•Puts death toll at 39
•International observers seek quicker release of results
•Bemoan electoral violence
Onyebuchi Ezigbo, Shola Oyeyipo, Alex Enumah, Olawale Ajimotokan and Udora Orizu in Abuja
The Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room has expressed disappointment at what it described as poor showing by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the various security agencies during last Saturday’s presidential and National Assembly elections.
The body, which said it received field reports from more than 8,000 of its deployed observers and networks, across the country, regretted that despite expectations that the presidential poll would be better organised after the initial postponement, the exercise was marred by serious lapses on the part of the electoral umpire and security agents.
Giving an update on the casualty figures recorded during the polls due to election-related violence, the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room stated that no fewer than 39 Nigerians lost their lives in the last 48 hours of the elections.
The breakdown of the dead are: Borno State– four; Bayelsa State – four; Rivers State – 16, Yobe State- two; Kogi State-Two; Ebonyi – Two, Lagos – One; Oyo- One; Delta- Two; Zamfara – One and Taraba State- Four.
In Lagos State, it said there were reports of disruption of voting by suspected political thugs, who shot in the air in some places and set ballot boxes and papers on fire in places like Okota, Isolo and Oshodi suburbs of Lagos.
The Situation Room also said that it had documented cases of 260 politically motivated deaths from the beginning of political campaigns in October 2018 to February 23, 2019.
While presenting its report to journalists in Abuja on Monday, the Executive Director, Policy & Legal Advocacy Centre and Convener, Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, Mr. Clement Nwankwo, said that apart from delays in the commencement of voting in some places, there were reports of serious lapses concerning the conduct of some INEC officials and security agencies.
He said the delay in commencement of polls was especially pronounced in some states across the South-east and South-south geopolitical zones of Nigeria, adding that there were even reports of polling commencing at 4pm in some areas such as PU 001, Ward 5, Methodist Boys High School, Oron, Akwa Ibom State.
It said: “Situation Room is, however, disappointed by the serious lapses observed with the conduct of the presidential and National Assembly elections held on Saturday 23 February 2019. Despite the elections being conducted against a background of an earlier postponement on February 16, 2019, on grounds of logistics challenges, it still suffered from major logistic lapses.
“Additionally, the election was marred by violence, security lapses and instances of overreach. Other challenges include compromised INEC officials as well as partisan security operatives. Conduct of major political parties was disappointing.”
The Situation Room noted that despite the police’s stated preparedness with deployment and adequacy of security, there were shortfalls and gaps, with the attendant implications for election security.
It, however, singled out members of the National Youth Service Corp as among the shinning lights during the elections, saying that they were exemplary in their work under very difficult conditions.
The observer group suggested that INEC’s logistics capabilities, including its ability to carry out timely procurement may have been overwhelmed by factors connected with the sheer number of political parties contesting the elections.
As a way forward, it suggested that there should be an independent inquiry into the poor management of the electoral process by INEC with a view to determining the underlying causes of persistent shortcomings during elections in the country.
As part of efforts to ensure that the right things are done by INEC, the body said the international community should continue to lend their voices in defence of the integrity of the result.
The Situation Room particularly urged the United States and the United Kingdom to follow through on their earlier statement that they will sanction individuals whose actions undermine the election or have led to the death of citizens.
In addition, the Situation Room urged the Inspector General of Police to urgently investigate allegations of police overreach in identified locations in the country.
It said officers found culpable must be held personally accountable for infringing on the rights of citizens in the exercise of their franchise.
The Situation Room also asked the IGP to carry out investigations on all political actors, who instigated or perpetrated violence leading to the needless loss of lives.
Commonwealth Observers Bemoan Electoral Violence
The Commonwealth Group of Observers has condemned what it described as election-related violence, which marred the elections in some states, saying the loss of lives in those places was deeply troubling.
Also, the international observers in the elections, comprising the International Republican Institute (IRI), National Democratic Institute (NDI), and African Union Observation Mission (AUEOM), have called on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to expeditiously release the results of the polls.
The observers also called on political gladiators to ensure that the processes are concluded in a peaceful atmosphere.
This is coming as the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) has also highlighted serious operational shortcomings during the elections, which it said put undue burden on the electorate.
The Chairperson of the Commonwealth Group of Observers, Dr. Jakaya Kikwete, made the group’s submission yesterday, while addressing journalists on the group’s observations and assessment on the general election.
Kikwete noted that violence has no place in a modern democracy, adding that those responsible should be held accountable.
He also called on political parties to honour their commitments to the National Peace Accord and reject violence.
The electoral process was characterised by violence in some parts of Rivers, Lagos, Delta, Osun, Nasarawa and Enugu States.
The observer group noted that in spite of the difficulties and challenges surrounding the elections, many Nigerians had the opportunity to express their will and exercise their franchise.
Kikwete, who was a former President of Tanzania, also expressed optimism that the final stages of collation and announcement of results which began on Monday will be handled in a transparent and credible manner.
The Commonwealth Observer Group was deployed across Nigeria from February 13, covering Benin City, Enugu, Ibadan, Jos, Kaduna, Kano, Lagos, Port Harcourt and the FCT, where it met INEC officers, civil society groups, the political parties, police and the media.
The group similarly observed reservation that about 11.2 million Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) were not collected, noting that represented over 13 percent of registered voters who could not vote.
It also identified problems with the Smart Card Readers in a number of polling units, saying the shortcoming caused further delays as polling officials awaited technical assistance or replacement.
In addition, it highlighted delays in the distribution of materials, resulting in the late opening of polling units, saying that although INEC later authorised extended voting hours for polling units that had opened late, the information was not communicated effectively and not followed by all polling staff.
“Observers noted, however, that many would have benefitted from more comprehensive training in polling procedures. In some places, the layout of polling units, including the positioning of voting booths, potentially compromised the secrecy of the ballot. Incorrect labeling and failure to seal the ballot boxes correctly were also noted. Lack of signage within polling units also caused some confusion,” Kikwete said.
Kikwete also lauded the invaluable contribution of the NYSC members to the electoral process and the passing of the Not Too Young to Run Bill as a significant step that will enable youth participation in all elective offices.
He said the group did not observe cases of vote buying and under age voting, which were notable features during bye elections in some states last year and during the 2015 general election.
AU, IRI, NDI Seek Quick Release of Election Results
Meanwhile, AUEOM, IRI and NDI have also highlighted serious operational shortcomings during the elections, which it said put undue burden on the electorate.
In their preliminary reports released yesterday in separate press conferences, AUEOM led by former Ethiopian Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, who was the head of the mission and former vice president, Gambia, Mrs. Fatoumata Tambajang, who led the Joint International Observer team of International Republican Institute (IRI), National Democratic Institute (NDI) and other contributors, made recommendations on how to conduct better elections in the country.
According to Desalegn, “While congratulating INEC for being open and cooperative with electoral observers, the mission urged INEC to expeditiously and transparently collate and announce the results of the presidential and National Assembly elections as provided for by law.”
He also called on INEC to continue to improve election management to address the consistent postponement of elections through proper planning and execution of election logistics and operations and that the body should strengthen the capacity of polling staff through training on assisting voters, counting and other electoral procedures.
Urging political parties and young people to leverage the opportunity created by the ‘Not Too Young to Run Act’ to increase political participation and representation, Desalegn urged Nigerians and other stakeholders to act responsibly in the use of social media and refrain from disseminating false information on the elections, particularly the results.
In his conclusion, Desalegn who noted that the 2019 presidential and National Assembly elections provided an opportunity for the consolidation of democracy in Nigeria, said: “The AUEOM observed that the political space has broadened as evidenced by the high number of political parties and candidates that took part in the elections. Furthermore, the mission is impressed by the patience and resilience demonstrated by Nigerians during the elections.
“Overall, the process was largely peaceful and orderly and in conformity with Nigeria’s legal framework.”
He, however, recommended that in the spirit of cooperation and solidarity, political parties and candidates are urged to uphold the commitment to peaceful elections and resolution of disputes in keeping with the two peace accords signed in December 2018 and February 2019.
“They are further urged to call on their supporters to remain calm and peaceful and refrain from any action that might incite post-election violence. In case of any grievances over the election results, political parties and candidates are encouraged to use the legal instruments at their disposal to seek redress,” he said.
On its part, the NDI/IRI mission, in its recommendation read by President, IRI, US, Daniel Twining, urged Nigerians to address immediate and longer-term challenges to inclusive and credible elections.
Particularly for the March 9 gubernatorial state assembly elections, the IRI/NDI mission said the government should ensure adequate security to support and protect INEC’s deployment and voter engagement, intensify communication and outreach to the Nigerian public and relevant stakeholders in the electoral process.
It also called for improved plans for the distribution of sensitive election materials such as ballot papers and result sheets, ensure that ad hoc polling staff are adequately trained on polling procedures and to fully implement the disability framework by ensuring that all polling units are accessible to persons with disabilities.
While political parties are urged to respect the rule of law and call on their supporters to remain peaceful, before, during, and after the polls and to adhere to the announcement of results, the NDI/IRI mission tasked the Nigerian government to immediately after the elections pursue a comprehensive and inclusive electoral reform process that draws upon the recommendations made by the Uwais Commission and Nnamani Committee.
The observer missions bemoaned the fact that the polling staff did not demonstrate sufficient knowledge and competence in the application of the opening procedures, late opening of voting, incidents of violence, and snatching of ballot materials at some polling units.
Others are impediments to voting for persons with disabilities and the elderly and the change of the location of polling units for internally displaced persons (lDPs) at the last minute from camps to wards in some locations, which could have impacted IDP enfranchisement.
Operational Lapses Exerted Undue Burden on Voters, Says EU
In a related development, EU EOM to Nigeria has stated that while INEC made remarkable improvement since 2015, there were serious operational shortcomings which it said put undue burden on the electorate.
In their first preliminary report, the body stated that the operational lapses to a larger extent weakened transparency of the process.
Addressing journalists in Abuja, the Chief Observer, Maria Arena said: “On Saturday EU observers visited 261 polling units and 94 collation centres across 31 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Important polling procedures were not always followed and in 14 per cent some essential materials were missing.
“Party agents were present in most of the polling units observed. Positively, in most of the counts observed, party agents received copies of the results forms. However, there were problems in filling out results forms and they were not displayed in half the units observed, weakening transparency,” it said.
Arena, while reiterating that the EU has no interest in the results of the polls or who emerges as leader of the country, however advocated for the need for more transparency and communication in the entire process of future elections.
She also called for a reduction in the age of candidates in other to make the elections all inclusive.
Overall, while the EU observation mission commended civil society organizations in their contributions at enhancing electoral accountability, the EU noted that the elections were competitive and that candidates were able to campaign freely. Adding that although campaign rhetoric’s became more acrimonious closer to election day.
The mission however expressed its condolences to family members and friends of those who lost their lives, stressing that election should be occasions of peaceful participation.
Honour Signed Peace Accord, US Ambassador Tells Candidates
The Ambassador of the United States of America, Stuart Symington, has urged candidates in the polls to maintain the peace in the country by keeping to the Peace Accord they signed before the polls.
Symington, who also urged the candidates to prevail on their supporters to shun violence as the nation awaits the declaration of the final results of the polls by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), congratulated Nigerians in the peaceful and orderly manner they had conducted themselves so far.
The Ambassador in a statement said, “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”.
He added that everyone has a common interest in showing patience as INEC collates and announces the election results.