International Observers Condemn Violence, Military Involvement in Nigerian Elections

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Shola Oyeyipo and Udora Orizu in Abuja

Going by the evaluations of notable foreign observers, many aspects of the February 23 presidential and National Assembly elections and the March 9 governorship and state House of Assembly elections, particularly the involvement of military personnel, were not in conformity with international best practice.

This position was unanimously expressed by the European Union (EU) Election Observation Mission Nigeria 2019, the joint international observation mission of the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI), Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) and the Integrity Friends for Truth and Peace Initiative (TIFPI) in their preliminary reports on the elections.

Also, in its second preliminary statement, where the EU observed the conduct of the presidential and National Assembly elections, it noted that there were “inconsistent numbers, lack of clear checks and explanations, and insufficient public information,” which it said undermined the integrity of the election.

It noted that “it is not in line with international standards for access to information and public accountability.

“Polling for the federal election was cancelled in a larger number of polling units across the country; covering nearly 2.8m registered voters. This was four times more than in 2015. While this number did not affect the outcome given the margin of win, this was not a good process. INEC did not provide sufficient information on these cancellations, the specific reasons for them, and the precise local government areas affected. This undermines public confidence in the process,” the EU noted for the presidential and National Assembly elections.

In the NDI/IRI preliminary statement on Nigeria’s March 9 elections presented by the duo of the Senior Associate and Regional Director for Central and West Africa (NDI), Dr. Christopher Fomunyoh, and the Regional Director for Africa IRI, John Tomaszewski, they noted that while there were improvements in the administration of the state-level elections, it was yet marred by irregularities.

According to the body, there were “Instances of intimidation, vote-buying and violent acts during the voting, counting, and collation processes in some places. Incidents of violence and disruption to the balloting process were observed in Lagos, Benue. Rivers and Nasarawa states. The delegation was informed of the loss of life as a result of election-day violence. The mission deplores these losses and expresses its deepest condolences to the bereaved and to the Nigerian people. These actions and the impunity with which some electoral actors conducted themselves, including some polling agents and members of the military, undermine citizen confidence in elections and threaten the legitimacy of Nigeria’s democracy.”

It lamented that “Despite being Africa’s largest democracy, Nigeria has the lowest representation of women in national legislative office of any country on the continent, and this representation will likely fall below five percent following the February 23 National Assembly vote. This is not a record to be proud of,” stressing that “Many Nigerians expressed deep concerns about the militarisation of the election process.”

Also, in their analysis of the Saturday election, the EU Chief Observer, Maria Arena, and the Deputy Chief Observer, Hannah Roberts, who addressed the media at Transcop Hilton Hotel, Abuja Monday, expressed dissatisfaction with systemic failings and electoral security problems, which they said showed the need for serious reform ahead of future elections.

As their NDI/IRI counterpart, the EU noted that there were operational improvements in the governmental and state House of Assembly elections of March 9, but they were emphatic that these gains were overshadowed by systematic failings, including a lack of transparency, incumbency advantage and a troubling electoral security environment.

According to Arena, “Observers, including EU observers, we’re denied access to collation centres in Rivers. There was misuse of incumbency, including on state-owned media, which prevented a level playing field. In the two weeks leading up to the state elections, EU observers saw some misuse of State offices as well as institutional websites being used for campaigning by both APC and PDP incumbent governors.”

Arena noted that the systematic problems evident in the 2019 electoral process showed the need for an inclusive national discussion on reform for greater electoral integrity and participation.

She said, “We echo the view of leading civil society organisations that say that there is an urgent need to restore faith in the electoral process. We encourage a National conversation on electoral reform and strongly believe that it would meaningfully contribute to Nigeria’s democratic development.”

Though the body which deployed 73 observers to the polling points and collation centres across the 22 states commended significant improvement in the accreditation process, it called for improved data management and more information and explanation from INEC on this important phase of the electoral process.

Similarly, while observing that the 2019 general election recorded unprecedented improvement in the aspect of logistic, the TIFPI, observed the March 9, elections in 26 states including the FCT local council election, expressed concerns over cases of alleged security interference in the elections in states such as Kogi, Zamfara, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Lagos, Kaduna, Kano, Imo where some politicians deployed their personal security attaches to disrupt elections on various fronts.

The Executive Director/Lead Observer, TIFPI, Livingstone Wechie said: “TIFPI observed the alleged involvement of men in Army and other security uniforms in the elections in Imo, Rivers, Zamfara, Kaduna, Akwa Ibom, Edo, Ogun. The Army high command had earlier assured that the military will provide security and not interfere in the process.

“TIFPI observed the wave of men in Army and other security uniforms who sought to disrupt and indeed disrupted the election process in some state and we opine that there must have been also the use of fake soldiers and infiltration of some of the security formations. Hence the Army authorities should fish out any of its men that may have interfered in the election in any of these states including possible infiltration in their circles,” Wechie stated.

Expressing optimism that the 6th Division of the Nigerian Army has assured of investigation of a CCTV footage of an alleged Army invasion of a home in Rivers and stating that the gesture is commendable, the body urged that an audio tape where the APC candidate in Akwa-Ibom State allegedly negotiated with Army to take down opposition should be investigated.

He said “TIFPI observed a certain audio file which was alleged to be the voice note of the APC governorship candidate in Akwa Ibom state. In the said audio file he was alleged to be negotiating the deployment of the Army and other security agents/thugs to disrupt the election in his lose areas/soft targets and kill opponents as well as acquire all manners of arms and weapons for the March 9, 2019 election in the state. This calls for proper investigation.”

Other aspects of the election that the observers called for prevention in future elections are; low turnout of voters, violence, especially killings recorded across the country, arrest of six journalists, attacks and abduction of INEC ad-hoc staff, desperation of politicians and poor functionality of card readers in selected cases.

The TIFPI therefore recommends that INEC should immediately set up a high profile group of intellectuals to study the new trend of electoral compromise with a view to fashion out ways of containing the infraction so as to shore up the credibility of the process moving forward.

In another assessment by the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), the threats, harassment, intimidation and assault of election officials, observers, journalists and voters during Saturday’s governorship and state assembly elections were condemned.

The CDD, in its report signed by the chairman, CDD-EAC, Prof. Adele Jinadu and CDD Director Idayat Hassan, expressed worries over violence that characterised the 2019 elections.

“The weaponisation of the election and abductions of INEC staff and the ad-hoc staff is worrisome and constitutes a drawback to the progress we have made so far. INEC officials were kidnapped and later released in Benue, Katsina, Kogi, Imo, Akwa Ibom and Rivers during voting and collation of results, with Katsina alone recording 20 cases of abductions.”

“We reckon that these attempts are aimed at undermining the system usually to favour the perpetrators. Our monitors on the ground did not only report cases of intimidation but were victims, too.

“One of our observers was arrested by soldiers in the Mile 2 area of Lagos on his way to cover the protest over non-payment of allowances by ad-hoc staff. Political thugs slapped and abducted our observer in at PU 2 Afaha Nsit ward of Akwa Ibom and later requested a ransom.

“Our observer was abducted by political thugs for reporting and sharing photos and permanent voter’s card of underaged voters in Polling Unit 15, Ward 04 of Shendam local government area of Plateau state. He was later released. In a related incident, a politician slapped a BBC journalist in Lagos in a brazen show of power,” the group said.