The presidential election, which is scheduled to hold on February 16, 2019, may take five days to collate and announce its result, Saturday PUNCH has learnt.
Multiple sources within the Independent National Electoral Commission told our correspondent that they envisaged three to four days because of the large number of candidates, which now stands at 73, as well as the number of registered voters, which is about 84 million.
Checks by Saturday PUNCH showed that only two parties — the Peoples Democratic Party and the Alliance for Democracy — participated in the 1999 presidential election, which held on February 27 but its outcome was announced on March 1, two days after.
In 2003, when 20 political parties contested, the presidential election held on April 19, while the result was announced on April 22, three days after.
In 2007, when 18 parties contested, the presidential poll was conducted on April 21, while the outcome was announced on April 23, two days after.
The presidential election of 2011 saw 20 parties contesting for the highest political office in the country. It held on April 16, while the result was announced on April 18.
Fourteen candidates contested the presidential election in 2015, while the number of persons who voted was less than 30 million out of 68 million registered voters.
The 2015 presidential election, which began on March 28, continued into the afternoon of March 29, while the outcome of the poll was announced in the evening of April 1, 2015.
However, a senior INEC official told our correspondent that it might take five days to collate and announce the results from the over 120,000 polling units across the country.
He said, “In 2015, only 14 candidates contested the election in which about 30 million persons voted. Today, there are 73 to 79 persons running for President, so, obviously, it will take longer than it did in 2015.
“You know the size of this country and one thing Prof. Attahiru Jega did during his time was to make sure that he did not rely on the electronic copy of the results but waited for the Returning Officers from all the 36 states to come to Abuja and authenticate what they sent to the head office.
“This is because we must see the handwritten results and compare them with the electronic one. But I believe it should not take more than four days in all. All the Returning Officers will have to travel from their respective states to announce the results of over 73 parties one after the other in Abuja.”
The source stated that INEC would also be doing the collation manually and electronically in 2019 in order to avert the kind of political crisis that Kenya faced in 2017.
He added, “No one can say for sure if it will be four or five days because, for us, the most important thing is to deliver a credible election. Even in the United States, the governorship election in Georgia State during the last mid-term elections took 10 days before a clear winner could be announced.
“But we are planning to ensure that it doesn’t go beyond that. It could have been shorter but we cannot rely on the electronic results sent in from states.
“If you recall what happened in Kenya last year, they tried to announce results obtained electronically very quickly but they messed up and the main opposition candidate, Raila Odinga, discovered loopholes and took the matter to the Supreme Court and the whole process was annulled. This plunged Kenya into crisis.”
Incidentally, the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, had told reporters in April that INEC would do the collation of results electronically and manually in order to ensure that the process was thorough.
He added that this was meant to prevent Nigeria from being plunged into the kind of Kenyan controversy.
According to INEC, in collating the results of presidential elections, Presiding Officers send results of polls to the Ward Collation Officers, who in turn send it to the Local Government Area Collation Officers, who shall collate results and send them to the State Collation Officer.
The State Collation Officer collates results and sends to the Chief Electoral Commissioner who is the Chairman of INEC.
The Chief Electoral Commissioner (Chief Returning Officer) collates results from the State Collation Officers, declares the result and returns the winner as President elect of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Also speaking with our correspondent, a former INEC National Commissioner, Prof. Lai Olurode, stated that timeliness was very important but noted that a credible election was more important.
Olurode said the fact that the results of the elections in 120,000 polling units would be sorted in 79 places could imply that the process would take longer than that of 2015.
He added, “When you look at the population of the electorate, which is about 84 million, and consider the 79 political parties and the fact that you need to do sorting, it will take some time but whether it will take longer than 2015 will be difficult to say.
“Don’t forget that some of the parties may record zero votes but, again, you need to do sorting in 79 places. Even if it is one vote that a candidate scores, you must sort it for him. You must count the votes in 79 places.
“So, definitely, it will take more time to do sorting and more time to do collation and when you look at the entire country, it is large. About 120,000 polling units and you will move from ward level to local government to state constituency before you end up in Abuja.”
When contacted on the telephone, the INEC Director of Publicity and Voter Education, Mr Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi, said he could not say how many days it would take to collate and announce results.
He stated, “I don’t think the number of candidates will affect the credibility of the election but on how long it will take, I don’t know.”