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INEC, 2019 elections and observers

In the past few days, stakeholders have engaged in debates on the position of the European Union (EU) team that monitored Nigeria’s general election. KUNLE ODEREMI brings the views of some leaders on the seemingly damning report.

 

REPORTS by various teams of international observers that monitored the 2019 polls in Nigeria seem to be following a similar pattern. Apart from creating eddies in the political circle, the common denominator appears to be that the polls fell short of certain cardinal democratic practices and standards. The latest of such reports is that of the European Union election team, which listed 30 grounds that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) must address to avert issues becoming perennial, if the nation hopes to raise the bar ahead of the 2023 general election. Chief among the conditions is the imperative of an intensive enlightenment campaign among the people, whereas INEC had at different times said it did the needful in that regard preparatory to the 2019 elections.

Ahead of the polls, the INEC recorded 80 million prospective voters as against 67 million registered for the 2015 elections. Yet, the turnout was 35.6 per cent in the presidential poll, which compared with 44 per cent in that of 2015 presidential election, with the EU election monitors attributing the low figure to poor mobilisation and education of voters, coupled with the unwieldy number of political parties on the ballot. A total of 71 parties out of the 91 registered with INEC participated in the 2019, while 44 parties were involved in 2015.

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But, this year’s election was relatively better funded, as the commission secured approval of parliament for its N234.5 billion budget, making it the largest amount ever received by INEC since 1999 when the country returned to civil rule after a prolonged military interregnum. The budget was an increase of about N69 billion compared to the 2015 election expenditure by the commission. The fund was shared between INEC and five security agencies assigned roles at the elections.  While INEC was to spend N190 billion, representing 73.51 per cent of the figure, the remaining N52.45 billion (26. 49 per cent) was to be shared by security agencies based on the following breakdown: Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) was allocated N4.28 billion; Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) N3. 57 billion; Nigeria Police Force N30.54 billion; Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) N2.63 billion, and the Directorate of State Security (DSS) got N12.21 billion.  Some reports claimed that INEC had spent N450 billion from 1999 to 2018, with the figure excluding grants the commission received from international organisations.

In spite of the huge financial outlay, election monitors still scored security agencies and political parties abysmally low because of their inappropriate conduct in the course of the polls. The EU and other teams, for instance, expressed disgust over what they perceived as the uncomplimentary role of security personnel deployed for the elections, just as they were accused of brazen partisanship and acts designed to subvert the will of the electorate, with the main political parties: PDP and APC compounding the mess that characterised the general election.

The report of the EU election monitors is generating a heated debate among Nigerians and across board in the political parties. While some claim the report lent credence to their position that the polls were manipulated in favour of the ruling APC, others, including officials of the Presidency and stalwarts of the party said there was no iota truth  in the claim, though the latter group agreed that anomalies identified by the EU election monitors would be considered by the authorities. It will be recalled that late President UmaruYar’Adua had initiated an electoral reform immediately he assumed office following the spate of criticism that trailed the election that brought him to office.

 

Observations

Shortly after the presidential and national assembly polls, the African Union Election Observation Mission (AUEOM) unveiled a preliminary report. It commended the tenacity of purpose of Nigerians in deepening democratic culture but also observed: “More than a half of the AU observer teams reported lack of essential election materials in the voting points observed as follows: Ballot Boxes (25%), Polling booths (25%), Ballot Papers (25%), Copy of voter register (25%), Envelopes (25%), Indelible ink- marker pen (25%), Polling station journal (25%), Forms (25%), Seals (25%), Stamps (75%), and Smart Card Readers (25%).”

On the same election, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) expressed serious misgivings over “serious irregularities and violence at collation centres in many parts of the country.”  In a joint report, the organisations advocated that the Executive arm of government embark on immediate comprehensive electoral reforms; implement fully and expeditiously the recommendations of the Uwais Commission (2008) and the Nnamani Committee (2017); that INEC reconsider the order and timing of general election to ensure sufficient time for election preparations and to promote voter participation and engagement at both the grassroots and national levels; that security agencies liaise with INEC to enforce the electoral law by investigating and prosecuting perpetrators of election-related criminal acts, as well as investigate and sanction security personnel who violate the rules of engagement on election day.

 

General reactions

Other leaders of the political parties, as well as concerned citizens such as the general secretary of the Arewa Consultative (ACF), Anthony Z. Sani, have joined the debate generated by the report of the EU election monitoring team. They include:

 

Anthony Z. Sani, ACF national secretary

The EU report on the elections has assessed performances in the elections by INEC against plans, and has highlighted areas where there were improvements and where there were shortcomings. It is for the two arms of government, as well as the political parties and the security agencies to study the report, especially the 30 recommendations, with a view to making corrections by way of good legislation and management practices, as well as political will. That is the essence of the observer missions, to wit, help countries improve on their electoral processes by way of political will through the executive arm and also by the legislative arm, as well as through management practices by INEC, the political parties and the security agencies.

The immediate and long-term implications border on the fact that if the corrective actions are not taken in good time, coming elections will not improve over and above the recent ones. Therefore, all the parties involved in their electoral processes are expected to study the reports with a view to correcting those areas that are within the purviews. This is because the executive and the legislative arms of government, as well as the INEC, the political parties and the security agencies have defined roles, which they should play in the electoral processes. If these roles are not performed properly, the coming elections will experience the same challenges recorded by the European Observer Mission. It is therefore left for all the agencies and democratic institutions which play roles in the electoral processes to live up to their democratic mandate for the good of democracy and the development of the nation.

The Federal Government has said it would study the reports and effect corrective measure. So, how far-reaching do you still want the responses to be? Do you want the executive, the legislature and the political parties, as well as the security agencies to be sanctioned for the observed lapses? I think the concern should be that all democratic institutions should locate the courage of their mandate and deliver on the promise of democracy. It is not a matter of rhetoric but of consciously directed efforts to make desires possible and then actual.

 

Chief Ralphs Nwosu, African Democratic Congress (ADC) national chairman

The EU reports indict the APC, Federal Government, Buhari as a person and INEC. That the election is not transparent is an understatement really. The elections meet no modicum of fairness and credibility, and remains a disgrace to all of us. We are all indicted in a sense; if only EU is awakening us to what was very obvious. The APC is a very violent party; people seem afraid to speak. Many credible voices in the country have remained dodgy on the issue or may have lost their voices completely; they may have lost their sanity, or have chosen to live in shame. The implications are far-reaching. You can see the inauguration ceremonies; no former heads of state or presidents, not even one was in attendance. The other nations of the world, including African leaders, were not present. There has been no inauguration in this country except during the civilian regime when such has happened.

The implication is that Nigeria is no longer relevant with this type of shameful attitude to democracy and the image will continue to plummet as long as the perfidy is not corrected. Again, our democracy loses value and steeps into fascism. The end result, trouble all across; no foreign inflow, economy will hit downward spiral; hunger, poverty, disease, youth restiveness, and God forbid anarchy. EU has made their observations known. The Nigerian people have a serious role in how things go. Luckily, cases are in court, so the judiciary is now challenged. The Supreme Court will have to show if they are truly supreme or another failed institutional system and lackey of the compromised elite and polluted political class. However, the outcome of the Atiku versus Buhari case will determine the gravity. We are at a tipping point; the Buhari presidency, which started in 2015, has been like big drama and now, we are at typical cliffhanger.

 

Chief Supo Shonibare, Social Democratic Party (SDP) national chairman

The negative involvement of security operatives during the elections, with allegations of their assisting to manipulate the results, which report was confirmed by the INEC chairman, seems to apportion part of the blame of other issues. It seriously undermines the integrity of the process being within the purview and control of the Presidency, which has operational control over the security agencies. The military did set up a committee to probe the infractions, which we all saw being televised. No one has been indicted or arraigned.

It’s not good enough for the government to inform us that they will implement the recommendations of the EU report. They should demonstrate that willingness by prosecuting the security operatives whose faces were clearly identifiable in the clips watched by all of us on national television. If our security operatives have difficulties, even in identifying them, I recall the army issuing a release that they were not their officers; then it’s difficult to believe our security operatives have the capacity and willingness to uncover any criminal act anywhere in the country.

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