FIDA Nigeria Pre-Election Statement on the 2023 Bayelsa State Governorship Election
On Saturday, November 11, 2023, citizens of Bayelsa State will exercise their franchise at 2,244 polling units within 105 registration area centers across the state to elect a governor at the off-cycle gubernatorial elections. This election marks the fourth election conducted following the enactment of the Electoral Act 2022 and the first after the 2023 general elections, with attention focused on the Independent National Electoral Commission (Electoral Management Body) performance in administering the polls.
The International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA Nigeria) has diligently observed situational happenings and pre-election incidents ahead of the elections. We have observed a slight upsurge in the total number of registered voters, with an increase of about 12.74% from 922,182 at the last gubernatorial elections in 2019 to about 1,056,862 million presently. Out of the 1,056,862 registered voters, about 1,017,613 have collected their permanent voters cards (PVC), which is an improved position of 12.60% compared to 2019, where about 889,308 collected their permanent voters cards. This indicates that more citizens are engaging in the political process and have taken advantage of the continuous voter’s registration to ensure that their votes count at the polls.
During the 2019 Bayelsa State Governorship Elections, a total of 45 political parties fielded candidates for the Governorship elections. However, in the forthcoming elections, electorates will be given the options to choose from the 16 political parties fielding candidates at the polls. During our pre-election observation, which is clearly qualitative, we observed that only two political parties fielded women as governorship candidates, and similarly, only two women were fielded as deputy governorship candidates by their political parties. Comparatively, these figures are lower than in 2019, where three political parties had female governorship candidates. However, from the sixteen political parties, none of the fielded candidates are persons with disabilities, which has restricted political representation by women in the highest executive position in the state.
2.0. Methodology/ Approach
FIDA Nigeria, with support from the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI) under the “Enhancing Women and Women with Disabilities Participation & Representation in the Political Process & Governance project,” will observe the participation of women and women with disabilities at the polls through 20 trained accredited stationary and roving election observers who will be deployed across the 8 Local Government Areas of Bayelsa State. An election observation tool has been developed, and our approach in observation will be both qualitative and quantitative, leveraging partnerships with other civil society actors in documenting election incidences promoting the participation of women and women with disabilities at the polls. FIDA Nigeria’s citizen engagement will be made possible through the establishment of an Election Data Analytical Centre in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, where our data analysts will document and analyze findings from our citizen observers through the help of civic technology.
3.0. General Observations/Expectations
i. Securing the Polls:
We expect strategic deployment of security personnel across the 2,244 polling units of the state to forestall any form of violence at the polls, which may limit the participation of women, persons with disabilities, and other vulnerable groups. We applaud the deployment of 27,000 police personnel by the Nigeria Police, ensuring that a minimum of four police personnel are stationed in every polling unit in line with global best practices. We further applaud the deployment of 22,600 personnel across Bayelsa, Kogi, and Imo states by the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps. We call on other sister security agencies to massively deploy their personnel at the polls to checkmate violence, especially in flashpoints and high-risk local government areas of Nembe, Brass, Southern Ijaw, and Ogbia, and all forms of vote-buying that may impede the credibility of the poll. We urge security agencies to ensure the inclusivity of females in their deployment plans and strategy, with a monitoring mechanism in place for deployed security personnel at the polling units to be identified by their name tags and demonstrate non-partisanship in the discharge of their responsibilities, abiding by the revised code of conduct and rules of engagement for security personnel on election duty.
ii. INEC Logistical Arrangements to Aid Priority Voting for Vulnerable Groups:
We expect the early deployment of sensitive and non-sensitive election materials at the polling units, as well as poll officials at the commencement of polls. This will help promote confidence in the system and improve the credibility of the poll. We have observed that the Independent National Electoral Commission has religiously followed its set timetable & schedule of activities, sequel to the elections, in consonance with the dictates of the Electoral Act. We are delighted that the Election Management Body is abiding by her 2018 framework on access and participation of persons with disabilities in the electoral process and the provisions of the Disability Act of 2019 by mainstreaming persons with disabilities as Adhoc polling staff. We hope that the Independent National Electoral Commission complies with the aforementioned frameworks towards ensuring the effective and seamless participation of 880 registered persons with disabilities in the elections. We urge the Independent National Electoral Commission to ensure the provision of magnifying glasses for persons with low vision & albinism, braille for persons with visual impairment, and providing priority voting for persons with disabilities, nursing mothers, pregnant women, the aged/elderly, and other vulnerable groups at the polls.
iii. High Turnout of Female Voters:
We expect that an increase in registered female voters will translate to more voters, especially women and persons with disabilities, participating at the polls. The state has a record of above-average turnout of voters in previous elections, except for 2015, where it had a low turnout of about 35.15%. From INEC records, about 490,707 females, amounting to 46% of the voting population, registered for the 2023 Governorship Elections, demonstrating an increase in female voters compared to 2019 with 424,392 registered female voters. We recall that at the 2019 gubernatorial elections, 54.83% of the total voting population exercised their franchise. We expect that due to increased voter awareness and continuous voter registration, more women will participate actively, leading to an increased female voter turnout at the polls.
iv. Functionality of the Bimodal Voters Accreditation System:
We observed the success of the mock accreditation system on the 14th of October 2023 to test the functionality of the BVAS in nine polling units across the three senatorial districts of the state and subsequent upload of the results to the upgraded INEC Results Viewing Portal (IREV). We hope that the system is well-configured towards aiding the accreditation and voting process at the polls. FIDA Nigeria, through her field observers, will critically observe the functionality of this machine across the 2,244 polling units in the state.
In light of the foregoing, key actors in the electoral processes, particularly INEC, political parties, security agencies, mass media, and Civil Society Organisations, need to pay increasing attention to factors limiting women’s participation ahead of the Governorship Election. As such, the following recommendations are considered pertinent:
• Deployment of Electoral materials (Sensitive and non-sensitive) across all Registration Area Centers and polling units timeously is key for an improved political participatory process for women.
• Effective collaboration and synergy with other stakeholders, especially INEC, Security agencies, and Election Observation Groups, should be cultivated and sustained.
• Security agencies should continually adhere to the principles of impartiality and neutrality toward securing the polls, which will help in mitigating electoral violence, especially those perpetuated against women in elections.
FIDA Nigeria calls on women, persons with disabilities, and the good people of Bayelsa State to exercise their franchise at the polls peacefully and resist any form of vote inducement and to shun all forms of electoral violence. Political parties are also enjoined to conduct themselves creditably to promote a peaceful process.
May God Bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria
Amina Suzanah Agbaje (Mrs) Country Vice President/National President FIDA Nigeria