‘INEC’s Neutrality Questionable’ — 10 Highlights of EU Report on 2019 Polls
The European Union Election Observation Mission to Nigeria on Saturday released the final report gathered from its observation of the 2019 general election.
The report highlighted a number of issues regarding the polls and gave 30 recommendations to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The mission, which had in its preliminary report released in April, adjudged the polls as characterised by violence, underage voting, and vote-buying, however, said the election recorded some improvements compared to past ones.
“The systemic failings evident in the elections and the low levels of voter participation show the need for fundamental reform,” it read.
“Without this, there is a risk of unaccountable leadership and citizen disengagement. Such reform requires principled political leadership committed to the rights of Nigerian citizens and an inclusive process of national dialogue involving state institutions, parties, civil society, the media and other experts.
“This needs to be urgently undertaken to allow time for debate, legislative changes and implementation well in advance of the next elections.”
Below are some of the highlights from the report:
INEC RECORDED IMPROVEMENT
“The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) worked in a complex security and politically-charged environment, with its premises and officials subject to physical attacks and intimidation,” it read.
“INEC made a number of improvements, including making electoral participation more accessible through simplified voting procedures. INEC made efforts to strengthen electoral integrity by issuing regulations making smart card readers mandatory to accredit voters, but there were insufficient accompanying transparency measures.
“Other procedural weaknesses continued, including in regards to checks and transparency in the results process. Severe operational shortcomings resulted in the elections being postponed by a week just five hours before polling was due to start on 16 February.”
LACK OF TRANSPARENCY
The report said the 2019 polls recorded transparency issues even though it was highly competitive.
“Nigeria’s 2019 general elections were marked by severe operational and transparency shortcomings, electoral security problems, and low turnout. Positively, the elections were competitive, parties were overall able to campaign and civil society enhanced accountability,” it read.
“The leading parties were at fault in not reining in acts of violence and intimidation by supporters, and in abusing incumbency at federal and state levels.”
LESSER WOMEN PARTICIPATION
The EOM decried the decreasing participation of women in electoral positions.
“Nigeria has the lowest rate of women in parliament in Africa, with the number progressively decreasing since 2011,” it said.
“The number of women elected fell again. These systemic failings show the need for fundamental reform so elections better serve the interests of the Nigerian people.
“The proportion of women elected is well below the 30 per cent Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the 35 per cent national targets. 203 Similarly, the proportion of female candidates for national and state-level elections generally reduced in comparison to 2015 by an average of two percentage points to 10 per cent”
SUSPENSION OF CJN ‘QUESTIONABLE’
It said the suspension of Walter Onnoghen, former chief justice of Nigeria, is questionable, adding that due process was not followed.
“It was seen by many as undermining the security of tenure, damaging judicial independence and compromising the division of powers. The suspension did not follow due process, was divisive, and undermined confidence in the electoral process and opportunity for remedy.
“The mission observed that questionable procedures were followed by the Code of Conduct Tribunal. The removal of the chief justice of Nigeria during the elections had an inhibiting effect on the judiciary.
“Very few electoral offences result in arrest or prosecution, and thus there is an enduring culture of impunity.”
OVER 100 ELECTION-RELATED DEATHS
Violence was recorded across some states, including Lagos and Delta during the polls, leading to loss of lives and property.
“The elections became increasingly marred by violence and intimidation. This harmed the integrity of the electoral process and may deter future participation. Based on information available, around 150 people died in election-related violence during the campaign period and over the election days.
“Approximately 145 people were killed in election-related violence, 84 of which were in the South-South zone. This is a comparable figure to the 2015 general elections.
“However, exact numbers of incidents and fatalities are hard to obtain and there are different views on what is categorised as electoral and political violence.”
INEC’s CREDIBILITY QUESTIONABLE
“INEC’s neutrality and ability to withstand political pressure was increasingly questioned, particularly following the September 2018 off-cycle governorship election in Osun,” it said.
“INEC operated in a highly politically-charged and complex security environment. Its officials and premises were subject to physical attack, including abductions and intimidation, and there were also difficulties with some inter-institutional arrangements.
“A number of procedural weaknesses identified by previous EU election observation missions remained unaddressed, particularly regarding checks and transparency in the results process.”
According to the report, the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) was biased in its covering and reportage of the polls, adding that it gave preferential treatment to President Muhammadu Buhari.
“There was evident partisan programming by the NTA. The joint share of exposure for the president, the government and the APC was over 84 per cent.
“During the EU EOM’s 46-day monitoring period, President Buhari had two hours and eight minutes of direct speech within the news, while Atiku Abubakar had seven minutes,” it said.
“Except for federal radio, state media primarily served the interests of the president or the governor at state level.
However federal government-owned TV clearly favoured the president and the ruling party.”
FAKE NEWS FACTOR
“Disinformation (fake/false narratives) was a key focus of political discussion with concern about its impact on the 2019 elections and risk of violence.119 Government officials repeatedly alerted the public to the risk of disinformation. People affiliated with both major parties posted false partisan information online.”
GUBER POLL MORE ORDERLY THAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
It judged the gubernatorial election as more orderly than its presidential counterpart.
“Polling was more orderly and assessed more positively by EU observers in comparison to the 23 February election day.”
TRANSPARENT COUNTING OF BALLOT
“Overall, the counting of ballots was transparent. In 25 out of 28 observed polling units, results forms were filled in completely. But in 12 cases collation was assessed as bad or very bad. In most cases, results forms and smart card readers were not packed in tamper-evident envelopes when delivered to collation centres.”
Meanwhile, Mahmood Yakubu, INEC chairman, has promised to ensure the implementation of the recommendations.
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