328 pollings with between 1 and 50 registered voters while there are 593 polling units without a single registered voter allotted to them. The commission must find a lasting solution to this debacle to avoid constant confusion. While INEC had promised to deploy additional BVAS and personnel to PUs with over 1000 registered voters, we are worried that the high number of registered voters in these polling units may pose a major challenge for crowd control and effective management of the polling units on election day.
- Poor Political Inclusion of Women: women representation is abysmally low, with female candidacy at 8.87%. 4 political parties; Action Alliance (AA), All Progressives Congress (APC), Labour Party (LP) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have no female candidates vying for seats in the 2022 FCT Area Council Elections. In summary, there are only 3 female chairmanship candidates and 8 vice-chairmanship candidates while there are 39 female councillorship candidates. This indicates the likelihood of poor women representation in the Area Council Government.
Among the political parties, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) with (39) has the highest number of youth candidates and the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) with (10) has the highest number of women candidates for the 2022 FCT Area Council Elections.
- Inclusion of women and Persons with Disability in the Election: INEC has committed to providing braille ballot and magnifying glasses for the visually impaired and albinos respectively. In addition, INEC has committed to its Gender Policy and to ensure the inclusion of women in the administration of the election. For instance, Five of the six area councils have women as the electoral officers. Yiaga Africa expects that more women will be involved as presiding officers at the polling units.
- INEC should ensure early deployment of its personnel and materials to polling units to enable early commencement of polls.
- In a bid to ensure transparency, INEC should publish the Permanent Voters Card (PVC) rate as it had initially promised to do before the elections.
- INEC election officials must ensure uniformity and consistency in the application of guidelines across all polling stations. They should provide explicit information on accreditation and voting procedure as well as the result collation process and announcement.
- INEC should ensure the INEC Result Portal is up and functioning to enable the upload of polling units level results on election day for citizens to track their votes.
- INEC must be transparent and accountable to boost citizens’ confidence in the LGA election process.
- Security agencies should collaborate with the commission to secure election materials, personnel and citizens. This also includes providing support where needed for the early deployment of election materials and personnel.
- Security personnel deployed for the election should conduct themselves with the utmost sense of responsibility, professionalism, and impartiality. They should be on the alert to forestall any attempt to circumvent the election by mischief makers or violent elements who deploy violence and intimidation.
- Yiaga Africa calls on all contesting political parties to abide by the rules governing the conduct of the Area Council elections; parties should admonish their supporters to refrain from acts that could jeopardize the process or destabilize public peace.
- CSOs should intensify their efforts in conducting last-minute Get-Out-The-Vote Campaigns in a manner that will increase participation in the election and increase their effort in providing oversight over the Area Council election.
- Voters should come out in their numbers to vote and adhere to the electoral guidelines.
Yiaga Africa commends INECs effort to ensure women inclusion as election administrators with five of the six area councils having a woman as the electoral officers. We also note the plan to provide braille ballot and magnifying glasses for the visually impaired and albinos respectively. We will be observing to ensure compliance. In conclusion, Yiaga Africa, call on voters in all 6 Area Councils and 62 wards where elections will be conducted to come out in their numbers and elect a representative of their preference. Eligible voters should go out and exercise their franchise, knowing that their votes matter and their votes will count.
The Watching The Vote project is “Driven by Data – For All Nigerians – Beholden to None!”
Thank you and God Bless Nigeria.
Samson Itodo Ezenwa Nwagwu
Executive Director, Board Member,
Yiaga Africa Yiaga Africa
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