European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) to Nigeria has lamented the pervasive violence during Saturday’s Governorship and House of Assembly elections, noting that 21 persons were reported to have died across the country due to various violent attacks relating to the election.
The EU EOM said something must be done urgently to correct the situation in future so as not to allow for a relapse in Nigeria’s democracy, insisting that there was voter’s apathy to the last election as a result of infractions during the President and National Assembly elections.
Addressing a press conference in Abuja where a preliminary report was released to make public the observation during last Saturday’s election, EU EOM Chief Observer Barry Andrews, who is also a member of the European Parliament, said shortly before, and on election day, incidents of organised violence in several states created an environment of fear for voters.
He decried that: “Public confidence and trust in INEC were severely damaged on 25 February due to lack of transparency and operational failures in the conduct of the federal level polls. Up until the postponement, INEC continued to abstain from providing information, limiting its communication to a few press releases and ceremonial statements and hence failing to address public grievances and rebuild confidence in the electoral process.
“From 11 March onwards, despite compressed timeframes, INEC introduced various corrective measures to render a timely delivery of electoral materials, efficient use of election technologies, and ensure prompt publication of result forms, some of which were effective.
“Overall, on election day, multiple incidents of thuggery and intimidation interrupted polling in various locations, primarily across the south but also in states in the central and northern areas. There were reportedly some 21 fatalities. In polling units in several states, violent incidents targeted voters, INEC personnel, citizen observers and journalists.
“Most polling units opened with materials and personnel deployed on time, although a dismal level of voter participation meant less pressure on INEC operations throughout the day. Vote-buying, also observed by EU EOM observers, further detracted from an appropriate conduct of the elections.
“The 18 March elections did not face the same problems with the use of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) as on 25 February. Result forms for the gubernatorial races were uploaded and displayed for public scrutiny. At the time of the declaration of presidential results only.”
He added that: “Throughout the mission we saw that Nigerians have a great appetite for democracy and are keen to engage in various civic activities. However, in many parts of the country, their expectations were not met. Many were disappointed and we witnessed voter apathy that is in part a clear consequence of failures by political elites and, unfortunately, also by INEC•
Andrews while noting that the multiple incidents of thuggery and intimidation of voters, polling officials, observers, and journalists were recorded mainly in Lagos, Kano, and other states in the southern and central part were most affected, said campaigns in state elections were competitive and fundamental freedoms of assembly and movement were largely respected, insisting that however, insecurity impeded the canvass for votes in certain parts of the country and organised violent attacks shortly before the elections in several states led to a fearful atmosphere. Some states governors took executive actions, negatively affecting the campaign environment.
He said EU EOM observers also saw misuse of administrative resources, including through various financial and in-kind inducements to voters, giving an undue advantage to the party in power.
Andrews said EU EOM observers noted that in several states the abuse of incumbency gave an undue advantage to the party in power.
He lamented that law enforcement agencies failed to prosecute persons who attacked, intimidated, or harassed journalists during or after the presidential polls in at least five southern states with fiercely contested state-level races. In two further states, police arrested two journalists on bogus charges. EU EOM observers confirmed 10 incidents involving media; only in one instance police opened a case. Impunity encouraged by police inaction is detrimental to freedom of expression, particularly as independent and trusted outlets are targeted. This does not accord with Nigeria’s regional and international commitments for protection of the media.
On 15 February, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) sanctioned 41 media outlets, with excessive fines on 25 radio and TV stations for vaguely defined breaches. The NBC did not publish its decisions nor grant due process, effectively subduing critical reporting prior to the state elections, he decried
He also lamented that the protracted deadlines for candidacy disputes created uncertainty for voters and electoral contestants alike, while clear underrepresentation of women as candidates demonstrated a stark lack of internal party policies to support constitutionally prescribed inclusion, also contrary to Nigeria’s international commitments to eradicate discrimination against women.
“The EU EOM commends the civil society, media, and fact-checkers’ commitment to promote democratic standards, as shown between the elections by raising awareness and providing electoral information of public interest to voters, by organising debates and by striving to preserve the integrity of the online space. Also, the deployment of more than 10,000 citizen observers on the election day positively contributed to the transparency of elections,” said the Chief Observer Barry Andrews.
He alleged that vote buying by or on behalf of APC and PDP was also observed by five EU EOM observer teams within the vicinity of polling units, including by the distribution of goods and money.
He pointed out that EU EOM observers also received credible reports of pressure on civil servants by governors, for example in Katsina state, where several high level officials were dismissed after a disappointing outcome for APC in the 25 February presidential elections and LGA officials were threatened to lose their jobs if they did not ensure victory in the upcoming polls.
He said: “In the last week before 18 March, the governor of Rivers authorised the promotion of civil servants at all levels in the state and announced the recruitment of 10,000 youth employment positions in the administration.
Misuse of state resources was evident, primarily through the promotion of social benefits and relief programmes, which significantly intensified between the polls.
“As noted by EU EOM observers and reflected in media reports, governors publicly provided inducements to voters, including significant grants for traders, distribution of vehicles, buses, and motorcycles (Yobe, Gombe, Adamawa); issuing cheques to different beneficiary groups (Nasarawa, Yobe, Kwara); inaugurating infrastructure projects and for campaign purposes (Ogun, Katsina); and the payment of 1.2 billion Naira in backlogged pensions to civil servants and the release of impounded vehicles to owners free of charge days before the elections (Lagos).”
The second preliminary report of the EU EOM Nigeria 2023 supplements the first report issued on 27 February. The mission has been present in Nigeria since 11 January and will continue to observe post- election developments. The EU EOM will present and publish its final report, including recommendations for improving the electoral framework in the next few months.
Michael Olugbode in Abuja