The British High Commission in Nigeria has said despite high level of violence during the last Gubernatorial and House of Assembly elections, it had marked improvement over the earlier Presidential and National Assembly elections, promising to keep an eye on legal proceedings at the courts.
A signed statement on Wednesday by the Senior Communications & Public Diplomacy Officer, Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) of the British High Commission, Atinuke Akande-Alegbe, while disclosing that the British High Commission observed the gubernatorial elections on 18 March, sending teams to Benue, Enugu, Kano, Lagos, Oyo and Rivers States, said:
“We observed improvements around elections logistics by INEC during the gubernatorial elections, particularly when compared to the Presidential elections.
“More polling units opened on time, there was greater evidence of BVAS and IREV working and results uploaded in real time from polling units and collation centres. These are positive markers to build on for future elections.
“However, there were notable points of concern. Members of our observation mission personally observed violence, and voter suppression in numerous voting locations.
“We witnessed and received credible reports from other observer missions and civil society organisations of vote buying and voter intimidation, the destruction and hijacking of election materials and the general disruption of the process in numerous states including Lagos, Enugu and Rivers.
“In addition, we observed incidents of harassment of journalists. Freedom of speech and a free press are crucial for a healthy democracy, and journalists must be able to go about their work without being threatened.”
The statement added that: “The UK is concerned by the use of inflammatory ethno-religious language by some public and political figures. We call on all leaders not just to distance themselves from this kind of language, but to prevent those who speak on their behalf from doing so in this way.
“It is a testament to their commitment to democracy that many Nigerians were prepared to vote despite being faced with intimidation and hostility.”
The statement recalled that the UK Minister of State for Development and Africa, Andrew Mitchell MP, had said on 21 February, that the UK was prepared to take action against those who engage in or incite electoral violence and other anti-democratic behaviours, noting that the action could include preventing people from obtaining UK visas or imposing sanctions under human rights sanctions regime.”
The statement revealed that collation of relevant information is currently undertaken, with a view to taking action against some individuals.
“We urge any party or individual who wishes to challenge the process or outcome of the elections to do so peacefully and through the appropriate legal channels. We will be observing the course of legal challenges made,” the statement further said, insisting that: “The 2023 elections are not only important to Nigeria and Nigerians, but to Africa and the world as a whole. As a long-term partner, the UK is committed to strengthening the ties between our countries and peoples, including by supporting democratic development.”
Michael Olugbode in Abuja