The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) to Nigeria has faulted the intimidation of voters and election observers by security agents in the governorship and house of assembly elections and called for serious electoral reform.
Addressing journalists in Abuja on Monday, Maria Arena, the EU Chief Observer, while presenting the preliminary report of the European Union Election Observation Mission Nigeria 2019, said there were operational improvements in the governorship and state house of assembly elections held on March 9, 2019.
She noted that these were overshadowed by systemic failings, including a lack of transparency, incumbency advantage and a troubling electoral security environment, stating that the problems demonstrate the need for inclusive national discussion on electoral reform.
She said: "On election day, polling procedures were assessed more positively by EU observers compared to the 23 February election day. However, the EU EOM condemned the violence and intimidation, including against election officials and voters, and also referred to the obstruction of citizen observers by the military and security agents on election day. Observers, including EU observers, were denied access to collation centres in Rivers.”
The EU Chief Observer noted that over all, the elections were competitive with freedom to campaign. She added that 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. State-level media broadcast political debates in 21 states, giving voters the opportunity to directly compare candidates. However in 12 states, incumbents or their main challengers refused to participate. All nine state-owned radio stations monitored by the EU Election Observation Mission served the interests of incumbent governors. The mission also noted pressure on local media outlets and journalists before and on election day.”
Arena said the systemic problems evident in the 2019 electoral process show the need for an inclusive national discussion on reform for greater electoral integrity and participation.
"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.
“On election day, 73 EU observers followed opening, voting and closing processes at 223 units, and the collation of results at 31 centres across 22 states. Most polling units visited opened on time or less than 30 minutes late, and the procedures for the accreditation of voters were significantly improved. The counting of ballots was overall transparent. Positively, in almost all cases, party agents received copies of the results forms.”
The leader of the mission emphasised the need for better training of collation staff, improved data management and, in particular, more information and explanation from lNEC on the important phase of the election process.
She, however, explained that the mission would continue to observe the collation process for the state elections, the announcement of results, as well any petitions, adding that the mission would remain in Nigeria for the coming weeks and a final report, including recommendations for future elections, would be published approximately two months afterwards.