The European Union Election Observation Mission to Nigeria for the March 2019 Presidential, National Assembly and Governorship elections has picked holes with the conduct of the 2019 polls, noting that the process was marred by irregularities, violence, and intimidation, even as it noted that 150 people were killed in the process.
The EU Mission which released its final report on the polls on Saturday in Abuja, emphasized that it was was marred by incumbency factor in the presidential and governorship elections.
The report said the suspension of the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, few weeks to the election was without due process and an intimidation of the judicial independence.
The Chief Observer of the mission, Maria Arena, said from cross references, it was noted that 150 people were killed during the election.
“The elections became increasingly marred by violence and intimidation, with the role of the security agencies becoming more contentious as the process progressed,” the report stated.
The Mission made recommendations on 30 areas where improvements should be made in subsequent elections, noting that, “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.”
Arena said the reforms need to be undertaken urgently to enable legislative debate and implementation.
“This needs to be urgently undertaken to allow time for debate, legislative changes and implementation well in advance of the next elections,” she said.
“Overall, the elections were marked by severe operational and transparency shortcomings, electoral security problems and low turnout.
“Positively, however, the elections were competitive, parties were able to campaign and civil society enhanced accountability.”
The report also pointed out that, except for federal radio, state media primarily served the interests of the president or the governor at state level and that journalists were harassed by state actors.
“Journalists were subject to harassment, and scrutiny of the electoral process was at times compromised with some independent observers being obstructed in their work, including by security agencies”.
The EU EOM noted that INEC worked in a difficult environment and made some improvements, such as simplifying voting procedures, but added that the considerable weaknesses remained.
“Operational deficiencies led to the postponement of the elections, there were insufficient checks and transparency in the results process, as well as a general lack of public communication and information.
“The EU EOM reported that this damaged the integrity of the electoral process and may deter future participation. During collation of the federal results, EU observers directly witnessed or received reports of intimidation of INEC
officials in 20 states. While the legal framework broadly provides for democratic elections and some improvements were made to the Constitution, various legal shortcomings remained, including in relation to the use of smart card readers.
“The EU EOM also noted the suspension of the chief justice by the president a few weeks before the elections, which it said was seen to lack due process and reportedly undermined judicial independence.
“Other issues highlighted in the report include: conflicting and late rulings on electoral disputes that undermined opportunity for remedy and created uncertainty; the dysfunctional regulation of political finance; very few electoral offences resulting in arrest or prosecution; problems with the collection of permanent voter cards; and the further fall in the number of women elected.
“Positively, however, the report noted that parties and candidates were able to campaign, with freedoms of assembly, expression and movement largely respected. The EU EOM also emphasised the effective role played by civil society organisations in promoting election reform and positively contributing to the accountability of the process.”
While the report prioritised seven areas that should be looked into urgently. These include: “strengthen INEC procedures for the collation of results to improve integrity and confidence in electoral outcomes; establish requirements in law for full results transparency, with data easily accessible to the public; Considerably strengthen INEC’s organisational and operational capacity, as well as its internal communication; the inter-agency body responsible for electoral security to work more transparently and inclusively, with regular consultations with political parties and civil society; introduce a legal requirement for political parties to have a minimum representation of women among candidates; electoral tribunals to also cover pre-election cases in order to improve access to remedy and to avoid petitions being taken to different courts at the same time and; reform the licensing system for the broadcast media to provide for media pluralism and diversity in all of Nigeria’s states.