By: Fortune Alfred
One of the most visible episodes of the February 25, 2023 Nigerian Presidential and National Assembly elections was the reaction of the Nigerian public, particularly the Obidient Movement: supporters of Labour Party (LP) Presidential Candidate, Peter Obi, to the final result of the Rivers State Presidential election.
The outcome was underwhelming, according to the Obidients, because it was unreflective of the genuine wishes of the electorate, who they believed voted massively for their candidate. Even before the result was announced, the atmosphere was charged with accusations of voter intimidation and election rigging in some parts of the state.
Another significant event that occurred on the way to the announcement of the results of the Presidential Election in Rivers State which was later won by the President-elect and candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) Bola Ahmed Tinubu, were social media attacks on Prof. Charles Teddy Adias the State Collation Officer for the Presidential Election (SCOPE) for Rivers State and Vice Chancellor of the Federal University Otuoke.
Unsurprisingly, the Bayelsa-born University Don later suspended collation of results with two local governments remaining, citing threats to his and his family’s lives by those accusing him of influencing the outcome of the election in favor of the APC, which is allegedly supported by Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike.
As I reflect on the events of that period one conclusion I came to is that Nigerians must be educated on the roles, duties, and responsibilities of the State Collation Officer (Returning Officer) and other electoral Officers that participate in Nigerian elections.
Perhaps this knowledge would enable the Nigerian public to assess Electoral Officers on the bases of their roles and responsibilities rather than on things beyond their powers.
The lack of this illumination is to blame for the numerous condemnations and few commendations that Nigerian University Vice Chancellors receive for their work in this capacity.
To be clear, going by Electoral Guidelines and other enabling instruments the duties and responsibilities of a State Collation Officer for Elections in Nigeria include:
1. Receive a report of the results that have been collated and announced from the Local Government Area Council Collation Officers (EC8C).
It should be noted that those are the results that have already been counted and announced at the Polling Unit and Ward levels before proceeding to the Local Government in the presence of the electorate, Party Agents, INEC Officials, Local and International Observers, the Media, Security Operatives, and so on.
It is also worth noting that these results are supposed to have already been updated into IReV from the BVAS while the electorate and other stakeholders were present.
2. Transfer the votes earned by each Political Party from Forms EC8C to Form EC8D and enter them in the spaces provided.
3. Add the LGA results to obtain the State summary;
4. For computational accuracy, cross-check the totals and entries in Form EC8D with the Collation Support and Result Verification System (CSRVS) secretariat.
5. Declare the votes received by each political party loudly;
6. Sign, date, and stamp Form EC8D and ask Polling Agents to countersign.
7. Take the signed and countersigned form EC8D to the final Collation Centre in the State capital or Abuja in the case of Presidential Election.
Interestingly, after that election, those who try attacked or threatened the life of the Rivers Collation Officer did not access him based on his stated duties. In other words, they did not care to know if he did his job or not as they went on to accuse him of receiving bribes to influence the outcome of the election against their preferred Candidate.
I tried explaining things to some on Twitter, but that was an exercise in futility because people seldom learn on Twitter.
Nevertheless, any rational person could conclude from this process (duties) described above that it is nearly impossible for the Returning Officer to change the results and thus influence the outcome of the elections.
This is especially true given that the State Collation Officer is not the Supervising Presiding Officer or the Presiding Officer who is directly involved in the voting process at the Polling Unit, which produces the results that are later collated by the other levels to determine a winner.
Against this backdrop, I find the condemnation of the State Collation Officer for the Rivers State Presidential Election and some of his colleague Vice Chancellors, as well as the high praise that the Returning Officer for the Abia State Governorship election, Prof Nnenna Nnannaya-Oti, is receiving absurd and ridiculous.
Given their roles and responsibilities in our electoral process, it would be easier for a referee to award a Penalty to a team for a foul committed in the opposing 18 Yard Box than it would be for them to be pivotal in rigging elections in anyone’s favor.
Even in cases where results are tampered with and scores are switched, as is alleged in Rivers State, the most basic forensic analysis will reveal the true results.
So, while I appreciate these Vice Chancellors’ sacrifices in accepting the call for thankless National Service as Collation Officers, a role with a salary of less than two hundred thousand Naira, contrary to popular belief, they do not have the power to rig elections in favor of any political party. The Polling Units are the main arena where all riggings take place.
Given the foregoing, I equally find it disheartening that people used social media to attack the Collation Officer for the Rivers State Presidential election, even threatening his life and the lives of his family.
Ordinarily, I would not have written about this after my initial post on the subject, especially since the issue appears to have died down. But, seeing the praise the woman in Abia is receiving and reports that someone has purchased a Prado jeep to gift her, I thought I should use this medium to educate us, even though I am not opposed to the gift.
Still in the reported gift, I’m curious about the Social Media Space, especially Twitter would have been like if someone had purchased a car for the Returning Officer in a state won by the PDP, APC, or any other party other than the Labour Party.
If we must praise or condemn an electoral Officer like the State Collation Officer or any other, it should be in the basis of their competence or incompetence in performing their duties.
So the praise for doing the right thing, that it’s adhering to the duties and responsibility for their roles as Returning Officers should go to all who do it well irrespective of if our party or candidate win in the State where they perform such roles.
We cannot blame one and condemn another when both did exactly the same thing, simply because one outcome favours us.
In the end, the majority of the snafus caused by the conduct of the February 25 and March 18 elections are the result of the Prof. Mahmood Yakubu-led Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) failure to adhere to its own much-publicized electronic result Transmission System, thereby falling short of its own set standards.
Fortune Alfred, a Doctoral Researcher in International Relations at the Niger Delta University, Wilberforce Island, writes from Yenagoa.