- Says military’s role in election must be at INEC’s request
- Suggests tribunals to cover pre-poll disputes
- Incumbency factor, Onnoghen’s suspension, violence tainted 2019 polls
- Presidency welcomes report, promises to analyse it
Chuks Okocha, Onyebuchi Ezigbo and Olawale Ajimotokan in Abuja
The European Union Election Observation Mission (EOM) to Nigeria for the March 2019 general election Saturday released its final report advicing a new law that ensures full transparency in the election results collation process.
It also said a combination of factors, including incumbency, suspension of the former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, a few weeks to the election, and violence shaped the poll’s outcome. The EU report said Onnoghen’s suspension did not follow due process. And it alleged that over 150 people died in the violence that characterised the elections.
The Presidency, in its reaction in Abuja Saturday night, welcomed the report of the EU observer mission, pledging to analyse and act on the recommendations. Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, who said this in a statement, noted that the EU observers were invited to the country by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and welcomed by the government of President Muhammadu Buhari.
The report alleged widespread pressure on the independence of the judiciary.
Chief Observer of the mission, Maria Arena, who signed the report, said they were on the ground between January 5 and April 7 with a core team of 11 experts and 40 long-term observers deployed to cover all the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
The report did not give details of the alleged killings, but insisted that there was widespread violence and acts of intimidation, including cases of security officials harassing voters, which corroborated that part of the report.
“The elections became increasingly marred by violence and intimidation, with the role of the security agencies becoming more contentious as the process progressed,” the report said.
It recommended 30 areas of reform to help elections and electioneering campaigns in the country, and stressed the need for the leadership of the INEC to determine the role of the military in future elections.
“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,” Arena said. She added, “This needs to be urgently undertaken to allow time for debate, legislative changes and implementation well in advance of the next elections.”
The EOM noted, “Overall, 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.”
But the EU said the leading political parties failed to rein in acts of violence and intimidation by their supporters, and abuse of incumbency at the federal and state levels. It stated that except for the federal radio, state media primarily served the interests of the president or the governor at the state level.
“Journalists were subject to harassment, and scrutiny of the electoral process was at times compromised with some independent observers being obstructed in their work, including by security agencies.”
The report noted that INEC worked in a difficult environment but made some improvements, such as simplifying voting procedures, however, with considerable weaknesses.
According to the report, “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.”
The EU EOM reported that the deficiencies damaged the integrity of the electoral process and might deter future participation.
It said, “During collation of the federal results, EU observers directly witnessed or received reports of intimidation of INEC officials in 20 states.
“While the legal framework broadly provides for democratic elections and some improvements were made to the Constitution, various legal shortcomings remained, including in relation to the use of smart card readers.”
The EU EOM also noted the suspension of the chief justice by the president a few weeks before the elections, which it said was seen to lack due process and reportedly undermined judicial independence.
Other issues highlighted in the report include: 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.
Regarding acts it said undermined the judiciary, the EU election observer mission said, “Three weeks before the original election date, the president suspended the chief justice of Nigeria. This had an inhibiting effect on the judiciary. It was seen by many as undermining security of tenure, damaging judicial independence and compromising the division of powers.”
It said the suspension of the CJN “did not follow due process, was divisive, and undermined confidence in the electoral process and opportunity for remedy.”
It noted that the CJN had a key role in deciding the Supreme Court bench for hearing final election appeals as well as governorship and presidential petitions.
The report said very few electoral offences resulted in arrest or prosecution, adding that acts of impunity were rampant during the poll.
It noted that although INEC had the power of prosecution, it did not have powers to investigate or arrest, and was, therefore, reliant on security agencies.
On the issue of transparency, EU said there was a lack of polling and results data availability centrally or locally. It said many of the problems were evident in 150 polling unit result forms examined from the governorship and presidential elections.
The report stated that most of the polling unit results contained mathematical anomalies, including about 13 per cent missing data, while some even had more valid votes recorded than the number of accredited voters.
During the March 23 supplementary elections, EU said there were extensive security problems in some areas, with groups of men wielding weapons intimidating and obstructing the process, and security agencies proving ineffective at protecting citizens’ right to vote.
The report cited the case of parts of Kano, which were largely inaccessible to EU observers, where citizen observers and journalists were also obstructed.
The EU observers said they saw increased interference by party agents and cases of vote-buying.
“Given the high stakes and the reduced electorate involved, supplementary elections were vulnerable to parties strategically pressurising voters and disrupting the process. In the polling units that could be fully observed, there were improved logistical arrangements and procedures were mostly followed, although there were problems with secrecy of the ballot,” the report said.
Positively, however, the report said the political parties and candidates were able to campaign, with freedoms of assembly, expression and movement largely respected. The EU EOM also emphasised the effective role played by civil society organisations in promoting election reform and positively contributing to the accountability of the process.
In a 30-point recommendation, the report identified seven areas for consideration in an attempt improve elections in the country. They include the need to: strengthen the INEC procedure for collation of results to improve integrity and confidence in electoral outcomes; establish requirements in law for full results transparency, with data easily accessible to the public; considerably strengthen INEC’s organisational and operational capacity as well as its internal communication.
It also recommended that the inter-agency bodies responsible for electoral security should work more transparently and inclusively, with regular consultations with political parties and civil society, to introduce a legal requirement for political parties to have a minimum representation of women among candidates.
The EU also suggested that electoral tribunals should cover pre-election cases in order to improve access to remedy as well as avoid petitions being taken to different courts at the same time. It suggested reform of the licensing system for the broadcast media to provide for media pluralism and diversity in all the states.
The report was, however, silent on whether or not it observed how election results were communicated to INEC headquarters. It said this was an internal affair of the election body.
Meanwhile, the Presidency said EU’s invitation to observe the 2019 elections was an indication of the Buhari administration’s good intentions, commitment to a democratic process, and desire to improve elections. The president’s spokesman also observed that the EU noted in its report that there were improvements from previous elections, although more work needed to be done. It statement added that the Buhari administration would work with all Nigerian citizens, state institutions, parties, civil society, the media and other experts to make sure that the improvements recommended by the EU were implemented, and areas of concern were addressed.
The statement added, “It is noteworthy that INEC is in receipt of a number of recommendations that form a part of the EU report.
“The Presidency assures that the Commission is in safe hands and happy that they are currently engaged in root and branch reviews of the 2019 general elections and will input lessons learned into its recommendations for electoral and constitutional reforms.
“We believe that the commission conducted a good election and will continue to improve on its processes and procedures.
“While it is regretted that the elections in a few parts of the country witnessed some violence, among other shortcomings highlighted by the EU, we note however that none of these hitches affected the overall outcome of the elections.
“Thankfully, EU did not question the results of the presidential election. This is further proof that the polls reflected the overall will of Nigerians, and that the world is solidly behind the election of President Buhari for a second term.”