•Says Nigeria needs fundamental electoral reforms
•Report dodgy, not definitive, says Keyamo
The European Union Election Observation Mission (EUEOM) has scored the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) low on the conduct of the 2019 General Elections, saying there were insufficient checks and lack of transparency in the result process.
The verdict came yesterday as the Chief Election Observer of the EUEOM, Ms Maria Arena, unveiled the final report of the mission on the election in Abuja.
Arena, who presented the 106-page report at a news conference, said that the elections were characterised by severe operational and transparency shortcomings as well as security challenges. She said the challenges were such that Nigeria should embark on fundamental reforms of her electoral process ahead of the 2023 General Elections. She acknowledged that while INEC worked in a difficult environment and made some improvements, such as simplifying voting procedures, there were still a lot of operational deficiencies.
“There were insufficient checks and transparency in the result process, as well as a general lack of public communication and information.
“While the legal framework broadly provides for democratic elections and some improvements were made in the Constitution, various legal shortcomings remained in relation to the use of smart card readers. “There was abuse of the power of incumbency at the federal and state levels in terms of the use of the media for campaign messages. Except for the federal radio, state media served primarily the interest of the president or governor at the state level,” she said.
The election monitoring group said that though the elections were competitive as the political parties were able to campaign freely, the leading political parties failed in not reining in their members and supporters who were engaged in acts of violence and intimidation. According to her the security challenges were so severe that it did not just result in poor voter turnout in some locations but claimed the lives of no fewer than 150 people.
“The elections became increasingly marred by violence and intimidation with the role of the security agencies becoming more contentious as the process progressed. This damaged the integrity of the electoral process and may deter future participation.
“Journalists were subjected to harassment and scrutiny of the electoral process was at times compromised with some independent observers being obstructed in their work even by security agencies. During collation of the federal results, EU Observers directly witnessed or received reports of intimidation of INEC officials in 20 states,” she said.
The EUEOM also frowned at the controversial suspension of the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, by the President a few weeks before the election, adding that the action appeared to have undermined judicial independence in the country. Other issues highlighted in the report include the series of conflicting orders dished out by the courts on electoral disputes and the late rulings on pre-election issues which undermined opportunity for remedy and created uncertainty; the dysfunctional regulation of political campaign finances; low level of prosecution of electoral offenders and the declining number of women in elective positions.
The EUEOM made a total of 30 recommendations on how Nigeria can improve her electoral system.
Among these recommendations are the need to: strengthen INEC procedures for the collation of results to improve integrity and confidence in the electoral outcomes; establishment of the required law to ensure full results transparency, with data easily accessible to the public; strengthening organisational and operational capacity as well as its internal communication and reform the licensing system for the broadcast media to provide for media pluralism and diversity in all states of Nigeria.
Meanwhile, Director of Strategic Communications of the APC Presidential Campaign Council, Mr Festus Keyamo has faulted the EUEOM report on the grounds that it made insinuations that the result process was shrouded in secrecy. Keyamo, who spoke on the side-lines of the report’s presentation, said the process of result collation was in line with the Electoral Act, adding that the law made provision for the pasting of the results at every polling unit.
“There are aspects of the report that are not definitive enough. For instance, if they say the result collation process is not transparent enough, I expect them to be very clear as to what they expect to happen over and above or beyond what we have in the Electoral Act presently. I can see that they expect that result from each unit is made known and published; however, you can see that the Electoral Act allows for the Form EC8A from each of the polling units to be given to agents of the political parties. “They did agree that those results came from agents of the political parties; they did not see any place where party agents were denied copies of Form EC8As.
Again, the Electoral Act allows for the Form EC8A to be pasted at each polling unit. Pasting is publication if you don’t know. So this Form EC8A was published in each of the polling units, so I don’t want Nigerians to go away with the impression that those results from each polling unit were not published.
“The only thing that I may agree with their report is that they want it to be centrally published on INEC website. I do agree but there is no mechanism to automatically publish it now because there is no provision for automatic electronic transmission of results and this is the crux of this election.
“There is no provision for that and I expected them to talk about that a lot on their recommendation. They should have dwelt on the crux of our election now which is electronic transmission.
They know that that system collapsed in Kenya so we should not be quick to jump and follow the world when we know that technologically we are not ripe for that yet. “As for us, we knew that the opposition was only banking on that; we knew they were just banking on waiting in Abuja, hacking into a server if it is available, planting a result and declaring a winner.
“But it didn’t work out that way because there must be state by state collation of results,” he said. Keyamo also accused the EUEOM of not being definitive in its criticism of the 2019 Elections. He said that the report ought to have been clear about the issue of more of result transmission as that was the crux of the matter. “Secondly and most importantly, the EUEOM failed to discuss the report of other observers.
These were local observers, regional and continental observers, who came to the conclusion that despite these hiccups here and there, the results reflected the wishes of the generality of Nigerians. “If you are an observer, you must be definitive in your report. There is no need being dodgy about it because we have 120,000 polling units across the country.
In all the reports, I don’t think they discussed more than too polling units,” Keyamo said.
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