Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) to Nigeria has submitted its final report on the 2019 general elections, saying that the overall elections were marked by severe operational and transparency shortcomings, security problems and low turnout.
The Chief Observer of the EU EOM, Maria Arena, while presenting the report in Abuja, said that the mission concluded that the systemic failings seen in the elections, and the relatively low levels of voter participation, showed the need for fundamental electoral reform.
“Overall, the EU EOM concluded the elections were marked by severe operational and transparency shortcomings, electoral security problems and low turnout. Positively, however, the elections were competitive, parties were able to campaign and civil society enhanced accountability. Leading parties were at fault in not reining in acts of violence and intimidation by their supporters, and abuse of incumbency at federal and state levels. Except for federal radio, state media primarily served the interests of the president or governor at state level. Journalists were subject to harassment, and scrutiny of the electoral process, which was at times compromised with some independent observers being obstructed in their work, including by security agencies.
“Such reform needs political leadership that is dedicated to the rights of Nigerian citizens, and an inclusive process of national dialogue involving state institutions, parties, civil society and the media,” she said.
“This needs to be urgently undertaken to allow time for debate, legislative changes and implementation well in advance of the next elections,” Arena said. The EU also noted that 150 persons were killed during the elections, even as it said the numbers were not definitive.
But the Spokesperson for the All Progressives Congress (APC) Presidential Campaign Organisation for the 2019 general elections, Festus Keyamo, has faulted the report of the EU EOM, saying that some aspects of it were vague.
“There are aspects of the report that we think are vague and are not definitive enough. For instance, if they say the results collation process is not transparent enough, I expect them to be very clear as to what they expect to happen over and above or beyond what we have in the Electoral Act presently,” Keyamo said.
Keyamo also took a swipe at the opposition regarding the publishing of results on the website of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), saying that the opposition were waiting for the publishing in order to avail them the opportunity to hack the server if available.
“They know that the system collapsed in Kenya. So, we should not be quick enough to jump and follow the world when we know that technologically, we are not ripe for that yet. And for us, we knew that the opposition was only banking on that, we knew they were just banking on waiting in Abuja, hacking a server if it is available, implanting the results and declaring the winner. But it doesn’t work out that way because there must be stage by stage collation of results,” Keyamo stated.
The EU EOM report came a day after the INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, said steps were already being taken to reform the nation’s electoral process ahead of the 2023 polls.
Yakubu stated that recommendations to be provided by the EU EOM in its report would form major inputs in the areas of reform expected to be submitted to the National Assembly.
However, the EU EOM noted that INEC worked in a difficult environment and made some improvements, such as simplifying voting procedures.
“However, considerable weaknesses remained. Operational deficiencies led to the postponement of the elections, there were insufficient checks and transparency in the results process, as well as a general lack of public communication and information,” EU EOM stated.
The EU EOM further said that the elections became increasingly marred by violence and intimidation, with the role of the security agencies becoming more contentious as the process progressed.
“The EU EOM reported that this damaged the integrity of the electoral process and may deter future participation. During collation of the federal results, EU observers directly witnessed or received reports of intimidation of INEC officials in 20 states,” the EU EOM also said.
In the report, the EU EOM took note of conflicting and late rulings on electoral disputes that undermined opportunity for remedy and created uncertainty; the dysfunctional regulation of political finance; very few electoral offences resulting in arrest or prosecution; problems with the collection of permanent voter cards; and the further fall in the number of women elected.
Out of the 30 recommendations the EU EOM brought forward for consideration, it said priorities should be placed on strengthening INEC procedures for the collation of results to improve integrity and confidence in electoral outcomes.
The EU EOM also called for the establishment of requirements in law for full results transparency, with data easily accessible to the public.