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After the abysmal management of the 2023 presidential and National Assembly elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has released data for the polls. Among the data points, the low voter turnout figure is generating a lot of conversation. With just 27 per cent, it is the lowest voter turnout in Nigeria’s electoral history. Voter turnout is the percentage of eligible voters who actually voted in an election. 

It is globally accepted as a metric for assessing voters’ interest in selecting their representatives and is a key indicator of the health of a democracy. A low voter turnout usually indicates voter apathy and does not bode well for any democracy. But does INEC’s voter turnout figure really reflect voter interest in Nigeria? 

To arrive at the voter turnout figure, INEC calculated the percentage of the 93 million registered voters who were accredited to vote on election day. The accreditation figures were then used as a proxy for the number of voters who showed up on election day. While this approach accords with international practice, it doesn’t take into account Nigeria’s unique context in which even voters who show up at the right place and time may not be able to get accredited and vote.

Nigeria’s electoral law provides that voters–citizens 18 years or older who meet the lawful requirements of voting–must be registered by INEC and designated to a polling unit in order to vote. After registration, voters are issued a Permanent Voters Card (PVC) to identify them on election day. In summary, an eligible voter is a person with a PVC. Turnout could be defined in either a conservative or a liberal sense. In the conservative sense, an eligible voter turns out to vote when they are present at their designated polling unit within the time allotted for voting. 

On the liberal side, any eligible voter present at any polling unit during the time allotted for voting should be deemed to have turned up to vote. The liberal definition is most fitting because voter turnout is primarily meant to assess the interest of voters by their presence at the polling units and not the credibility of an election. INEC does not collect data on the number of eligible voters that show up to vote and does not have the metrics to calculate actual voter turnout.

Given the Nigerian context, INEC’s approach of using accreditation figures as the basis for calculating voter turnout is faulty. Some issues impede the accreditation of eligible voters who show up to vote at their designated polling units. These range from logistical constraints to technical issues and even personal or health emergencies.

In the 2023 elections, INEC deployed the Bimodal Verification Accreditation System (BVAS), which uses facial recognition and fingerprints to identify voters. BVAS worked 80 per cent of the time, and it is unclear if the other 20 per cent of people not accredited by BVAS could vote. In such cases, those who remain unaccredited despite turning out to vote should be integrated into the voter turnout analysis. Historically, Nigerian elections have been plagued by a perennial logistical dysfunction, which skews voter turnout figures.

The logistics around the 2023 elections were disorganised at best. INEC’s logistical woes first showed during the Continuous Voter Registration and PVC collection processes. Millions of Nigerians showed up to register and subsequently collect their PVCs, but many couldn’t due to INEC’s logistical lapses. In fact, the period for registration and PVC collection was extended so many times, including by a court order.

Throughout the PVC collection period, hundreds of thousands of PVCs were found stashed in drainage systems, farms and other places. Again, the enthusiasm and interest of voters were clear long before polling began, but INEC could not meet their demands. On election day, electoral officials bearing the election materials arrived late in over 111,000 of the 176,884 polling units across the country – a 63 per cent lateness rate. In some cases, electoral officers arrived eight hours after the 2:30 p.m. timeline designated for the close of polls. Certainly, voters who turned up to vote and couldn’t get accredited because of INEC’s incapacities cannot be said to be disinterested in the electoral process. 

Electoral violence is another reason why millions of Nigerians who came out to vote could not vote. Polling units across the country witnessed violence at different stages of the voting process, including before and during accreditation. Due to violence, elections were rescheduled in hundreds of polling units, denying voters the opportunity to vote. The violence led to multiple fatalities. Festus Idahosa and Elizabeth Owie were killed during the elections in Edo State. Samuel Arunsi Eze and another person were reportedly killed by thugs in Abia State.

In a country that doesn’t keep a record of such fatalities or blatantly denies them, we may never know how many voters were killed before they were accredited to vote. In places where voting was postponed, it is reasonable to agree that some voters never returned the following day. INEC just announced supplementary elections in Enugu and Edo State, meaning that the voters who turned up on the original date for the elections are not incorporated into the current voter turnout analysis.

Finally, ignoring the Nigerian context wrongly attributes the low number of accredited voters to a lack of interest and fosters the narrative that Nigerians’ apathy towards elections leads to the election of bad leaders. It wrongly attributes voter turnout solely to a voter’s decision on whether or not to show up on election day while willfully ignoring other obvious considerations. More importantly, this approach absolves the government and INEC of blame and limits the possibility of the introspection required to understand and address the root causes of the problem.

If INEC is really interested in voter turnout as a tool to measure voters’ interest, it should adopt the liberal approach for calculation, address the factors that frustrate voter participation, and develop a system that captures the number of people who show up to vote as early as possible in the polling process. INEC could collaborate with CSOs in the electoral technology space to develop applications that capture actual voter turnout on election day. To function optimally, this system must run on low to nil bandwidth, employ multiple data entry modes, and have the functionality to detect multiple entries by the same voter. 

In addition, the polling units must have defined access and exit points to ensure everyone is captured. This will also enhance security during elections.

Examples of such tech solutions that could be deployed at the entrance of the polling units include: barcode scanners to read PVCs; biometric clock-in machines; use of drones to take aerial pictures of voters before accreditation; an application that voters could use to indicate their presence at the polling station or a toll-free text message-based system through which voters could send a code to a certain phone number to indicate their presence at the polling unit.

The system must respect privacy and data protection laws. In addition to these solutions, INEC must incorporate other considerations in determining voter enthusiasm and interest beyond the number of votes counted. Data from turnout for voter registration, PVC collection, campaign activities, social media engagement, and fly-ins by diaspora voters should be considered.

Ikechukwu Uzoma is a Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights staff attorney and public affairs commentator. Peoples Gazette

The burial of Principal Chief Stephen Letolua at Marti village. Letotua was one of the eight people killed following attacks in Lkeeksapurki area last week.[Michael Saitoti, Standard]

Four people were killed at Lolmolog village in Samburu West Constituency on Saturday after being attacked by suspected bandits.

The attacks occurred as local leaders, National Government administration officers and police had gathered 10 kilometres away at Marti village to bury Principal Chief Stephen Letolua, a victim of a previous bandit attack in the area.

Letotua was one of the eight people killed following attacks in the Lkeeksapurki area last week. 

The Saturday attack occurred as tension is rising in the area following a series of attacks that have left 12 people dead and 1500 families displaced despite a heavy presence of security personnel deployed in the area for a security operation. 

Local leaders have condemned the escalating attacks and appealed to the Interior Cabinet Secretary Kindiki Kithure and his Principal Secretary Raymond Omollo to move to Samburu and supervise the ongoing security operation from the ground.

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“As Samburu residents, we are in pain because our people are being killed like flies, yet we have an entire security force deployed here for an operation. This is unacceptable,” said Samburu West MP Naisula Lesuuda.

Lesuuda challenged the security personnel deployed in the area to be proactive in restoring law and order instead of relying on hearsay.

 

The former Samburu woman representative Maison Leshoomo, who also attended the burial, urged the National government to arm chiefs.

A police vehicle offloading four bodies at a mortuary following attacks at Lolmolog village in Samburu West Constituency on Saturday.[Michael Saitoti, Standard]

“Chiefs must be armed. They are the first contact with bandits, and live within the community. The national government must consider arming them,” she said.

She took issue with the multi-agency security team deployed in the area, saying they were dropping a bomb in Hills rather than in the valley where the suspected bandits were hiding with the stolen animals.

Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) Bishop David Lebarleyia, who presided over the burial of the principal chief, said the clergy was tired of burying people every week.

“We urge the government to take decisive action against the bandits and cattle rustlers. As church leaders, we are tired our burying our people every week. The killings have to stop,” the bishop said. 

Lebarleyia regretted that the attacks were happening when the residents were facing starvation due to drought, complicating the situation in the region.

“These people are now in a dilemma because they are fighting drought on one side and bandits on the other. The government must make things easier for them by stopping the attacks,” he said.

Samburu County Commissioner Henry Wafula said the government was committed to ending banditry in the region and promised to protect the people.

“The government is aware of the challenges you people are facing, and we are doing everything we can to ensure you and your property are protected. Please do not flee your homes,” said the administrator. By Michael Saitoti, The Standard

South Sudan peace-building minister Stephen Par Kuol (left) listens to chair of Liech Community in Kenya Dak Buoth (center) as South Sudan human right commissioner Wol Deng (right) watches after ICTJ conference in Nairobi in 2022 [Photo curtesy]

 

South Sudanese refugees in Kenya on Tuesday expressed their strong rejection to call by President Salva Kiir Mayardit and First Vice President Riek Machar Teny on the displaced persons to return to their homes, saying the situation in the world’s youngest country is still unsafe for return.

 

In response, the Bentiu Community in Kenya, one of the South Sudanese refugee communities in the East African country, refused the calls for return to the country saying displaced people are unsafe to return to the country.

“We, write to oppose the empty message being preached or propagated by the President, Salva Kiir Mayardit and the First Vice President, Dr. Riek Machar Teny telling the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPS) and refugees to leave the UN camps and the Protection of Civilian sites and go back home.  The duo has held two separate and public gatherings in Juba in which they instructed the IDPs to go back to their homes,” the statement signed by Bentiu Community Leader in Kenya Dak Buoth reads in parts. 

“This rhetorical message of encouraging the IDPs to return homes without anything at hand is similar to forcing them out of the POCs. Hence, they should be discouraged forthwith by all persons of good-will and the human rights agencies that are charged with the responsibility to protect the IDPs,” the statement added.

The statement said that “The process of making the IDPs return home should be made gradual and voluntary. Further, the process should be devoid of political gimmicks. Moreover, the process of repatriating or returning the displaced persons, should be made attractive by way of arresting the rampant cases of insecurity especially in the volatile states such as Unity State, Upper Nile State, and Eastern Equatoria State to mention but a few. 

“Surprisingly, the manner in which the President and the First Vice President are communicating the message to the IDPs is coercive, and thus they are against the UN policy of repatriating the refugees and the internally displaced persons worldwide.

“The President and First Vice President Should demonstrate utmost sincerity and seriousness of their government by first protecting and securing the wailing South Sudanese population that are still residing in the states. 

“We know there is no peace in the country. The agreement alias R-ARCISS has become a deal meant for our people to die of hunger, because it could not make our people resettle and cultivate around their homes due to the recurring insecurity perpetuated by the marauding forces and factions affiliated to the South Sudan People Defense forces (SSPDF).

“The temporary absence of violence in the city of Juba does not mean peace. That is why the President cannot go physically to visit the IDP camps due to fear of unknown. 

“Finally, The First Vice President, Dr. Riek Machar Teny has no moral authority to talk and persuade the impoverished and the internally displaced people to return home when he is under-house arrest by virtue that he cannot travel outside the capital, Juba.

“Instead, the First Vice President and his surrogates should fight for his personal freedom of movement so that he can travel freely in and outside the country.” Sudans Post 

The seven-judge bench led by Chief Justice Martha Koome at the Supreme Court during the hearing of presidential election petition on Wednesday, August 31, 2022. File | Nation Media Group 

Even as the supreme court by majority allowed the registration of an organisation to champion gay rights, justices Mohammed Ibrahim and William Ouko sharply disagreed.In their minority decision, which does not count as the court’s final ruling, the two said the government cannot allow registration of an organisation whose mission was furthering an illegality.

They said the NGO Co-ordination Board was right in its decision to reject the five names proposed by Mr Eric Gitari for registration of an organisation –Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning (LGBTIQ)-- to champion the rights of persons in Kenya.

Mr Gitari sought to reserve for registration of the NGO in any of the names: “Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Council”; “Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Observancy”; “Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Organization”; “Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission”; “Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Council and Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Collective”.

Justices Ibrahim and Ouko, in their dissenting judgment, observed that the decision of the NGO Coordination Board was primarily to be the prevailing penal system that outlaws acts that may be associated with the proposed names.

“In the face of Sections 162, 163 and 165 of the Penal Code, it is unfathomable how Mr Gitari would have been expected to proceed to reserve a name or register an association whose proposed name or whose expressed objects are in furtherance of activities that are contrary to or inconsistent with the law,” said the judges.

Since Mr Gitari was not ready to review the name and objectives of the proposed organisation so as not to offend the provisions of the law, the two judges said the Board’s refusal decision met the constitutional and legal threshold of reasonableness, rationality, proportionality and procedural fairness. 

They added that in terms of Article 47(1) of the Constitution and various provisions of the Fair Administrative Action Act, the courts cannot escape from asking whether a public body like the NGO Coordination Board in a similar situation, on the material before it, could have reached the same decision.

The said decision to reject the proposed names was not unreasonable, irrational, unlawful or disproportionate.

Observing the uniqueness of the name, the judges said the only obstacle between the proposed organisation and its registration was the two words, “gay” and “lesbian”. An organisation will be identified by its unique name and other attributes.

The activist was resolute that the words were the identifying mark of the proposed organisation and could not be abandoned.

Subject to limitation

The judges added that freedom of association and the right to form, join or participate in the activities of an “association of any kind” is not absolute and is subject to limitation.

They said the use of the phrase “any kind” intended by the framers of the Constitution and Kenyans did not mean to include associations whose activities are inconsistent with the Constitution or contrary to the law.

“There cannot be, for instance, a right to freedom of association to form, join or participate in the activities of an association whose expressed objective would offend members of a particular community, religious, ethnic or racial group or whose name is obscene, offensive, hateful, derogatory or defamatory; or to adopt names of a proscribed group,” the judges said. 

Citing Article 36 of the Constitution, they said that there may be good reasons for withholding registration, hence the qualifying term, unreasonably.

The right, is for this reason not absolute, but subject to the limitations of Article 24.

The two dissenting judges went a step further and proposed alternatives to Mr Gitari that he could pursue to secure registration or an organisation with his choice of names.

Since the avenue of the courts decriminalising homosexuality is pending before the Court of Appeal at his instigation, the judges said a second alternative would be to rally the people of Kenya to pursue Parliament to amend the laws to repeal Sections 162, 163 and 165 of the Penal Code.

Other jurisdictions either through legislation or constitutional revisions have amended their laws to remove similar provisions including the United Kingdom in 2013, Scotland in 2014, Northern Ireland in 2019, Canada in 1969, and Australia in 1994.

They all amended their laws to remove similar provisions touching on homosexuality. Some countries such as South Africa in 2006 and Australia in 2017 went further to legalise same-sex marriages.

“Society's social opinions and concerns are continually changing. If the people of Kenya desire to have these laws removed from Statute, then legislators in their capacity as the voice of the people can enact, amend, and repeal these laws. However, until such time, Sections 162, 163 and 165 of (the) penal code remain in our statutes books as law,” they held. 

LGBTIQ persons

The judges added that all human beings, including LGBTIQ persons, are entitled to the full enjoyment of all the rights under Chapter Four of the Constitution, not because of their sexual preferences as LGBTIQ but as human beings.

They said that in Article 27(4) the phrase sexual orientation was deliberately omitted by the framers because they only intended to guarantee the right against discrimination on the ground of female or male gender.

Last week, the majority judges Justices Philomena Mwilu (Deputy Chief Justice), Smokin Wanjala and Njoki Ndung'u said it would be unconstitutional to limit the right to associate, through denial of registration of an association, purely on the basis of sexual orientation.

Chief Justice Martha Koome and Justice Isaac Lenaola did not take part in the ruling as the CJ was part of the five-judge bench that handled the dispute at the Court of Appeal in 2019.

The bench comprised justices Koome, Phillip Waki, Roselyn Nambuye, Asike Makhandia and Daniel Musinga.

Lenaola was part of a three-judge bench that determined the case at the High Court stage in 2015.

The bench comprised Lenaola, George Odunga and Mumbi Ngugi. Odunga and Ngugi are now Court of Appeal judges. By Joseph Wangui, Daily Nation

Advocacy groups have documented an increase in attacks against sub-Saharan Africans following comments from Tunisia’s president.Congolese migrant Nikky Yanga stands on the side of a road as a car passes behind her. 

Tunis, Tunisia – Nikki Yanga left the Democratic Republic of the Congo for Tunisia five months ago, dreaming of a better life.

There was the potential to work in Tunisia itself, or to use the North African country as a springboard to travel to Europe, as many migrants and refugees have done in the past.

 

Those dreams have now been turned upside down. Instead, her only hope is that she can make it back home, away from a rising tide of racism in Tunisia that has emerged following anti-migrant statements issued by President Kais Saied.

Yanga spoke to Al Jazeera from outside the Congolese embassy as she fearfully waited to hear if she had been approved for voluntary repatriation, a return to a country she had left after the death of her father.

“There was nothing left for me in the DR Congo; I heard that Tunisia was a beautiful and tolerant country, so I decided to travel,” Yanga explained.

With some friends, Yanga says that she had journeyed overland, passing through several countries, before crossing the border from Algeria to Tunisia with a group of sub-Saharan African migrants and refugees, aided by a people smuggler, three months ago. 

“There were approximately 20 of us from the DR Congo, Guinea and the Ivory Coast, and I paid 250 euros ($266) to the smuggler,” Yanga said.

However, her plans soon fell apart, as she was unable to find a job, and, without money, unable to buy enough food or rent a home.

“I spent each day looking for work or for someone to help me find a place to stay … [but] I was constantly harassed by police,” Yanga said. 

Presidential incitement

Yanga said her life in Tunisia has progressively worsened, particularly following President Saied’s February 21 comments at the country’s National Security Council, in which he said migration from sub-Saharan Africa aimed to change Tunisia’s national identity.

He added that undocumented immigration to Tunisia had led to violence and crime, and needed to end quickly. 

Official figures show that there are approximately 21,000 undocumented Africans in Tunisia.

Those comments, and Saied’s rhetoric since then, have been denounced by the president’s opponents and the African Union, and have led to what has been described by advocacy groups as a racist backlash against sub-Saharan Africans living in Tunisia, as well as Black Tunisians, particularly on social media.

The far-right Tunisian National Party has also led a campaign calling for the expulsion of sub-Saharan African immigrants, framing immigration to Tunisia from other parts of Africa as being part of an effort to initiate demographic change in the country, an idea that has parallels with the European far right’s “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory, which posits that immigration from Africa and Asia is aimed at replacing white people in Europe.

Migrants and refugees have used social media to show the consequences of some of that rhetoric.

Videos show physical attacks on the people themselves, as well as on their homes. 

Tunisian security forces, however, appear to be targeting the migrants themselves, rather than the perpetrators of the attacks.

According to Lawyers Without Borders, an advocacy group, approximately 800 sub-Saharan Africans have been arrested. Others have been evicted from homes they had rented, or have lost their jobs.

Yanga herself says that she has since been attacked by two men who took a bag containing her passport.

“The attack took place a few days after the Tunisian president spoke,” Yanga said. “His speech was inciteful against us, and its results have begun to appear.”

With a continuing security clampdown on illegal immigration, and, fearful of being imprisoned because of her immigration status, Yanga says that she has not gone to the police following the attack. 

Instead, she is hoping that the DR Congo will follow in the footsteps of other African countries, such as Guinea and the Ivory Coast, in working to bring her home. By AL JAZEERA

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