EU, others’ reports on 2019 polls

LAST week, the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU-EOM) released its report on of the 2019 general election in Abuja, giving a damning verdict. Only the governing party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), has pretended to be surprised by the report which aptly reflects the reality, namely that the elections were a ruse. The report shows clearly that Nigeria still has a long way to go in terms of achieving free, fair and transparent polls. But then, even the APC welcomed the report, with some of its leaders, including President Muhammadu Buhari, promising to effect the recommendations therein.

Despite the qualms of the party’s Deputy National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Yekini Nabena, who made the outlandish claim that the report was part of efforts by some international institutions to discredit the Buhari administration, the report was accepted across party lines as both credible and timely, and helpful in its recommendations for future elections. Incidentally, the EU-EOM report was also largely corroborated by similar reports by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI). The Institutions said that the 2019 elections were marred by irregularities such as intimidation of voters and electoral officers, vote buying and violence.

The EU-EOM Chief Observer, Maria Arena, was persuaded that there was a need to address  the systemic failures witnessed in the elections, and that the low voter participation also showed the need for fundamental electoral reform. As she noted, “Such reform needs a political leadership that is dedicated to the rights of Nigerian citizens and an inclusive process of national dialogue involving state institutions, parties, civil societies and the media. This needs to be urgently undertaken to allow time for debate, legislative changes and implementation in advance of the next elections.”

These recommendations are necessary if subsequent elections are to follow international best practices, especially in terms of fairness and transparency. The report showed widespread vote buying by the major political parties. The expected improvement on the 2015 elections was lacking. As a matter of fact, in spite of the promised change expected to coincide with the change of political actors in 2015, the 2019 general election did not compare favourably with its predecessor. It did not reveal governmental will to advance the country’s democratic cause. Rather, it demonstrated a deliberate attempt to rubbish the modest gains of the 2015 polls.

One major drawback of the 2019 polls identified by the EU was the president’s refusal to sign the Electoral Reform Bill into law. Perhaps signing the bill into law might have allowed certain improvements in the polls with regard to transparency, fairness and substantial reduction in voter intimidation and violence. It is, however, instructive that in spite of the needless rebuttal by the APC Deputy National Publicity Secretary and the expressed belief of the Presidency that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) “conducted a good election,” there was no major disagreement among the various election observers in their conclusions. Nabena’s foray into international waters, specifically the relations between Africa and the West, is not helpful. It is evidently hollow and servile and we wonder what his response to similar reports by the NDI and IRI which are local institutions will be.

The truth is that Nigeria needs the EU’s recommendations to grow its democratic institutions in such a way that subsequent elections can be free of violence and intimidation, be more participatory, and reflect the choices of the people accurately. Incidentally, both Senate President Ahmad Lawan and Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila have promised to pursue electoral reform as recommended by the EU and other observers. They must keep their word even if the nation is understandably cynical about such promises given the recent speakership election in the House of Representatives which was arguably worse than the general election. They should follow  their promises through and correct the cynicism of the many Nigerians who believe that it would be delusional to expect any form of electoral reform from an assembly accused of electoral fraud.