2019 elections: INEC results collation process not transparent —EU

•Flays discrepancy of 1.66m registered voters in INEC figures •Democracy is work in progress —Yakubu …Large number of parties creates logistics problem —INEC commissioner

THE European Union Election Observation Mission on the 2019 general election, on Saturday, unveiled its report in Abuja, passing a damning verdict that touched on the integrity of the processes in the elections conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

But in a swift reaction, INEC chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, said democracy was a work in progress, stressing that his commission was determined to implement the EU recommendations.

The EU Chief Observer, Maria Arena, who presented the report, said the electoral processes from voting, collation and final declaration of results were not too transparent.

“The national collation centre for the presidential election was open to party agents and observers, and was continuously televised. However, inconsistent numbers, lack of clear checks and explanations, and insufficient public information undermined confidence in the integrity of the election.

“There was a large discrepancy of 1.66 million fewer registered voters recorded than was previously announced by INEC in January. Polling was cancelled without sufficient accountability.

“The main reasons given were incidences of violence, over-voting and non-use of smart card readers, resulting in the annulment of voting for nearly 2.8 million registered voters.

“Lack of transparency in the use of smart card readers meant that it was not clear if all polling units with problems were cancelled as was required in INEC guidelines,” she said in excerpts from the 88-page report which also contains 30 recommendations to INEC on future elections.

She admonished INEC to work on strengthening result collation processes in a way that would inspire confidence in the process.

She, however, acknowledged that INEC made some progress in the elections, even though it worked in “a complex security and politically-charged environment.”

The EU body added that the postponement of the presidential and National Assembly elections, five hours to its commencement created some logistical and operational challenges for INEC.

According to Arena, “Citizens did not have sufficient means to scrutinise results. INEC did not provide centralised information on the declared results for the different locations, despite these being races for federal bodies, and has not posted complete results data on its website.

“Similarly, there is a lack of dis-aggregated results by local government area, ward or polling unit, which would allow for a thorough checking of results,” she added.

The EU recommended that “legal requirements be established for full results transparency, with data easily accessible to the public.

“All results, including those from lower levels, be immediately displayed at collation centres. Results forms from all collation centres be scanned and published on the INEC website by the time of the declaration of final results.

“Results forms from all polling units be published before deadline for submission of petitions against declared results,” the report added.

To strengthen democracy, the EU called for a national dialogue involving state institutions,  parties, civil society and the media.

She said:”This needs to be urgently undertaken to allow time for debate, legislative changes and implementation well in advance of the next elections.”

She further noted that such national dialogue for future elections was  imperative to instill sanity in the process before the next general election.

Asked by newsmen if in her judgment the 2015 general election was better than the 2019 exercise, Arena said it was difficult for her to pass judgment.

“It is difficult to say one election was better than the other. What we can say is that there is room for more transparency. We need to improve on the system and it is a problem if we aren’t seeing improvement. If we want to sustain democracy, there must be more transparency in the process,” she said.

The INEC chairman said the full EU EOM report and recommendations would be useful for future elections.

“Indeed, the report is coming at the right time as it will feed into our ongoing review of the conduct of the elections.

“Let me assure you that the commission will again quickly focus attention on the electoral legal framework in addition to several other areas of reform. We will study in detail all  recommendations as part of our ongoing internal review of the 2019 general elections which we hope to conclude in the next two months.

“Immediately thereafter, we shall engage with the leadership of the ninth National Assembly on areas that require legislation while implementing aspects of the reform within the powers of the commission in full consultation with stakeholders,” he said.

Sunday Tribune findings revealed that the EU deployed over 91 observers to 261 polling units and 94 collation centres in 31 states of the federation during the last  Presidential and National Assembly elections.

It equally deployed 73 observers to 223 polling units and 81 collation centres in 22 states of the federation for the governorship, state assembly and Federal Capital Territory, (FCT) Area Council elections.

EU did not question result of 2019 poll —Presidency

Meanwhile, the Presidency has welcomed the report of the EU on the 2019 general election in Nigeria but noted that the union did not question the outcome of the election.

A statement issued in Abuja on Saturday by Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to the President (Media & Publicity) following the release of EU’s final report on the election, promised that government will analyse it fully and act on the recommendations.

It said: “Thankfully, EU did not question the results of the presidential election.

This is further proof that the polls reflected the overall will of Nigerians, and that the world is solidly behind the election of President Buhari for a second term.”

The Presidency noted that the EU observers had been invited to the country by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and welcomed by the government of President Muhammadu Buhari.

It maintained that this was a clear indication of the administration’s good intentions, commitment to a pure democratic process, and desire to improve for the next elections.

Meanwhile, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has said the large number of political parties that participated in the 2019 general election created a lot of logistic problems.

Malam Mohammed Haruna, the National Commissioner in charge of Kwara, Kogi and Nasarawa states,  said this on Saturday in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital, while speaking with journalists.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported that INEC organised a workshop in Kwara  State to  review  the 2019 general election.

According to Haruna, there are 799 litigation arising from the 2019 elections across the country.

He said while Jigawa State had no petition from the election and Kwara State had only three petitions, Imo State  topped the list with 77 petitions.

“So you can see that with these kinds of problems we had, there is really a need to look at the number of political parties.

“We really need to do something about the 91 political parties, not just the quantity which generally speaking the public have begun to complain that 93 political parties are on the high side,” he added.

He noted that 76 political parties participated in the presidential election, adding that this was the source of the serious logistics problem that the commission had.

“We underestimated the kind of logistical problem that implied the size of the ballot papers,  result sheets and so on.

“By the time these materials started arriving, we realized that it was a huge logistical problem.”

“We are lucky, we had the Nigerian Air Force to help with the movement of the materials, they have always been helping us,” Haruna said.

The commissioner said the Electoral Act and the constitution have to be reviewed to curb the increasing number of political parties.

According to him, the constitution and the Electoral Act make it easy for anybody to register a political party once the person has an office in Abuja and its executive officers that reflected the Federal Character.

Haruna said that the workshop was to review the 2019 general election to see what went wrong, and how to make sure that similar mistakes are not repeated in future elections.

He said the review would help the commission to do better during the elections coming up in Bayelsa and Kogi States later in the year.

In his remark, the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in  Kwara, Malam Garba Attahiru-Madami,  said the workshop was mainly to review the activities of the last election and proffer solutions to identified lapses.

Madami, who was represented by the Administrative Secretary,  Mr Martins Borris Chiroma, advised participants to contribute meaningfully to  the workshop.