Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
The Chief Observer of the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) to Nigeria, Maria Arena, has said the violence that characterised the 2019 general election is troubling. In this online interview with Saturday Sun, Arena said those responsible for the violence must be held accountable, even as she called for an inclusive national discussion on reform for greater electoral integrity and participation.
As the Chief Observer of the European Union Election Observation Mission to Nigeria, do you feel comfortable with the level of violence that still characterize elections in Nigeria?
Electoral violence is extremely troubling and those responsible must be held to account. It is never good to have violence or threats in any election. It damages the process and has a terrible human cost. The levels of violence raise questions about what parties are or are not doing to stop this. Voters should be able to vote freely, election administration staff should be able to do their job without being threatened.
What do you think is responsible for this and how can we curb it?
This needs to be seriously looked at to prevent such violence happening again. Many people and organisations need to look at what they could do differently. In any election, the election administration needs to be able to do its work freely, security personnel need to work neutrally, and parties need to call their supporters to be calm and to respect the process.
In your report of the Governorship and State Houses of Assembly election, you said observers, including EU observers, were prevented from accessing collation centres in Rivers State by the military. What do you think happened and what is your recommendation?
Lack of access for observers, and the media, compromises transparency and trust in the process. In the supplementary elections due to take place, observers should be able to access all stages of the electoral process.
Which model or pattern of voting can Nigeria and other African countries adopt to finally put an end to vote-buying, interference, violence and killing of people during election?
Party leaderships need to encourage their supporters to respond calmly to any problems they see as arising in the elections, and stronger at stamping out violence and intimidation by their supporters. In addition, security forces need to be seen to work neutrally and with greater accountability and transparency at all times. We think these problems are very serious and a meaningful inclusive national discussion is needed to address these issues.
The EU called for a serious electoral reform in Nigeria. What shape do you think it can take?
There needs to be an inclusive national discussion on reform for greater electoral integrity and participation. The suggestion of a national conversation comes from INEC itself. It is one that the European Union would support. In our final report we will make specific recommendations for improvements to various different aspects of the election process. It’s important that reform starts early as it takes time.
People flayed the international observers on earlier reports about the Presidential and National Assembly elections, saying that the reports did not reflect the actual state of affairs. They also expressed disappointment that the international community they relied on for help, abandoned them. What is your take on this?
The EU EOM’s assessment of the Presidential and National Assembly elections has, in some cases, been misreported. If the report is read, you will see a number of concerns expressed about the electoral process. The headline of the EU EOM’s assessment was that there were serious operational shortcomings, but that civil society played an extremely positive role in promoting electoral accountability.
Prior to the general election, the Nigerian Government kicked against the position of the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union in the country and accused you of meddling in the country’s internal affairs. Don’t you think African nations should be left alone to manage their own elections and affairs without the input of western countries?
This is a question for EU member states, rather than an election observation mission. The EU was invited to deploy an election observation mission by INEC. We only come when we are invited. We give our assessment and make recommendations, but of course, what happens next is up to the people and institutions of Nigeria. We encourage a serious reform process so that the problems seen in this election don’t happen again.
Based on infractions noticed during the polls, will EU consider sanctions against some actors?
This is a question for EU member states, not an election observation mission.