The Nigerian military and the State Security Services (SSS, also called DSS) were used for electoral malpractice and voter intimidation in 2019 general elections, a United States government report has stated.
The military and the SSS report to the president, with President Muhammadu Buhari winning re-election in 2019 and his party winning majority seats in the National Assembly.
The report released on Wednesday, titled ”2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices in Nigeria,” said there is evidence that the security agencies intimidated voters, election observers, and INEC officials, particularly in the southern part of the country.
”The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is the independent electoral body responsible for overseeing elections by regulating the process and preventing electoral misconduct.
”During the year INEC conducted the presidential election, National Assembly elections, State House Assembly elections, and local elections in all 36 states plus the FCT, as well as gubernatorial elections in 30 states.
”There was evidence military and security services intimidated voters, electoral officials, and election observers. In addition violence in several states contributed to lower voter participation and added to the sentiment the army is a tool of the ruling party in many parts of the country, particularly in the South.
”For example, widespread violence and military involvement in electoral processes, including during the vote collation process, significantly scarred the governorship election in Rivers State.
”Additionally several of INEC’s resident electoral commissioners (RECs) reported DSS operatives intimidated them when the RECs attempted to protect voting materials. Some RECs reported security service personnel visited them multiple times prior to the elections.
”Press reported certain RECs claimed the DSS was surveilling the RECs and that they had been brought to DSS offices for questioning,” the report read.
INEC conducted the presidential and National Assembly elections on February 23, while governorship and state assembly elections were held on March 9.
Supplementary elections in five states were also held in March.
The U.S government also said there was a widespread perception that the judiciary is corrupt and intimidated by the executive and legislative branches, making it difficult for it to function independently.
“There was a widespread public perception that judges were easily bribed and litigants could not rely on the courts to render impartial judgments.
“The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary in civil matters, but the executive and legislative branches, as well as business interests, exerted influence and pressure in civil cases. Official corruption and lack of will to implement court decisions also interfered with due process.”
The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) in June last year had identified the suspension of the former Chief Justice Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, by President Muhammadu Buhari days to the election ”as seen to lack due process and reportedly undermined judicial independence.”
It also spoke on the impact of the initial postponement of the elections.
”Severe operational shortcomings resulted in the elections being postponed by a week just five hours before polling was due to start on 16 February, the EU had said.
The U.S. government said the last general election recorded a historically high level of vote-buying in Nigerian elections.
It said the menace was apparent in the re-run Osun elections in September 2018, and the Kano gubernatorial elections on March 8, 2019.
”There were reports that corruption including vote-buying were historically high during the 2018-19 electoral season. Examples of vote-buying were apparent in the re-run of the Osun gubernatorial election in September 2018, and during the Kano gubernatorial election on March 9,” the report said.
International and local observers had raised concerns at the roles of government institutions who participated in the elections that resulted in a high level of voter intimidation in both elections.
YIAGA Africa, a local election observer group, through its Watching The Vote (WTV), described the Osun polls that brought in Adegboyega Oyetola of the ruling APC in Osun State as fraudulent and anti-democratic.
INEC fixed the re-run for September 27, 2018, after declaring the election inconclusive when it held on September 22. Ademola Adeleke, the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, scored 254,698 votes to beat Mr Oyetola, APC who polled 254,345 votes.
For the Kano elections, the E. Mission had identified various levels of violence and voter initiation in many parts of the state. It also accused both INEC and security agencies of doing little to address the violence that characterised the Kano elections.
Vote buying is a practice of inducing voters to make them vote for a particular candidate during an election.
According to a survey conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the South-south region of Nigeria had the highest prevalence of vote-buying during the 2019 national elections, which also showed people with formal education were more involved in the problem.