How INEC failed to conduct presidential election in 50 out of 70 polling units in Bakassi
By Patrick Obia
About 15 years after Nigeria finally ceded Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon, Nigerians left behind in the area have continued to face neglect from the Nigerian government. Their abandonment becomes more apparent during the just-conducted presidential and national assembly elections.
Out of the 70 polling units in the area, voting took place in only about 20 polling units, according to investigations by CrossRiverWatch.
Despite the peninsula being ceded to Cameroon following the judgment of the International Court of Justice, Bakassi is still one of the 774 local governments recognized by the Nigerian Constitution, and most residents of the area are still Nigerians.
Calabar-South, Akpabuyo and Bakassi make up a federal constituency, yet registered voters in Bakassi were largely disenfranchised.
Voting did not take place in many of the polling units in Dayspring Island, Abana and Odiong which are parts of the 10 wards in Bakassi.
CrossRiverWatch gathered that despite complaints of residents of the affected polling units to the Independent National Electoral Commission, the electoral umpire did not take any concrete actions to remedy the situation, raising fears that the same disfranchisement will happen during the Saturdays’ gubernatorial and state house of assembly elections.
Abandoned And Disenfranchised By Their Government
Though the presidential and national assembly elections have been concluded with the winners already announced, some residents feel they have been denied a great opportunity to choose their leaders.
“I feel very sad, heartbroken that after so many years our indigenous land was ceded, we are still being treated as if we are not part of Nigeria,” said Mrs. Bassey Nakanda, an indigene of Abana in Bakassi.
“INEC and whoever is concerned have denied us voting,” Mrs. Nakanda continued. “We have been part of the electoral process and at the point of voting we have been denied and we don’t find it funny at all. This is what gives us a sense of belonging as Nigerians. We have to be part of what is happening in Nigeria. We beg that we want to be part of what is happening in our country.”
Former chairman of Bakassi Local Government, Bassey Ita Edet told CrossRiverWatch that it was a great disappointment that they were not able to cast their ballots.
Edet pointed out that after spending the entire election day without sighting any INEC officials and materials, they were told the next day that the BVAS machines were not reprogrammed to carry out the exercise.
“INEC officials said they did not reprogram the BVAS to work for Sunday,” he said. “We went to our polling units and wasted the whole day and came back without voting.”
Those unable to vote included Sen. Florence Ita Giwa who was a former senator that represented the Cross River Southern senatorial district in the Senate.
Ita Giwa described her experience during the election: “As bonafide Nigerians who registered to vote and be voted for, we went to perform our civic duty; went there on election day, traveled almost three hours on the high sea to get to my location. I waited for hours and INEC did not turn up. People were in other wards waiting for more than three hours and no INEC official or materials came,” she said.
“I came back and complained,” she continued: “I went straight to the State Resident Electoral Commissioner – Prof. Gabriel Yomere and told him we have to vote and be part of the process that produces the next president and national assembly members. Why have we not voted? He then apologized and said they had issues and they are going to look into it.”
The former lawmaker said: “The following morning under short notice, we were told to go back, we quickly got up, mobilized ourselves and we all went back to vote. We all were in our various polling units waiting to vote, after waiting for many hours towards the end of the day, we were told the BVAS were not reconfigured.
“The date the BVAS carried was the previous day and it cannot be functional. Whereas they told us to come back on Sunday to vote. We waited again and nothing happened. This is unfortunate and unfair for human beings to be put through this. People you have made refugees in their own country? People you ceded their land illegally and unconstitutionally without due process?
“INEC gave us the location and polling units to vote and we accepted. We have gone to the location the first day you said you are not organized, and the second day you said the BVAS are not reprogrammed.”
She said all efforts to get INEC to respond went down the drain as the State REC was not giving tangible reasons for the problem.
“I spoke with the secretary of INEC at the National level who said they were going to come back and they never came. I spoke with the REC and he said they were looking into it, yet, nothing,” she added.
Infringement And Violation Of Citizens’ Civic Rights
The National Human Rights Commission described INEC’s inability to conduct elections in most of the polling units in Bakassi as a total infringement and violation of citizens’ rights.
The State coordinator of NHRC in Cross River State, Mr. Remi Ajuga told CrossRiverWatch that INEC has no excuse whatsoever to disenfranchise eligible voters.
“Their right to exercise their franchise has been infringed upon and it will likely have a negative effect of producing an outcome which may not convey the actual intention they have on the candidate or party they had wanted to govern them,” he said.
“INEC should look at the magnitude,” Mr. Ajuga said. “50 polling units out of 70 in a whole LGA is very much on the high side. They need to look at it with a view to taking a decision in the spirit of the sustainable development goal, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and in observance of the rights of citizens exercising their franchise. They should look at it and know what to do because we are talking about inclusiveness and leaving no one behind.”
Mr. Ajujga said, “without prejudice of what might have made them not conduct election in 50 polling units, INEC assured everyone that there will be adequate security. They told Nigerians and the international communities that they were very ready for the election. If all the assurances, deployments, preparation, and the outcome is to omit 50 PU and conduct in only 20 PU in the whole LGA, then it falls short of the promise and expectation.”
Kingsley Eworo, an activist, aligned with the National Hunan Rights Commission, acknowledging the huge number of polling units where voting did not hold. He said INEC needed to come out and tell the people why they were disenfranchised.
INEC, however, insisted that voting did not hold at the 50 polling units in Bakassi due to insecurity.
Head of Voter Education and Publicity of INEC in Cross River, Mrs. Anthonia Nwobi told CrossRiverWatch that militancy was a factor why officials did not step foot in any of the 50 polling units.
Her assertion was contrary to what residents told CrossRiverWatch. She, however, claimed that the officials went the next day after the election but voters refused to come out to vote.
Nwobi assured that the gubernatorial and state house of assembly election will be held in those polling units as security measures have been put in place for a violence-free exercise.
This investigation was supported by Civic Media Lab.