We appeal to the Federal Government to pay heed to the final report of the European Union’s Election Observation Mission on the 2019 elections. The observations and conclusions of the mission as disturbing as they are, should spur the nation to action. If Nigerians have firmly cast their lot with democracy as a preferred form of government, it behooves the country to take it seriously enough to initiate, nurture, and maintain its best practices. To run elections that merely pay lip service to democracy is self-deceit. A nation as complex and heterogeneous as ours needs honesty and transparency, to give every citizen a sense of belonging.
The European Union Mission report is unflattering to say the least. Many of its observations are familiar to any objective observer, some are more subtle insights, some failings are indeed damning. It gave the nation some credit saying the “elections were competitive,” but it also observed severe “operational and transparency shortcomings,” electoral security problems, and low turnout. It confirmed what most Nigerians felt: that the 2015 elections were cleaner, more credible with higher participation by more than a million voters. Had the Europeans checked further, they would have found that, indeed, 10 million voters who cast votes in 2011 sat at home in 2015. That record is a stunning backward march and a bad omen which needs urgent correction.
The shameless abuse of incumbency was fully on display for the world to see. The Federal Government-owned TV network favoured the president and the ruling party with their joint air time reading 84 per cent. The state-owned media merely served incumbent governments and coverage ranged from 72 per cent to 100 per cent. The report noted that such blatant bias undermined the required level playing field and was inconsistent with national and international standards of public broadcasting. The report lamented the operational deficiencies of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) which led to the postponement of the presidential election. The postponement and the puerile reasons offered by INEC for it created a general anguish and loss of faith which robbed millions the motivation to vote.
The report pointed out what Nigerians always knew as the Achilles heel of nation’s elections: the result process. As anyone familiar with our elections knows that is where the electoral scams are perpetrated. European monitors noted the absence of checks and transparency and a general lack of communication and information which enables so much manipulation and vote rigging. The election was marred by violence and intimidation. The role of some security agencies “damaged the integrity of the electoral process.” Election-related violence, the report said, claimed at least 150 lives. The report blamed “the leading parties for not reining in acts of violence and intimidation by supporters. The report called attention to several legal shortcomings, one of which was the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, an act executed with little regard to due process. Even the use of the smart card reader was not protected by statute. The report noted the conflicting court rulings, dysfunctional regulation of electoral finance; very few electoral offences resulting in arrest or prosecution; the problems with the collection of voter cards and the further fall in the number of elected women at a time the number of elected women has risen exponentially all over the world.
The report emphasised the strengthening of procedures for the collation of results to improve integrity and confidence in the elections; establish requirements in law for full results transparency with data easily accessible to the public; strengthen INEC’s organisational and operational capacity; ensure that an inter-agency body for electoral security must work transparently with political parties and civil society.
The European monitors also recommended that there should be a legal requirement that political parties must have a minimum representative of women among candidates. Election tribunals should be set well ahead of elections to cover pre-election cases, and to avoid parties taking cases to different courts at the same time. The licensing system for the broadcast media must be reviewed to provide media pluralism and diversity in all Nigerian states, it said. We agree with the EU mission observers that there is need for fundamental electoral reform in Nigeria. The earlier the reform committee is set up the better.