Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) to Nigeria, has bemoaned the inability of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to vote during the presidential and National Assembly elections.
EU EOM Chief Observer Maria Arena, who stated this while making the EU’s preliminary declaration in Abuja, said the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), had the responsibility for managing the largest elections on the continent of Africa.
It, however, noted that INEC operates in complex security and politically-charged environment, even as it said delivering in the circumstances that INEC found itself was not an easy job.
The EU EOM said INEC made a number of improvements since 2015, including continuous accreditation and voting and enhanced provisions of ballot secrecy.
It also said before election day, INEC tried to facilitate the collection of Permanent Voter Cards (PVC), stating that in a positive step, it decentralised collection and points and extended the deadline for collection.
“However, PVC distribution and collection was negatively affected by some poor logistics.
“There was only a limited opportunity for Nigeria’s IDPs to vote. While arranging for IDPs to vote is difficult, INEC’s guidelines were produced late and IDPs reported insufficient opportunity to register and to collect their PVCs,” the EU EOM said.
The EU EOM also said the last-minute postponement of elections and the logistical shortcomings witnessed during the election showed serious difficulties with INEC’s operations.
It added that on election day, the majority of polling units opened extremely late, leaving voters waiting for hours and uncertain of when voting would begin.
“Going forward, there is a great need for more transparency and better communication during the whole process, with political parties, civil society, the media and, most importantly, citizens. These problems need to be addressed, to be explained, and a clear plan must be made for improvements before the elections on 9 March,” the EU EOM also said.
The EU EOM concluded by saying that serious operational shortcomings put an undue burden on voters, adding that the civil society played a positive role in enhancing accountability and transparency of the electoral process.
On its part, the Commonwealth Observer Group said it noted delays in distribution of election materials, resulting in the late opening of polling units.
Head of the Commonwealth Observer Group and former President of the Republic of Tanzania, Dr Jakaya Kikwete, said the Commonwealth Observer Group noted that polling officials, security staff and other essential workers were unable to vote and were disenfranchised.
The group said it also observed problems with smart card readers in a number of polling units, which it said, caused further delays as polling officials awaited technical assistance or replacement.
“We witnessed crowding within a number of polling units with large numbers of party agents, many of whom were not wearing INEC accreditation badges. Some party agents attempted to intimidate polling staff and voters, including during counting,” Kikwete said.
In its conclusion, the group said election-related violence and loss of life which occurred in a number of places were deeply troubling.
“Nigeria can do better. Violence has no place in a modern democracy. Those responsible should be held accountable. We encourage all political parties to honour their commitments to the National Peace Accord and reject violence,” the Commonwealth Observer Group also said.
Meanwhile, the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Stuart Symington, has congratulated Nigerians for their participation during the election.
Symington also extended the deepest condolence of the United States to families of those who lost their lives, while urging all candidates to honour the peace accord they signed.
“I congratulate the tens of millions of Nigerians who stood patiently in long lines to vote this week and the hundreds of thousands who worked together with INEC to conduct the elections.
“As noted by many observer groups in their preliminary reports, this election was predominantly peaceful, and it was proof of the Nigerian people’s resolute commitment to choose their leaders.
“The peaceful achievement of millions was shadowed by the violence of a few. We extend our deepest sympathy to the families of those who lost their lives, and we urge all candidates to honour the Peace Accord they signed. All should convince those who support them to refrain from using force or violence to interfere with INEC. No one should break the law by announcing results before INEC does, or break the peace by claiming victory before the results are final. Everyone has a common interest in showing patience as INEC collates and announces the election results,” Symington said.
In a related development, the Protect Nigeria Group, a domestic observer group, has warned against post-election chaos in the country.
In a statement by its secretary, Abdulwahab Ekekhide, the group said its call was as a result of the delay in announcing winners of the general elections held at the weekend.
It further warned against foreign interference in the nation’s electoral process, adding that Nigeria, as a sovereign nation, should be allowed to determine its political future.
The group further blamed the current tension in the polity on foreign interference, as well as the attitude of some Nigerians who lacked a deep sense of patriotism.
“The tension emanated from international interference in Nigeria’s electoral process by some foreign NGOs in conjunction with some embassies and political class,” Ekekhide said.
The group further advised the political players to sheath their swords and embrace the spirit of sportsmanship, saying it is noteworthy that elections must be won and lost.
The group called on the diplomatic missions accredited to Nigeria and their agents to adhere to diplomatic conducts in the monitoring of elections.
“We expect the diplomatic missions and their agents among the electoral monitors, to observe diplomatic ethics and decorum. The Nigerian nation is greater than the selfish interest of any particular person or group of persons,” the group also said.