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EU election observers’ report

From left: Press Officer, European Union Election Observation Mission Nigeria 2019 (EUEOM), Sarah Fradgley; Chief Observer, EUEOM, Maria Arena; and the Deputy Chief Observer, EUEOM, Hannah Roberts, during a news conference on the Governorship and House of Assembly Elections, in Abuja yesterday
From left: Press Officer, European Union Election Observation Mission Nigeria 2019 (EUEOM), Sarah Fradgley; Chief Observer, EUEOM, Maria Arena; and the Deputy Chief Observer, EUEOM, Hannah Roberts, during a news conference on the Governorship and House of Assembly Elections, in Abuja yesterday

Mixed reactions trailed the release last week of the final report of the Election Observation Mission [EOM] of the European Union to Nigeria for the 2019 general elections. The report, which covered the conduct of the Presidential and National Assembly elections on February 23 and the Governorship and State Assembly elections of March 2, was released to the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission [INEC] Professor Mahmoud Yakubu by Maria Arena, member of the European Parliament and the EU Chief Election Observer.

EOM deployed 91 observers for the presidential polls and 73 for the governorship elections while it deployed 20 observers for the supplementary elections. The report made many significant observations on the strengths and weaknesses of the country’s electoral system as well as 30 landmark recommendations on the way forward. Among the team’s observations were that there were widespread and systemic weaknesses in the country’s electoral landscape. According to the report, these systemic weaknesses as well as the low voter turnout in the elections call for many reform measures.

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Another important observation made by the EU observers is that INEC did not deploy a server for collation of results. The report specifically called for the strengthening of INECs procedures for the collation of results in order to improve integrity and confidence in electoral outcomes. Yet another recommendation was that electoral tribunals should resolve pre-election matters in order to improve access to remedies and avoid petitions on similar matters being treated in various courts at the same time thereby creating problems for the electoral system.

The EU report attracted different reactions from different quarters.  INEC Chairman Professor Mahmoud Yakubu hailed the report and promised that the country will implement the recommendations. In the same vein, the EOM commended INEC for implementing some of the recommendations over the conduct of the 2015 polls. Mr. Peter Obi, PDP’s vice presidential candidate in the last elections also said the report captured the reality with respect to the Nigerian electoral system. Spokesman for the ruling APC Festus Keyamo however picked holes in the report, saying it is superficial and not comprehensive in its coverage.

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The sum total of the EU observers’ submission was that this country’s 2019 general and presidential elections fell short of expectations. The EU observers were in Nigeria for many months and they observed many processes leading up to the polls, including media coverage, handling of affairs by political parties and handling of political issues by the courts and the government. For example, they criticized the suspension of Chief Justice of Nigeria Walter Onnoghen by the president and said it did not follow due process.

Many of the lapses observed by the EU observers had earlier been reported by local observers and by local news media.  Widespread cases of violence which resulted in loss of lives in Rivers State and other parts of the country marred the election in those parts of the country. The involvement of men in military outfits in attempts to rig the poll results was also decried in some areas; INEC in fact criticized the involvement of the military in the elections in Rivers State. The National Assembly even set up a committee to probe the involvement of the military in Rivers State, among others. The EU observers also criticized the failure to pass into law the amended Electoral Act. Of course the National Assembly passed the bill several times but President Buhari withheld assent, citing different reasons. Now that the polls are over, a new bill should be passed as soon as possible.

We urge INEC and the authorities to carefully examine the report and observations of the EU observers. Aspects of it that are found to be useful should be further studied and the problems taken care off before we enter the next election circle. Observations made by African Union, ECOWAS, Commonwealth and other observers should also be studied closely in order to improve our future elections.

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