Stakeholders in Bayelsa State at the weekend expressed concerns over the conduct of the February 23 presidential and National Assembly elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

In a communiqué issued after a one-day interactive forum on 'Citizens Education Project for Credible and Peaceful Elections in Bayelsa State,' the stakeholders described the polls as a setback to Nigeria's quest to democratise.

The interactive session was organised by the Mac-Jim Foundation with funding from the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room and participants were made up of civil society activists, election observers, security agencies, communities and media executives, among others.

In particular, they observed that only about 20 per cent of polling units across the state opened at 11am on the day of election, attributing it to the late arrival of electoral materials and INEC officials.

The participants said the issues of card reader failure, resort to manual accreditation of voters, expired Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) and wrong passwords for card readers also marred balloting in Yenagoa, Kolokuma/Opokuma, Sagbama and Ogbia Local Governments Areas of Bayelsa.

According to the stakeholders, security operatives deployed for election duties were partisan and overbearing in their conduct as they intimidated electoral officials in some areas and took possession of sensitive electoral materials. They also decried the excessive military presence in some polling units, pointing out that it discouraged high turnout of voters.

The stakeholders further noted the incidences of electoral violence during the polls in the state, which led to the death of one person in Southern Ijaw and another in Nembe with three persons critically injured.

They equally observed that INEC officials and ad hoc staff were allegedly harassed and intimidated in the course of performing their duties and compelled to do the bidding of their captors.

"Participants note the incidences of vote buying by the two major political parties in the state in the presence of INEC officials and security agents. Also, party agents and loyalists monitored and directed voters to vote for their party, which negates the Electoral Act and rendered the process not free and fair,” the communiqué added.

The stakeholders berated INEC for not managing the efficiently as significant shortcomings were recorded, and urged the commission to revisit their operation module used for the 2015 elections "in order to prevent and avoid the lapses that led to the postponement of elections on the 16th of February and the subsequent logistical challenges that trailed the rescheduled elections of 23rd February 2019”.

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