In the last one week, the 2019 general election bounced back to the front burner of public discourse, especially with the release of the final reports of two international election observation groups that monitored the elections held earlier this year.
The first was the report of the European Union Election Observation Mission (EUEOM) which said that the elections were characterised by several operational and transparency shortcomings as well as security challenges. It scored the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) low on the conduct of the 2019 elections, saying there were also insufficient checks and lack of transparency in the result process. The EU Election Observers acknowledged that INEC worked in a difficult environment and made some improvements, such as simplifying voting procedures, but that there were still a lot of operational deficiencies.
Besides, the report said 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.
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 the report, 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 lives.
The second report which was released by the Joint Nigeria International Election Observation Mission of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) also gave a damming verdict on the 2019 elections. This time the report said that the both the conduct, process and outcome of the 2019 general election did not meet the expectations of many Nigerians.
The election observer mission said that the last-minute postponement of the presidential and National Assembly elections in the early hours of February 16 and delays in opening some polling units and other administrative challenges on February 23 undermined public confidence in INEC. It observed that for the March 9 gubernatorial and state House of Assembly elections, many serious irregularities occurred, including vote buying, intimidation of voters and election officials, and election-related violence.
The observers said that whereas Nigeria recorded appreciable improvements in 2011 and 2015 general elections, what transpired in 2019 “fell significantly short of the standards” and shook the confidence of citizens in the electoral process.
A deep study of both reports would reveal several similarities in their findings and conclusions. If one were to read in between the lines, one would find that the common string running through these reports is that Nigeria had a very bad outing in the 2019 general election.
As observers working within the ambit of international laws and protocols as well as respect for the laws and sovereignty of Nigeria, they have passed their otherwise, harsh verdicts in the finesse of diplomacy. It is left for us as Nigerians to use our tongue to count our teeth.
Both observation groups have recommended that Nigeria required fundamental electoral reforms if it must overcome the various shortcomings, deficiencies and hurdles inherent in the nation’s electoral process.
The EUEOM made 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.
Similarly, the IRI/NDI Joint Observation Mission made a number of recommendations designed to enhance the credibility of future elections in Nigeria. It, however, lamented that in previous years, similar suggestions for improvements of the electoral process in Nigeria by reputable citizens and international observation missions were seldom taken seriously by the government of our country.
We are glad that copies of these reports have been presented to INEC and to the leadership of the country at the highest levels. It is also heart-warming that the Electoral Management Body received these reports with a promise to study them and made amends where necessary. Similar promises have also been made by the Presidency and the National Assembly, two critical stakeholders whose roles are invaluable in terms of reforming the electoral process.
We urge the National Assembly, INEC and all other stakeholders in the electoral process to kick start the much-needed electoral reforms by insisting that President Muhammadu Buhari assents to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill already passed by the two chambers of the parliament.
Like the Nigeria Civil Society Organisations Situation Room said, we are not proud of the 2019 elections, and we cannot pretend that all is well simply because a group of people have, through the process, found their way to public offices. We must sanitize our elections and leadership recruitment processes if our democracy and governance systems must witness positive growth.
We cannot be celebrating two decades of uninterrupted democracy on the sidelines of a general election whose processes and outcomes have made us a laughing stock not only in Africa but across the world.
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