In less than a week, two International Election Observation Missions that monitored the last general elections in Nigeria presented their final reports which contain information on the conduct of the polls.
Both the report of the European Union (EU) Election Observation Mission, and that of the joint Nigeria International Election Observation Mission of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) said that the elections fell short of expectation. This is in line with the current outrage among the political class over the systemic failings seen in the elections, and the relatively low levels of voter turnout.
Specifically, the EU EOM concluded the elections were marked by severe operational and transparency shortcomings, electoral security problems and low turnout. It said the elections became increasingly marred by violence and intimidation, with the role of security agencies becoming more contentious. Similarly, the NDI/IRI observation mission concluded that 2019 elections did not meet the expectations of many Nigerians and that the last minute postponement of the presidential and National Assembly elections on the morning of February 16 and delays in opening some polling units and other administrative challenges on February 23 undermined public confidence in Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as an electorial umpire.
The report added that while INEC distributed materials and polls in a more timely election fashion for the March 9 gubernatorial and State House of Assembly elections, many serious irregularities occurred, including vote buying, intimidation of voters and election officials, and election-related violence.
But considering the fact that INEC worked in a difficult environment, it also made some improvements such as simplifying voting procedures. But various legal shortcomings remained in relation to the use of smart card readers. The observers, however, made certain recommendations which we believe, if taken into consideration, and adhered to, could help improve the conduct of future elections. Not only the 2023 general elections but the Governorship elections coming up in Bayelsa and Kogi states in the latter part of this year.
INEC, the National Assembly, politicians and other stakeholders will do well to study the reports and subsequent ones, with a view to addressing the challenges identified in the conduct of the last general elections. Two common recommendations of both groups are the need for the INEC to commence early preparations for election as well as the need for a national Dialogue. The national dialogue will focus attention on the country’s efforts towards entrenching the principles and practices of democracy which gained momentum since the 1999 transition to civilian rule.
It is the opinion of this newspaper that the shortcomings identified in the last general elections by both local observers and other stakeholders should be part of the fundamental electoral reform to be put in place as the nation begins preparations for the 2023 and other elections. It should also form the basis for the proposed national conversation on this all important subject.
Such a dialogue must also be made to put in place modalities that will strengthen INEC’s procedures and processes as they relate to the collation of results so as to improve integrity, credibility and confidence in the electoral outcomes, while also looking at how to establish requirements in law for full transparency with data easily accessible to the public.
It is also pertinent, in our view, that any future consideration of the electoral process should contain ways to strengthen INEC’s organisational and operational capacity, as well as its internal communication mechanisms. The inter-agency body responsible for electoral security inputs should be made to work more transparently and be inclusive, engaging in regular consultations with political parties to have a minimum representation of women among candidates.
Before Nigeria moves into another round of general elections in 2023, it is important to ensure that adjustments are made and appropriate legal framework adopted to achieve a better outing. For instance, the envisaged new legal framework should be designed to enable electoral tribunals to also cover pre-election cases in order to improve access to remedy and avoid petitions being taken to different courts at the same time. Such legal framework should also allow electronic voting and electronic transmission of elections results in future polls.
All in all, we are compelled to submit that the reports by observers ought not to be seen from a negative perspective of a group of people trying to rubbish the effort so far made to move forward the democratic process. Instead, it should be seen for what it is meant to be, a contribution that will bring about improvement in the system that is already in place adopting international best practices.
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