The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) to Nigeria has concluded that the governorship and State House of Assembly elections on March 9 were marred by overall low turnout and violence including against election officials and voters.
The mission said while there were operational improvements in the elections, these were overshadowed by systemic failings, including a lack of transparency, incumbency advantage and a troubling electoral security environment.
The EU Chief Observer, Maria Arena, said this while presenting the mission's preliminary statement in Abuja on Monday where she said the problems demonstrate the need for an inclusive national discussion on electoral reform.
Millions of Nigerians on Saturday voted in the elections. Governorship elections were held in 29 states while state assembly elections were held in all 36 states. Council elections were held in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.
While results have been announced in some states, collation is still ongoing in other states.
According to Ms Arena, the mission deployed 73 observers to monitor voting, counting and the collation of results in 22 states, in all the geopolitical zones.
Ms Arena condemned the violence and intimidation 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.
"Overall, the elections were competitive with freedom to campaign. However, there was misuse of incumbency, including on state-owned state 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.
"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," she added.
The EU EOM also presented its assessment of the collation process for the presidential and National Assembly results.
It concluded that inconsistent numbers, lack of clear checks and explanations, and insufficient public information undermined confidence in the integrity of the process. The mission also emphasised the need for better training of collation staff, improved data management and, in particular, more information and explanation from INEC on such an important phase of the election process.
"The systemic failing and electoral security problems of the last few weeks and months show that there is a real need for serious reform in Nigeria. We echo the view of leading civil society organisations that say there is an urgent need to restore faith in the electoral process.
"While there can be many reasons for a low turnout, and it is not for me to speculate, it is surely disappointing that, overall, only a relatively small portion of what is by far and away Africa's largest electorate actually cast a vote on both election days.
"As the 2019 elections in Nigeria have demonstrated, there are important improvements to be made. Elections can always be better. 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.
The Deputy Chief Observer, Hannah Roberst, stated that of the 30 EU recommendations made to the federal government as well as the electoral commission, only four were visibly implemented in the 2019 elections.
Some of the recommendations are continuous voting and accreditation. She said INEC failed to implement recommendation on more transparency in the result collation process.
The mission said it will continue to observe the collation process for the state elections, the announcement of results, as well any petitions and a final report, including recommendations for future elections, will be published approximately two months later.