At a point the question whether international observers were election monitors or mere observers became a subject of intense debate. However, three months after the election its processes and outcomes have become the subject of judicial interrogation.
Over and above the disagreements, members of the European Union Observer Mission, which was warned by a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) not to dictate to Nigerians how to conduct their elections, has come out with its report on the disputed election. The EU/OM report, coming at a time when controversy over the Independent National Election Commission’s (INEC’s) Server was at its crescendo, did not go down well with some stakeholders.
For instance, a civil rights group, International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law (Intersociety) picked holes on the report, saying that it left out a lot of missing points. While declaring its stand in a statement signed by its Board of Directors, Emeka Umeagbalasi, Chidimma Udegbunam and Chinwe Umeche, Intersociety said despite its thoroughness and validity, the EU Report “is not expected to be complete or full in its findings without missing some important points.”
Intersociety noted that for the report to earn full validity and credibility it must be subjected to the eight features of academic or intellectual discourse, including debate, scholarship, argument, constructive criticism, analysis, objectivity, and precision. While pointing out that the report noted that the governorship segment of the election was more hitch-free, open and fair than the presidential poll, the group said the report fails to say why the latter was so.
Consequently, Intersociety, blaming the chronic ethno-religious divisions in the country promoted by its present political leaders, pointed the following as the missing points in the EU report: “Underage voting, card reader failure, uneven use of card readers, possible non-card reader-generated results, motives behind the flawed 2019 polls, absence of electronic voting and use of electronic voting alongside manual voting.”
The group regretted that election monitoring/observation amounts to medicine after death, stressing that the likes of EU, NDI and IRI should expand their election observation or monitoring from election observation to electoral process monitoring or observation.
Intersociety further contended that a brand new constitution and continuous reformation of electoral politics happened to be “another very important area the EU Report omitted,” adding, “Nigeria is long overdue for comprehensive constitutional reforms.”
The group therefore called on the funding partners, including EU, U.S., Canada, among others, to ask the government of Nigeria to convoke a constitutional conference of all ethnic nationalities and other interest groups to birth a brand new constitution.
Lessons, politics of EU Report
THE report of the EU Observer Mission monitoring team on the 2019 general elections did not come as a shock to many, but its timing attracted the kind of varied reactions it generated. In most courts across the country, election matters are still dominating considerations and debate, just as in media and public space. This informed the kind of attention the report has attracted so far.
Reactions have equally demonstrated the deep political waters in which the report attempted to swim. But the key issues in the report remain very germane and instructive. Major political players, for instance, did not hesitate to express their views and opinions on the recommendations and suggestions o the report in the manner they believed affected them.
A political analyst who barred his mind on the issues raised in the EU Report submitted, “The EU team merely recounted issues already known by many in terms of the history of the country’s electoral practices. It is noteworthy to mention that since 1959, there is hardly an election that would go without serious incidences of irregularities and or bloodletting.”
The EU Report was another opportunity for the two major political parties to further trade words on the 2019 elections. While the ruling APC and the presidency viewed the report with some objections and caution, the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) felt vindicated.
To demonstrate its seriousness and commitment to improving Nigeria ‘s electoral practices and deleting all sorts of irregularities, the European Union took its report and recommendations not just to the political parties but to the president himself, on whose table all bills aimed at amending Nigeria’ s electoral laws would be placed. The 2018 Electoral Act Amendment Bill, which made serious adjustments to the electoral law is still awaiting the president’s accent.
And to cap it up, the EU Election Observer Mission, led by the EU Ambassador to Nigeria, Ketil Karlsen, took the report straight to Nigeria’s apex lawmaking body, the Senate, last week to seek immediate rejig of the electoral law. The EU Election Observation Mission did not waste time in pointing out to the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, that a lack of transparency and inconsistent numbers during the collation of results by INEC cast a long shadow over the integrity of the 2019 elections.
The recommendations contained in that report had further sent warning messages to Nigeria and Nigerians on the need to properly address germane issues so that Nigeria could be taken seriously among the comity of nations. The EU EOM final report on the 2019 elections as presented by the EU Chief Observer, Maria Arena, and her deputy, Hannah Roberts, pointed out a series of lapses and irregularities.
The report read in parts: “In almost all the 94 collation centres that the EU monitored, the results’ forms and smart card readers were not packed in tamper-evident envelopes as required.
“Numerical discrepancies and anomalies on polling unit results’ forms were identified and were mostly corrected by collation officers on the spot, but without a clear system of record-keeping.
“Leading parties were at fault in not reining in acts of violence and intimidation by their supporters, and abuse of incumbency at federal and state levels.
“Inconsistent numbers during collation, lack of clear checks and explanations, and insufficient public information undermined the integrity of the elections.
“Citizens did not have sufficient means to scrutinise results. INEC did not provide centralised information on the declared results for the different locations and has not posted complete results data on its website.
“Similarly, there is a lack of disaggregated results by local government, ward or polling unit, which would allow for thorough checking of results.”
The mission further observed that the discrepancies and insufficient public information were not in line with international standards for access to information and public accountability.
In its recommendations, the mission stressed the need to strengthen the procedures for the collation of results to improve integrity and confidence in electoral outcomes. It submitted that the systemic failings seen in the elections, and the relatively low levels of voter participation indicated the need for fundamental electoral reform.
It said, “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. This needs to be urgently undertaken to allow time for debate, legislative changes and implementation well in advance of the next elections.”
The team leader also said INEC should considerably strengthen its organisational and operational capacity as well as its internal communication, noting that the inter-agency body responsible for electoral security should work more transparently and inclusively with regular consultations with political parties and civil society. The mission said the seven areas of priorities for electoral reform included requirements in law for full results transparency with data easily accessible to the public.
It therefore called for the introduction of a legal requirement for parties to have a minimum representation of women among candidates, faulting the low number of female candidates for the polls.
“Election tribunals,” it added, “should cover pre-election cases in order to improve access to remedy and to avoid petitions being taken to different courts at the same time.”
In all, the EU EOM Report concluded that the elections were marked by severe operational and transparency shortcomings, security problems and low turnout, noting that “the elections were competitive, parties were able to campaign and civil society enhanced accountability. Leading parties were at fault in not reining in acts of violence and intimidation by their supporters, and abuse of incumbency at federal and state levels.”
APC was spontaneous in faulting the report as the spokesperson for the Buhari Campaign Organisation, Festus Keyamo, declared: “The result of the 2019 elections reflected the overall wishes of Nigerians. If you are an observer, you should come to a definitive conclusion; don’t be dodgy about it. Don’t run away from that fact because we have 120,000 polling units across the country and in all their report I don’t think they discussed at most 500 polling units.
“If you observed certain anomalies, it could not have been more than 500 or 1000 polling units and if you do observe anomalies in those polling units, how does that substantially affect results coming from 120,000 polling unit?
“So, it is not enough for you to discuss the anomalies; they must discuss the overall results coming from the entire country and whether it did reflect the wishes of the people. This is what we want to know because they have problems in the U.S. elections; there are problems in the EU and even U.K. elections.
“We need a detailed analysis to come to a definitive conclusion about the overall result of the election.”
Similarly, PDP expressed support for the EU Election report and described it as a reflection of the concerns raised against the elections by majority of Nigerians. According to a statement by PDP’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, the fresh revelation in the European Union (EU) report has further vindicated the party and millions of Nigerians, and confirmed that the February 23 Presidential election was rigged to favour President Muhammadu Buhari and APC.
The party noted that the revelations of manipulations as detailed in the EU Report further validated queries by most Nigerians that President Buhari was not validly returned for a second term in office.
According to PDP, “The world can now see that the PDP has not been crying wolf in insisting that the election was outrightly rigged with the cancellation of millions of PDP votes, alteration of results and allocation of fictitious votes to the APC.
“Nigerians are still in shock over the revelations by EU of how about 2.8 million votes were deliberately “cancelled without sufficient accountability” and how several returning officers gave no reason for the cancellations.
“More shocking is the iniquity committed at the national collation centre, headed by the INEC chairman, where the EU Report exposed inconsistent numbers, distortions and ‘a large discrepancy of 1.66 million more registered voters,’ as announced by INEC on 14 January, compared to those announced by state returning officers during the collation of presidential results.”
PDP maintained that the EU Report has further exposed the iniquity committed by the Prof. Mahmood Yakubu-led INEC by listing how ballot boxes were compromised, how essential materials were missing, how “voter register was not always ticked as required” and how “manual authentication procedures were not correctly followed.
“The report also bared how figures on result forms did not reconcile, how result forms were not publicly posted, how result forms and smart card readers were not packed in tamper-evident envelops as required in addition to how the APC administration used security forces to intimidate voters, aid violence against our members and muscled votes for the APC.”
The opposition party therefore commended the EU for the courage in exposing the evils committed by APC and INEC in the 2019 general elections, stressing that the report has further reinforced the confidence of millions of Nigerians “in our collective expectation of justice in the quest to retrieve our stolen Presidential mandate at the tribunal.”