AU, EU, other foreign observers speak on Saturday’s elections

International observation mission press conference.
International observation mission press conference.

Five international election observation missions to Nigeria on Monday in Abuja presented their assessments of the just concluded presidential and National Assembly elections.

The observation missions are of the African Union (AU), International Republican Institute/National Democratic Institute (NDI) and Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA).

The others are the Commonwealth and the European Union Observation Mission (EU EOM).

In separate conferences which lasted an hour each, the foreign missions explained that the report was an initial statement on the elections as final collations and announcement of results were still ongoing.

In its report, the EU EOM commended the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the conduct of the elections. It said the electoral commission made a number of improvements since 2015, including continuous accreditation and voting.

The mission’s Chief Observer, Maria Arena, however, said there was only limited opportunity for Nigeria’s Internally Displaced Persons persons to vote.

While stating that the initial postponement of the elections showed serious difficulties with INEC’s operations, she said many polling units opened very late on election day.

“On election day, the majority of polling units opened extremely late, leaving voters waiting for hours uncertain of when voting would begin.

“The delay, due to a lack of materials, was compounded by an absence of public information from INEC about what was happening and whether closing time would be extended. As a result, there was confusion and we observed that some people were put off from voting,” she said.

Ms Arena said the mission’s monitoring media found out that federal government-owned radio as well as leading commercial broadcasters at the national and regional levels, divided airtime between the main parties, APC and PDP.

“This left little space for smaller parties. There was clear partisan programming by the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), state-run media and local commercial radio stations owned by politicians.

“With the exception of a few states, voters had limited access to diverse and factual information on which to make an informed choice,” she explained.

She called for more transparency and better communication during the whole process with political parties, civil society, the media and the citizens.

In its findings, the AU observed that the political space has significantly broadened, as evidenced by the high number of registered voters, political parties and candidates who took part in the elections.

It said despite some reports of election-related violence, deaths and intimidation, the overall political climate remained largely peaceful and conducive for the conduct of democratic elections.

The mission regretted that key electoral reforms proposed after the 2015 elections were still not passed into law. It, however, commended the Nigerian Government for the passage of the Not Too Young To Run Act

The AU also commended the fact that the 2019 elections were internally driven, and largely funded by the Federal Government of Nigeria.

It also recognised efforts by the INEC, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and other stakeholders to increase participation of women, youth and persons with disability (PWDs) in the electoral process.

“In particular, it notes that women and youth recorded a high number of registered voters, 47.14 per cent for women and 51.1 per cent for youth, which is a notable increase compared to the 2015 elections.

“While there was a slight increase in the number of women presidential candidates, overall, women’s participation as candidates remains low. For instance, of the 73 presidential candidates, only three were women two of whom withdrew their candidature.

“Concerning youth, the AUEOM observed that several young people were recruited as candidates and polling staff. This demonstrates a commendable level of youth mobilization for political participation.”

It commended CSOs like YIAGA AFRICA, the Women Situation Room (WSR) and the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) as it said the active involvement of these organisations helped to raise awareness among voters and reinforced the transparency and credibility of the electoral process.

Noting that although there were reports of bomb blasts and election violence in some parts of the country, the AU said the collaborative relationship between INEC and the lnter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) contributed to the generally peaceful elections.

For closing and counting, it said “38 per cent of the voting points observed did not close at 2 p.m due to late opening. Voters on the queue at closing time were allowed to vote.”

While calling on political parties and candidates to adhere to the two peace accords signed in December 2018 and February 2019, it encouraged them to use the legal instruments at their disposal to seek redress in case of any grievances over the election results.

It urged INEC to address the consistent postponement of elections as well as strengthen the capacity of polling staff through training on assisting voters, counting and other electoral procedures.

It called on Nigerians and other stakeholders to act responsibly in the use of social media and refrain from disseminating false information on the elections, particularly the results.

The IRI in a joint conference with NDI stated that it is the people of Nigeria who will determine the credibility of the elections and urged political parties and candidates to cooperate in good faith with INEC

In his statement, the African Regional Director, IRI, said the failure to enact the amended Electoral Act was a missed opportunity for codifying recent improvements in election processes.

He also said the absence of internal democracy within political parties continues to hinder women and youth from rising within their ranks and running as candidates for elected office and the last-minute delay of the presidential and legislative elections in the early hours of election day on February 16 also contributed to voter apathy and the lowering of confidence in the election commission.

For electoral improvements since 2015, he mentioned advances for youth, women and persons with disabilities, consolidation of electoral advances and Nigerian-led initiatives to support credible elections.

He said the persisting challenges include weak internal democracy within political parties, unfulfilled promises of electoral reform, slow resolution of election disputes, multiple sources of insecurity, hate speech, disinformation and last minute postponement of elections.

The NDI President, Derek Mitchell, urged the federal government to ensure adequate security to support and protect INEC deployment and voter engagement as the governorship election approaches.

He called on INEC to intensify communication and outreach to the Nigerian public and relevant stakeholders in the electoral process as well as improve plans for distribution of sensitive materials.

“To political candidates, respect the rule of law and call on supporters to remain peaceful. Refrain from disseminating false information and channel electoral complaints through the established legal process.

“To security agencies, maintain the highest level of professionalism and work with INEC to investigate electoral offences and take appropriate measures to sanction offenders,” he said.

EISA, whose election observations were not different from the others, gave recommendations to security agents and INEC.

Rupiah Bandah, former President of the Republic of Zambia and mission leader of EISA, urged the electoral commission to investigate the incidences of the fire outbreaks at INEC facilities and account on the cause of the fire.

He also urged the agents to provide maximum security for election materials in transit as well as investigate incidents of violence reported on election day.

“To INEC, provide welfare for polling officials and ad-hoc staff before and during the election day and conduct refresher training of all the elections staff.

“Provide copies of training manuals to all polling units for easy reference. Introduce a process of sorting ballots before counting in a systematic way and train queue controllers in all polling units to contribute to the orderliness of the process,” he said.

Jakaya Kikwete, former president of United Republic of Tanzania and Chairperson of the Commonwealth observer group, like others, decried the delay in distribution of materials and late opening of polls on election day.

He also said his mission observed problems with the Smart Card Readers and that many polling officials, security staff and other essential workers were unable to vote and were, therefore, disenfranchised.

Impressed by the hard work and dedication of polling staff, he noted that many would have benefitted from more comprehensive training in polling procedures.

“During sorting and counting, the determination of invalid votes was often vigorously contested by party agents and members of the public due to lack of understanding as to what constituted an invalid vote.

“This was a highly contested election. There was a significant increase in the number of political parties and presidential candidates although in practice the campaign was dominated by the two major parties,” he said.

While noting some progress in increasing women’s political participation in all elective offices, he commended the role played by the media in covering the elections.

The presidential and National Assembly elections held on Saturday. While the winners of some senatorial districts and federal constituencies have been announced, collations are still on-going in some parts of the country.

The winner of the presidential election is also yet to be announced.

The governorship and house of assembly elections are scheduled for Saturday, March 9.

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