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"Nigeria not safe for Innocent Civilians" - International Observers Cries Out, Condemns Violence Caused by Military in Elections conducted

Going by the evaluations of notable foreign observers, many aspects of the February 23 presidential and National Assembly elections and the March 9 governorship and state House of Assembly elections, particularly the involvement of military personnel, were not in conformity with international best practice.

This position was unanimously expressed by the European Union (EU) Election Observation Mission Nigeria 2019, the joint international observation mission of the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI), Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) and the Integrity Friends for Truth and Peace Initiative (TIFPI) in their preliminary reports on the elections.

Also, in its second preliminary statement, where the EU observed the conduct of the presidential and National Assembly elections, it noted that there were “inconsistent numbers, lack of clear checks and explanations, and insufficient public information,” which it said undermined the integrity of the election.

It noted that “it is not in line with international standards for access to information and public accountability.

“Polling for the federal election was cancelled in a larger number of polling units across the country; covering nearly 2.8m registered voters. This was four times more than in 2015. While this number did not affect the outcome given the margin of win, this was not a good process.

INEC did not provide sufficient information on these cancellations, the specific reasons for them, and the precise local government areas affected. This undermines public confidence in the process,” the EU noted for the presidential and National Assembly elections.

In the NDI/IRI preliminary statement on Nigeria’s March 9 elections presented by the duo of the Senior Associate and Regional Director for Central and West Africa (NDI), Dr. Christopher Fomunyoh, and the Regional Director for Africa IRI, John Tomaszewski, they noted that while there were improvements in the administration of the state-level elections, it was yet marred by irregularities.

According to the body, there were “Instances of intimidation, vote-buying and violent acts during the voting, counting, and collation processes in some places. Incidents of violence and disruption to the balloting process were observed in Lagos, Benue. Rivers and Nasarawa states. The delegation was informed of the loss of life as a result of election-day violence. The mission deplores these losses and expresses its deepest condolences to the bereaved and to the Nigerian people. These actions and the impunity with which some electoral actors conducted themselves, including some polling agents and members of the military, undermine citizen confidence in elections and threaten the legitimacy of Nigeria’s democracy.”

It lamented that “Despite being Africa’s largest democracy, Nigeria has the lowest representation of women in national legislative office of any country on the continent, and this representation will likely fall below five percent following the February 23 National Assembly vote. This is not a record to be proud of,” stressing that “Many Nigerians expressed deep concerns about the militarisation of the election process.”

Also, in their analysis of the Saturday election, the EU Chief Observer, Maria Arena, and the Deputy Chief Observer, Hannah Roberts, who addressed the media at Transcop Hilton Hotel, Abuja Monday, expressed dissatisfaction with systemic failings and electoral security problems, which they said showed the need for serious reform ahead of future elections.

As their NDI/IRI counterpart, the EU noted that there were operational improvements in the governmental and state House of Assembly elections of March 9, but they were emphatic that these gains were overshadowed by systematic failings, including a lack of transparency, incumbency advantage and a troubling electoral security environment.

According to Arena, “Observers, including EU observers, we’re denied access to collation centres in Rivers. There was misuse of incumbency, including on state-owned media, which prevented a level playing field. In the two weeks leading up to the state elections, EU observers saw some misuse of State offices as well as institutional websites being used for campaigning by both APC and PDP incumbent governors.”

Arena noted that the systematic problems evident in the 2019 electoral process showed the need for an inclusive national discussion on reform for greater electoral integrity and participation.

She said, “We echo the view of leading civil society organisations that say that there is an urgent need to restore faith in the electoral process. We encourage a National conversation on electoral reform and strongly believe that it would meaningfully contribute to Nigeria’s democratic development.”

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