The European Union (EU) Election Observation Mission to Nigeria has called for a reform of the nation’s electoral process ahead of the 2023 elections.
It stated that a lack of transparency and inconsistent numbers during the collation of results by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) cast a long shadow over the integrity of the 2019 elections.
It has, therefore, presented 30 recommendations on electoral reform to improve future elections in the country.
The EU EOM final report on the 2019 elections was presented by the EU Chief Observer, Maria Arena, and her deputy, Hannah Roberts, at a press conference in Abuja on Saturday.
The report read in part, “The EU observed 94 collation centres. In almost all, the results forms and smart card readers were not packed in tamper-evident envelopes as required.
“Numerical discrepancies and anomalies on polling unit results forms were identified and were mostly corrected by collation officers on the spot, but without a clear system of record-keeping.”
It added, “Leading parties were at fault in not reining in acts of violence and intimidation by their supporters, and abuse of incumbency at federal and state levels.”
“Inconsistent numbers during collation, “lack of clear checks and explanations, and insufficient public information undermined the integrity of the elections.
“Citizens did not have sufficient means to scrutinise results. INEC did not provide centralised information on the declared results for the different locations and has not posted complete results data on its website.
“Similarly, there is a lack of disaggregated results by local government, ward or polling unit, which would allow for thorough checking of results.”
The mission observed further that the discrepancies and the insufficient public information were not in line with international standards for access to information and public accountability.
It also noted that the citizens did not have sufficient means to scrutinise results, stressing that INEC did not provide centralised information on the declared results for the different elections.
The mission, in its recommendations, stressed the need to strengthen the procedures for the collation of results to improve integrity and confidence in electoral outcomes.
It submitted that the systemic failings seen in the elections, and the relatively low levels of voter participation, indicated the need for fundamental electoral reform.
Arena said, “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. This needs to be urgently undertaken to allow time for debate, legislative changes and implementation well in advance of the next elections.”
She also said INEC should considerably strengthen its organisational and operational capacity as well as its internal communication, noting that the inter-agency body responsible for electoral security should work more transparently and inclusively with regular consultations with political parties and civil society.
The mission said the seven areas of priorities for electoral reform included requirements in law for full results transparency with data easily accessible to the public.
The EU EOM also called for the introduction of a legal requirement for parties to have a minimum representation of women among candidates, faulting the low number of female candidates for the polls.
It further recommended that election tribunals should cover pre-election cases in order to improve access to remedy and to avoid petitions being taken to different courts at the same time.
Overall, the EU EOM concluded that the elections were marked by severe operational and transparency shortcomings, security problems and low turnout.
It added, “Positively, however, the elections were competitive, parties were able to campaign and civil society enhanced accountability. Leading parties were at fault in not reining in acts of violence and intimidation by their supporters, and abuse of incumbency at federal and state levels.”
Buhari will implement EU’s recommendations –Presidency
Meanwhile, the Presidency said on Saturday that President Muhammadu Buhari accepted the report of the European Union on the 2019 general elections, saying its recommendations would be implemented during the next elections.
The Presidency’s reaction was contained in a statement by Buhari’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mr Garba Shehu.
It observed that the EU reported “improvements” in the conduct of the elections, adding that, in spite of the setbacks recorded in some states, the overall results showed that the Independent National Electoral Commission did well.
Shehu stated, “The administration of President Buhari will 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 are implemented, and that these areas of concern are addressed.
“It is noteworthy that INEC is in receipt of a number of recommendations that form a part of the EU report.
“The Presidency assures Nigerians 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 good elections 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.”
We’ll make use of recommendations permissible by law – INEC
Also, INEC Director of Voter Education and Publicity, Osaze Oluwole-Uzezi, who claimed not to have seen the EU observers’ report, said they would implement the recommendations in accordance with Nigeria’s laws.
He said, “We can’t react to a report which we haven’t seen. We will, on receipt, study it and react appropriately. The recommendations, which we find suitable and within our purview and consistent with our laws, will be implemented accordingly while we will engage other stakeholders, including the National Assembly, to see about other desirable changes to the process.”
Our members were harassed, maimed, killed, PDP alleges
Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party has said it is not among the major parties indicted by the report for allegedly not preventing their members from perpetrating violence during the last elections.
Rather, the party said it went round the country during preaching love and peace, but that its members were maimed, killed and harassed during the elections while the security agencies refused to act.
It said that the situation in Rivers and Kano states wes worse because the All Progressives Congress allegedly colluded with the security officials to molest members of the PDP.
National Chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus, who spoke with one of our correspondents on Saturday, argued that that it was wrong to say that the former ruling party was not concerned about a peaceful conduct of the elections.
He said, “The world watched what happened to our members during the last general elections. We campaigned, preached peace and love. But what did we get in return?
“The Independent National Electoral Commission colluded with the APC and the security officials to deny us victory in many states. Officials of the commission and security officials looked the other way while our members were being harassed, molested or even killed.
“Members of the APC were seen on camera, seizing electoral materials in states like Kano, Lagos and Rivers. What did the security officials do? They looked the other way.
“That is why 2019 elections will go into record as one of the worst elections to be conducted in the history of Nigeria.”