The joint Nigeria International Election Observation Mission of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) yesterday disclosed that the 2019 elections did not meet the expectations of many Nigerians.
The election observer mission said that the last-minute postponement of the Presidential and National Assembly elections on the morning of February 16 and delays in opening some polling units and other administrative challenges on February 23 undermined public confidence in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
It observed that while INEC distributed materials and opened polls in a more timely fashion for the March 9 gubernatorial and state House of Assembly elections, many serious irregularities occurred, including vote buying, intimidation of voters and election officials and election-related violence.
These revelations came as the IRI/NDI Joint Observation Mission released its final report on the 2019 Nigerian elections. It is coming on the heels of the report released by the European Union Election Observation Mission (EUEOM) which drew similar conclusions on the same election and suggested fundamental reforms of the electoral process of Nigeria.
The latest report was based on the findings and recommendations of three pre-election assessment missions in July 2018, September 2018, and December 2018 as well as preliminary statements released following the February 23, 2019 Presidential and National Assembly elections and the March 9, 2019 gubernatorial and state House of Assembly elections.
Regional Director, NDI (Central and West Africa), Dr. Christopher Fomunyoh said that Nigeria witnessed a setback in the 2019 elections in terms of the modest improvements it recorded in previous years.
“You will see that up to 2015, there was progressive improvement in the way in which elections were being conducted in Nigeria. Many of us were around when the 2007 elections took place. It came under a lot of criticisms and justifiably so and we saw some improvements in 2011. We saw more improvements in 2015 when Nigeria has one of the most credible elections in its history and it was hailed both by Nigerians and friends of Nigeria across the world.
“Now the hope of many Nigerians was that there would be greater improvements again on what transpired in 2015 during the 2019 general election.
“As we said in our reports, those expectations were not met and it is our hope that preparations for the 2023 elections will begin now. That is why we are hoping that this report will stir up the conversation towards a lot of reforms required to make the electoral process better,” Fomunyoh said.
According to the report, the last general election in Nigeria “fell significantly short of standards” set in 2015 and shook the confidence of citizens in the electoral process.
“Political parties remain the weakest link among Nigeria’s nascent democratic institutions. Opaque candidate nomination process led to violence in some states and many pre-election lawsuits. The paucity of women and youth nominated to run on the tickets of the two major parties, the APC and PDP, demonstrated Nigerian political elites’ lack of commitment to opening space for new faces and new voices.
“Moreover, political parties and their leaders did not uphold their commitment to peaceful and credible elections, fail to restrain and hold accountable members and supporters who committed electoral offences,” said the report.
President of IRI, Dr. Daniel Twining, urged stakeholders in the electoral process in Nigeria to take concrete steps to address the concerns of citizens with regards to the polls in order to rekindle their faith in the power and possibility of credible elections.
Similarly, President of the NDI, Ambassador Derek Mitchel said that the 2019 elections has highlighted for many Nigerians the need for a national conversation about the country’s democratization since the 1999 transition to civilian rule.
The report made a number of recommendations to enhance the credibility of future elections in Nigeria. These included areas of improvement for political party conduct, civic engagement, election security, and legal frameworks around election disputes.
It, however, lamented that in previous years, suggestions for improvements of the electoral process in Nigeria by reputable citizen and international observation missions went unheeded.
The mission said that for Nigeria to get its party politics right and conduct free, fair and credible elections there is a need for a national dialogue on the electoral process.
Other recommendations in the report included early preparation for elections so as to mitigate against any last-minute shortcomings.
It also advised on having a workable legal framework and election dispute resolution technique that would enable the electoral body, INEC and political stakeholders pursue a comprehensive, inclusive and expeditious electoral reform process.
The international election observation group also called for the establishment of time limits for the adjudication of pre-election petitions to ensure that judgements are delivered before Election Day and early enough not to interfere with INEC’s preparations for the elections.
Meanwhile, National Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, assured that the commission will study the recommendations in detail and will continue to partner with the NDI/IRI Joint Observation Mission to improve the electoral and democratic processes in Nigeria.
“We have already embarked on our own internal reviews. Your report is coming at the right time. I wish to assure you that we will implement aspects of your recommendations that require administrative action by the commission beginning with the forthcoming Bayelsa and Kogi governorship elections scheduled for 16th November 2019,” Yakubu said.
According to the INEC boss, the commission will also work with other institutions on aspects of the recommendations that require consequential action beyond the mandate of the commission.
The IRI/NDI Joint Observation Mission were among the 39 foreign organisations accredited by INEC to observe the 2019 elections.
The joint team reportedly deployed 40 international observers to 16 states of the federation for the Presidential and National Assembly elections and 20 international observers to 10 states for the Governorship and State Assembly elections.
For the 2019 general election, the commission accredited 159 organisations (39 foreign and 120 domestic) which deployed a total 73,258 observers. Some of the organisations have already submitted their reports.