Wed, 07 Jun 2023

Civil Society Groups Protest in Nigeria Over Election Outcome

Voice of America
29 Mar 2023, 06:05 GMT+10

abuja, nigeria - Nigerian civil society organizations have been holding daily protests to pressure the Independent National Electoral Commission, or INEC, and Nigerian authorities to review the February and March elections.

The presidential, gubernatorial and parliamentary polls were marred by violent attacks leading to deaths, injuries, voter suppression and intimidation. On Monday, police said more than 700 people had been arrested for disrupting elections and will be prosecuted according to law.

As music filled the air, protesters in civil society group Free Nigeria Movement held up placards and marched in the streets of the capital on Tuesday.

Daily demonstrations began last week to call for accountability in the electoral system. Nigerians went to the polls in February and March to elect a new president, state governors and lawmakers.

Observers say the elections were characterized by widespread violence, voter suppression and intimidation, and technical problems.

Protesters say INEC was too quick to declare winners, despite the obvious challenges. They also say the commission failed to honor its promise to electronically transmit results during the presidential polls. Bola Ahmed Tinubu was declared the winner of February's presidential elections.

Moses Paul, who convened the Free Nigeria Movement protests, called for the resignation of INEC chairman Mahmood Yakubu.

'Professor Mahmood Yakubu has lied to us and abused our right of choice," Paul said. "We pass a vote of no confidence, and we call for his immediate sack. We cannot afford to continue the culture of performance of lawlessness without consequences.'

The chairman of Nigeria's Independent National Electoral Commission, Yakubu Mahmood, displays a results sheet to the media during the presentation of final results of the country's general and presidential election, in Abuja, Feb. 27, 2023. The chairman of Nigeria's Independent National Electoral Commission, Yakubu Mahmood, displays a results sheet to the media during the presentation of final results of the country's general and presidential election, in Abuja, Feb. 27, 2023.

Earlier in March, INEC said technical and security challenges were regrettable and pledged to improve.

On Monday, national police authorities said 781 people were arrested during the February and March polls combined. Police chief Usman Alkali Baba spoke during an assessment meeting with security heads in the capital to review the conduct at the polls. He said the police also recovered 66 firearms from the suspects.

The director of the nonprofit Center for Democracy and Development, Idayat Hassan, said there was some improvement in the handling of local elections compared to the presidential polls, but acknowledges the process was flawed overall.

'These elections have been a mixed bag," said Idayat Hassan of the Center for Democracy and Development. "On one hand, INEC has been able to improve compared to the February 25 elections with early opening of polls, the functionality of the new technology for authenticating voters and with the upload of results. But on the other hand, these elections have been hugely blighted by violence, vote trading and voter suppression.

"When people are being induced, paid to vote, the validity of such an outcome becomes extremely questionable. There will likely be protests in some parts of the country.'

Last week, rights group Amnesty International condemned Nigeria's electoral violence that disenfranchised thousands of voters and called on authorities to punish perpetrators in order to serve as a deterrent.

Hassan said lapses in Nigeria's electoral laws were also inhibiting factors.

'It's not just about INEC, but it's about the legal provisions that do not actually prioritize the rights of citizens to fully participate in an electoral process," Hassan said. "And it is this [gap] in the law that the political actors are exploiting to cause violence in opposition strongholds so they can actually reduce their vote. At the end of the day, results will have to be called.'

The opposition People's Democratic Party and the Labor Party have filed petitions challenging INEC's declaration of Tinubu as the president-elect.

Tinubu, of the ruling All Progressives Congress party, is expected to be sworn into office in two months, but many will be waiting to see if protests or court petitions can change that.

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