The European Union Election Observation Mission on Nigeria’s 2019 general election released its final report recently, with a verdict that the polls fell below standards. Without mincing words, it said “systemic failings” were evident, resulting in low level of voter-participation. These concerns justify the need for fundamental electoral reforms, the EU reasoned.
Other foreign groups such as the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute were no less critical in their own observations.
The report, which contains 30 recommendations, has been forwarded to the Independent National Electoral Commission and the leadership of the National Assembly, all of which vowed to act on it. The EU Chief Observer, Maria Arena, said seven recommendations out of the 30 were of utmost priority, including strengthening “INEC procedures for the collation of results to improve integrity and confidence in electoral outcomes.”
The EU mission had visited 223 polling units and 81 collation centres in 22 states during the elections that spanned presidential, National Assembly, governorship and state assembly polls, held on February 23 and March 9, 2019.
For future elections to stand the test of time, the EU group posited that legal requirements should be established for full results transparency; with data easily accessible to the public; procedure for the collation of results strengthened to improve integrity and confidence in the electoral outcome; inter-agency bodies responsible for electoral security works working more transparently with regular consultation with parties; and electoral tribunals extended to also cover pre-election cases.
Instructively, it recommended a separate institution to be set up to handle electoral offences with prosecutorial and investigative capacity.
These concerns are not new. In fact, they have dogged our elections since 1999, which led to a raft of electoral reform proposals that successive governments, however, decided to ignore. For instance, after the 2007 electoral debacle, which produced the late Umaru Yar’Adua as president, he humbly admitted that it was flawed and vowed to sanitise the process. This climaxed in the setting up of the Muhammadu Uwais-led electoral reforms committee. Thereafter, there were also the Ahmed Lemu Panel and Ken Nnamani Committee whose reports have been gathering dust since they were submitted in 2011 and 2017 respectively.
With Yar’Adua’s death, Goodluck Jonathan, who succeeded him, was indifferent to the implementation of the committee’s recommendations, especially establishing an electoral tribunal to try electoral offenders. Lack of this critical body has ensured a harvest of results falsification, wanton killings and maiming of political opponents, snatching and stuffing of ballot boxes during polls in the desperate bid by politicians to win. All this led to the death of 58 persons in the 2019 elections. In 2015, more than 160 people were killed in election-related violence, according to EU reports on these polls.
This do-or-die mentality bedevils elections here because of the obscene reward system and corruption that have become inexorably attached to public office. The N13.5 million each senator collects monthly as operational cost, the billions of naira some governors appropriate annually as security votes, never accounted for, and the budget racketeering at the National Assembly provide dismal insights. Until such offices are devoted to public service and made financially less attractive, the perverse order that governs every electoral contest will not fade soon.
However, the EU report serves as a wake-up call to President Muhammadu Buhari to demonstrate leadership and dredge Nigeria’s electoral swamp, which he too had been critical of. Regrettably, he declined his assent to amendments to the Electoral Act on the eve of the last elections to the dismay of many. The activities of electoral brigands who were unfazed by his seemingly martial order to security agencies to shoot anyone who might attempt to snatch ballot boxes in the last election were enough evidence that more work is needed to rein in those whose stock-in-trade is the subversion of the will of the people during elections.
Elections are now over. The President should, therefore, set the machinery in motion to reverse himself, having earlier urged the National Assembly “to specifically state in the bill that the Electoral Act will come into effect and be applicable to elections commencing after the 2019 General Election.” The rejected bill contained electronic collation of results, among other provisions, for greater transparency and integrity of the electoral process.
Much more is expected from the Chairman of INEC, Mahmood Yakubu, whose agency is statutorily saddled with the responsibility of organising, planning and conducting elections. He told the EU team that the commission under him takes its views seriously, citing the adoption of simultaneous accreditation and voting, trialled earlier in the Bayelsa State governorship election as one such example. Yakubu said, “Indeed, the report is coming at the right time as it will feed into our ongoing review of the conduct of the elections … the commission will again quickly focus attention on the electoral legal framework in addition to several other areas of reform.”
Tighter legal framework and strict enforcement of our laws are what INEC and the government need to do to end the charade and malevolence that define the contest for political power in the country. If the masterminds of the perfidy that later resulted in the court-staggered governorship elections in the seven states of Anambra, Bayelsa, Ondo, Ekiti, Edo, Kogi and Osun after the 2007 polls had been tamed in accordance with the law, malfeasance would probably have significantly reduced in subsequent polls.
The United States, the United Kingdom and other thriving democracies did not get to the stage they are now without the entrenchment of democratic ethos. Therefore, with a new Senate led by Ahmed Lawan and the Speaker, House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila — who promised to “shake the table” at his inauguration — now is the time to deepen the roots of our democracy through the instrumentality of legislation as both men promised the EU team.