Observers’ Reports on 2019 Elections – Thisday

There is need for fundamental reforms in order to restore integrity to the polls

After two decades of uninterrupted democracy, the challenge of holding free, fair and credible elections in the country is still overwhelming. This much was underlined by the recent damning reports of international observers who monitored the 2019 general election in Nigeria. Both the final reports of the European Union Election Observation Mission and that of the National Democratic Institute bear worrying resemblance to the challenge: that the elections fell far below expectations. The same conclusion was reached by the report of the International Republican Institute (IRI).

The EU, which had been part of the country’s democratic process since 1999, said in its report that except in few instances “systemic failings seen in the elections… show the need for fundamental electoral reforms.” The EU chief observer, Ms Maria Arena, added: “This needs to be urgently undertaken to allow time for debate, legislative changes and implementation well in advance of the next elections.” Similarly, both the NDI and IRI noted in their reports that the elections were weighed down by violence and intimidation amid other administrative challenges.

The IRI President, Mr Daniel Twining said the elections “fell significantly short of the standard set in 2015” while admonishing that “election stakeholders should take concrete steps to address the concerns of citizens regarding the polls in order to rekindle their faith in the power and possibility of credible elections.” His NDI colleague, Mr Derek Mitchell also observed, among other things, that party agents overstepped their bounds while security agencies, particularly the military, disrupted the polls in many areas, especially in Rivers State, adding that the elections highlighted “the need for a national conversation about the nation’s democracy.”

However, as disturbing and revealing as the reports are, they merely confirmed what is obvious and had been trending in the polity about the operational inefficiencies, flagrant partisanship of security agencies and lack of transparency during the exercise. In an earlier editorial, this newspaper underscored the fact that the 2019 general election was defined by violence and other irregularities. Even the re-elected President Muhammadu Buhari was courageous enough to admit that there were problems with the poll. “Election is not war, and should never be seen as a do or die affair,” he said.

Indeed, the elections were marred in some states by outright brigandage, abduction of election officials, card malfunctions, burning of election materials, vote-buying, ballot-stuffing and snatching, voter intimidation and low turnout and shooting to death of some innocent citizens. In Lagos, Rivers and many other states, security agents, aided by thugs, invaded some polling centres, disrupted the process, manhandled voters, destroyed and burnt electoral materials. Even though the military authorities tried to deflect criticisms of its role by recently absolving its men of blame, the post-election statement by INEC and reports of foreign observers have confirmed the culpability of security agents in the malpractices that occurred in some states of the country.

As we have canvassed in the past, we welcome the need for some fundamental reforms in the polity in order to restore integrity to our polls. We are worried about the resort to violence and impunity in the name of elections especially when there is really no evidence that the interest of the downtrodden is being served. We wholeheartedly endorse the need for better data management and transparent conduct of elections as it will certainly shore up confidence in the electoral process. We also agree that the military should be kept away from our elections.

The purpose of democracy is to afford the people the opportunity to choose their leaders and subsequently participate in the way they are governed. The basic way this is done is through the ballot box. We therefore agree with the recommendation that INEC should update its data management and communication process “to ensure that information about the election process and results are shared with the public promptly and transparently,” while also ensuring “clear procedures for the transmission of results from the polling unit directly to its headquarters in Abuja or the state INEC office.”
The controversy over the use of server in the last election would have been unnecessary if these measures were in place.

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