The European Union Election Observation Mission that monitored Nigeria’s elections on Feb. 23 and March 9 has just published “a final report”. It notes a “systemic failure” which the observers said cast “a long shadow” over the integrity of the elections. EU’s chief observer Maria Arena, who presented the report June 16 in Abuja, said her team’s conclusion was that “overall, the elections were marked by severe operational and transparency shortcomings, security problems and low turnout. Leading parties were at fault in not reining in acts of violence and intimidation by their supporters, and abuse of incumbency at federal and state levels.” Arena said, however, there were positives to take from the polls. “Positively, the elections were competitive, parties were able to campaign and civil society enhanced accountability.” She said the report contained 30 recommendations on how to improve the integrity of the 2023 elections and beyond. She mentioned seven of them during the report’s presentation. One of them is a call “to strengthen the procedures for the collation of results to improve integrity and confidence in electoral outcomes.”
Another is that “the systemic failings” seen in the elections, and the relatively low levels of voter participation, indicated the need for fundamental electoral reform. “Such reform needs political leadership that is dedicated to the rights of Nigerian citizens, and an inclusive process of national dialogue involving state institutions, parties, civil society and the media. This needs to be urgently undertaken to allow time for debate, legislative changes and implementation well in advance of the next elections.” On INEC, the report recommends that the election body “considerably strengthen its organisational and operational capacity as well as its internal communication”. It also suggested that “the inter-agency body responsible for electoral security work more transparently and inclusively with regular consultations with political parties and civil society.” The EU EOM also called for a legal requirement for parties to have a minimum representation of women among candidates, faulting the low number of female candidates for the polls. It further recommended that election tribunals cover pre-election cases in order to improve access to remedy and to avoid petitions being taken to different courts at the same time.
Warts and all, the report has been accepted by the Nigerian government. We praise this positivity on its part, which is different from the dismissive attitude of the opposition, represented by the former governing Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Reacting to the report, the Presidency said President Muhammadu Buhari had accepted it, assuring that its recommendations would be implemented during the next elections. His Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said in a statement: “The administration of President Buhari will work with all Nigerian citizens, state institutions, parties, civil society, the media and other experts to make sure that the improvements recommended by the EU are implemented, and that these areas of concern are addressed.”
Unlike the government, the opposition PDP did not accept the report’s blank carpeting of all parties, the two major ones in particular, for their failure to prevent the violence caused by their supporters. We think this is a wrong attitude. The observers did not come to see only how INEC and officials of the government conducted themselves during the elections; all other stakeholders came under their purview. If the PDP accepted the report’s commendation of the political parties’ competitiveness in the process, it should also be humble enough to accept its own failings which the observers have pointed out. This is the way to go if we hope to refine the electoral process. It is not a job for only the government but for all stakeholders including the opposition. And talking about all stakeholders, we urge the 9th National Assembly to dust up the Electoral Act Amendment Bill the 8th Assembly passed but was vetoed by the President. The new lawmakers should take particular note of the reasons he gave for declining his assent, rework the bill and represent it. They should do so quickly to allow INEC enough time to accommodate its provisions in the schedule for the 2023 elections. One of Buhari’s reasons was that the 2019 amendments came too close to this year’s polls.