There are five main steps towards conducting a free, fair, and credible election. According to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) guidelines, the steps are accreditation, voting, counting, collation and results declaration.
Over the years, electorates and the general public in Nigeria have always paid keen attention to accreditation, voting and counting, leaving out collation and results declaration. In most cases, the electorates leave the polling unit as soon as they are done with the voting process. Given the many instances of flawed elections, voters have over the years been encouraged to keep an eye on the entire stretch of the process, including collation and declaration of results.
Another gap is the lack of awareness on who is constitutionally empowered to collate and declare election results after the voting process has ended. There appears to be gaps in the understanding around who should collate and announce across all levels. This was evident in the 2023 gubernatorial election in Adamawa State.
On April 14, 2023, Yunusa Hari, the INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), announced Aisha Dahiru “Binani” of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as the duly elected governor of Adamawa State. However, the declaration generated mixed reactions as some stakeholders present at the collation centre affirmed that the Returning Officer, Mele Lamido, was the official empowered by law to declare the winner of the election.
The entire declaration process was declared null and void while the due process was followed, which saw the declaration of Ahmadu Fintiri by the Returning Officer, after a supplementary election.
To bridge the gaps highlighted above, it is expedient to identify who is constitutionally empowered to collate and declare election results.
Collation and Declaration of Election Results
According to the INEC manual, collation is the tabulation or summation of votes cast at an election while declaration follows simultaneously. Collation is the final step in an election and entails the official announcement of election results by the electoral umpire.
Declaration is the announcement of results and it is a mandatory legal requirement of the electoral process. To safeguard integrity, the results must accurately reflect the total votes cast, considering decisions on disputed ballots.
In Nigeria, there are several levels of collation depending on the type of election. These levels include:
- Registration Area (RA)/Ward Level
- Local Government Area (LGA) Level
- State Assembly Constituency Level
- Federal (House of Representatives) Constituency Level
- Senatorial District Level
- State Level
- Collation and Declaration of Presidential Election Results at the National Level.
Once voting has ended in the various polling units, the sorting and counting of ballots is done at every polling unit (except for places where elections did not hold), and the collation moves from one level to another.
The first level is the Area Council Elections, where the Presiding Officers send the poll results to the Registration Area (RA) Collation Officer. The RA Collation Officer collates results from polling units, declares the result for Councillorship and returns the winner.
As for the Chairmanship result, which falls under the second level, it is collated in the Local Government Area (LGA) by the LGA Collation Officer. The LGA Collation Officer collates the results from the various wards in the LGA, declares and returns the winner as Chairman-elect for the Local Government.
The third level is the State Assembly Constituency, where the Presiding Officers send the results to the RA Collation Officer. Thereafter, the RA Collation Officer collates and sends the result to the State Constituency Returning Officer or the LGA Collation Officer, depending on the geographical area covered by the State constituency. The result is then sent to the State Constituency Returning Officer, who collates and declares the result and returns the winner as the Member-elect of the State House of Assembly.
The fourth level is the Governorship Election results collation, where Presiding Officers send the poll results to the RA Collation Officer. The RA Collation Officer collates and sends the result to the LGA Collation Officer, while he collates and sends it to the State Returning Officer. The State Returning Officer collates results from LGA Collation Centres, declares the result and returns the winner as Governor-elect for the State.
Note that at this level, the State Collation/ Returning Officer is different from the State Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC). It is the State Collation/ Returning Officer that is empowered to collate and declare election results for the State governorship elections.
The fifth level is the National Assembly election results collation. At this level, the process is divided into two: the House of Representatives and the Senatorial District.
For the House of Representatives election results collation, this level follows the same collation procedure as the other levels. However, the RA Collation Officer submits to the Constituency Collation/Returning Officer.
The Constituency/Returning Officer is empowered to enter the score of each candidate into the declaration of result form for the federal constituency and return as elected the candidate with the highest number of valid votes cast at the federal constituency election.
For the Senatorial district election results, the procedure is to follow all the channels explained above, and the Senatorial district Collation Officer is to take delivery of the original copies of the results, enter the score of each candidate into the declaration of result form for the Senate and return as elected the candidate who scores the highest number of valid votes cast at the Senatorial District Election.
The fifth level is the Presidential election results collation. This is a long process that includes the State Collation Officer, who collates and takes the result to the National Collation Center, chaired by the INEC chairman, who doubles as the Chief Electoral Commissioner.
Furthermore, 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.
It should be noted that at every level of collation and declaration, the Presiding Officers/Collation Officers complete the result sheet and request the party agents available to countersign. A duplicate copy of the result is available to each one while the original is taken to the next collation level.
Thereafter, the Presiding Officers/Collation Officers at each level complete the notice of results of the poll and paste at the Polling Unit or Collation Centre. In a case where the margin of win between the two leading candidates is not more than the total number of registered voters of the polling unit(s) where the election was cancelled or not held, the Returning Officer shall decline to make a return until another poll has taken place in the affected Polling Unit(s) and the results incorporated into the existing one.
Constitutional Responsibility of Presiding, Collation and Returning Officers
According 2022 Electoral Act;
Section 60 states that:
(i) The Presiding officer shall, after counting the votes at the polling unit,
enter the votes scored by each candidate in a form to be prescribed
by the Commission as the case may be.
(ii) The form shall be signed and stamped by the presiding officer and
counter signed by the candidates or their polling agents where
available at the polling unit.
(iii) The presiding officer shall give to the polling agents and the police
officer where available a copy each of the completed forms after it has
been duly signed as provided under subsection (ii).
(iv) The presiding officer shall count and announce the result at the polling
(v) The presiding officer shall transfer the results including total number of
accredited voters and the results of the ballot in a manner as prescribed
by the Commission.
(vi) A presiding officer who wilfully contravenes any provision of this section
commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not more than
N500,000 or imprisonment for a term of at least six months.
Section 64 (iv) states that:
A collation officer or returning officer at an election shall collate and
announce the result of an election, subject to his or her verification
and confirmation that the—
(a) number of accredited voters stated on the collated result are
correct and consistent with the number of accredited voters
recorded and transmitted directly from polling units under section
47 (ii) of this Act; and
(b) the votes stated on the collated result are correct and consistent
with the votes or results recorded and transmitted directly from
polling units under section 60 (iv) of this Act.
Section 64 (v) states that:
Subject to subsection (i), a collation officer or returning officer shall use the number of accredited voters recorded and transmitted directly from polling units under section 47 (ii) of this Act and the votes or results recorded and transmitted directly from polling units under section 60 (iv) of this Act to collate and announce the result of an election if a collated result at his or a lower level of collation is not correct.
Section 66 states that:
In an election to the office of the President or Governor whether or not contested and in any contested election to any other elective office, the result shall be ascertained by counting the votes cast for each candidate and subjected to the provisions of sections 133, 134 and 179 of the Constitution. The candidate that receives the highest number of votes shall be declared elected by the appropriate returning officer.
The summary of these sections of the Electoral Act (2022) is that the Presiding Officer takes charge of accreditation, voting, and counting at the various polling units. These Presiding Officers are not empowered to declare election results. It is the Returning Officer that is empowered to collate all election results across all levels and declare (announce) the results at the collation centre. Therefore, whoever declare (announce) the results asides the Collation/Returning Officer has committed an offense.