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2019: Be wary of over-zealous security agents, social media influencers – Sierra Leonean NEC tells Nigerians

ABUJA – The Commissioner, National Electoral Commission (NEC) of Sierra Leone, Miatta French, has urged Nigerians to be wary of the involvement of over-zealous security agents and social media users in the electoral process ahead of the 2019 general elections in the country.

She made the appeal in Abuja at a round table discussion on 2018 Sierra Leone elections and lessons for Africa organised by the Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement (YIAGA Africa).

Mrs French, who also urged Nigerians to take advantage of the secrecy of the ballot process to vote according to their consciences despite monetary inducement, said that politicians are getting more desperate to clinch power having realized that rigging in the old ways were becoming increasingly difficult.

She said: “Africa is getting to the point where politicians have realized that rigging elections in the old way was impossible with the level of transparency and deployment of technology in place.

“Their new strategy these days is to sponsor over-zealous security agents and some social media influencers to interfere in the electoral process through intimidation and ridiculing of electoral officers and opponents.

“Some disgruntled politicians even use the legal systems to put spanner in the electoral body’s works.

“So, Nigerians need to be wary of the involvement of the security forces and the use of social media ahead of next year’s general election.

 “Sierra Leone witnessed an interesting trend in the just-concluded elections where, though people were offered money, they still voted for their consciences, and that was very clear in that this election.

“People have become extremely smart and it showed in the election because if anybody had told the ruling party that they would lose the election based on the size of their rallies, they would have said it was not possible.

“So, now we know that politicians can give people the money if they want to but it won’t translate to vote for them and that is a good one because it is stalling vote buying.”

Also speaking, Executive Director of YIAGA, Samson Itodo, said that the event was to enhance stakeholders’ engagement which was critical for Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)’s success in 2019.

According to him, an impartial electoral commission is the determining factor in the credibility of elections.

Itodo said that African elections were taking a new turn, adding that “what we have consistently seen is that incumbents are beginning to interfere with electoral commissions.

“We recall there was internet shutdown in Sierra Leone and it was simply just an attempt to undermine the electoral commission from using technology to transmit results.

“We have also seen where political parties do not play the game by the rule, especially in the conduct of their affairs or even in complying with basic rules as simple as not declaring results before the electoral commission actually declares it.

“There are key lessons that the weakest link in our electoral process is our results tallying and collation process and it is important for us as Nigerians to work on that as we match towards 2019.”

Itodo urged INEC and other stakeholders to discuss and agree on modality of how results should be transmitted in a way that would be in tandem with the principles of openness, transparency and accountability.

He, however, warned that if the application of technology does not conform to the principles of openness and accountability, elections’ results would be contested in court.

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