By Saheed Adeleke.
The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM), which observed the 2019 General Elections in Nigeria has said that the systemic failings evident in the elections and the low levels of voter participation show the need for fundamental reform in the country’s electoral system.
The Mission stated this among other recommendations in its’ final reports released in Abuja a few hours ago.
The 106-pages reports covers a range of issues among which are Election Administration, Voter Registration, Parties, Primaries and Registration of candidates, Campaign, Political Finance, Media, Digital Communication, and Electoral Security.
The EU EOM observed that 2019 general elections were “marked by severe operational and transparency shortcomings, electoral security problems, and low turnout.”
On the positive side the Mission noted that “the elections were competitive,” adding that “parties were overall able to campaign and civil society enhanced accountability.”
“The last-minute postponement of the elections put an undue burden on voters, results’ collation procedures were not sufficiently robust, and inadequate information was provided to the public” noted the Mission.
The EU EOM added that Fatalities escalated and the role of security agencies became increasingly contentious. “The leading parties were at fault in not reining in acts of violence and intimidation by supporters, and in abusing incumbency at federal and state levels.”
According to the Final EU EOM report, state media to the fullest serve the interest of President or the governor at state level except for Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN). It added that Journalists were subject to harassment, and scrutiny of the electoral process was at times compromised with some independent observers obstructed in their work, including by security agencies.
Among other observations of the Mission was that “the suspension of the chief justice of Nigeria by the president a few weeks before the elections was seen to lack due process and reportedly undermined judicial independence.”
Rapping things up in its’ first summary, the EU body noted that there was a decline in the number of women elected, and that these systemic failings show the need for fundamental reform so that future elections better serve the interests of the Nigerian people.
The EU EOM underscored the fact that without the reform, “there is a risk of unaccountable leadership and citizen disengagement.” It stressed that such reform requires principled political leadership committed to the rights of Nigerian citizens and an inclusive process of national dialogue involving state institutions, parties, civil society, the media and other experts. This needs to be urgently undertaken to allow time for debate, legislative changes and implementation well in advance of the next elections.
The EU EOM in the released report further has 30 recommendations for improving elections in Nigeria.
The recommendations include that which says “INEC procedures for the collation of results be elaborated and strengthened to improve integrity and confidence in electoral outcomes. Detailed INEC procedures be developed that provide for public scrutiny in dealing with irregularities and anomalies on results forms at all levels. Double entry of data and computerised checks be undertaken to avoid numerical errors.”
“Legal requirements be established for full results transparency, with data easily accessible to the public. All results, including those from lower levels, be immediately displayed at collation centres. Results forms from all collation centres be scanned and published on the INEC website by the time of the declaration of final results. Results forms from all polling units be published before the deadline for submission of petitions against declared results.”
Also another recommendation by the EU EOM is that “Organisational and operational capacity within INEC be considerably strengthened. Improve planning, tracking, and the required human and material resources needed for timely and accountable operations. In addition, improve internal communication within INEC.”
Stressing the fact that the EU EOM is an independent body from the European Union institutions, and that the report does not represent the official position of the European Union, the Mission equally wants inter-agency body responsible for electoral security in the country to work more transparently and inclusively with regular consultations with political parties and civil society. It stressed that “Security arrangements, general principles for rules of engagement, updates, and complaints mechanisms be made public. Clear delineation of the operational roles of different security agencies be established, with the military only involved at the request of INEC.”
According to the EU EOM, “Given that it is only possible to run for office through a party,” the country should introduce a legal requirement for political parties to have a minimum representation of women among candidates. It added that “Noncompliance be sanctioned with proportionate and deterrent penalties.” While “parties be required to have policies and provide regular information on the promotion of women’s political participation within parties, as candidates, and more widely.”
Another recommendation by the Mission has it that “to improve access to remedy and avoid petitions being taken to different courts at the same time, electoral tribunals be extended to also cover pre-election cases. Judicial capacity be increased through the appointment of more judges, training on election-related matters and improved case management mechanisms.”
Last of the seven topmost recommendation of the EU EOM is for Nigeria to “Reform the licensing system for broadcast media to provide for pluralism and diversity in all states. Ownership structures be publicised, powers to grant licences be vested in the National Broadcasting Commission without presidential approval, and licence fees be tailored to the economic circumstances in each state.”
The EU EOM was deployed by the European Union to observe the general elections following an invitation from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The EU EOM said it was present in Nigeria from 5 January until 7 April 2019.
Among the mission’s mandate was to observe all aspects of the electoral process and assess the extent to which the elections complied with regional and international commitments for elections, as well as with national legislation.