Nigeria's 2019 Elections Flawed, Poorly Managed - Civil Society Organisations

(file photo).

Civil society groups across Nigeria have released a report, detailing the failings of Nigeria's 2019 general elections, and how the country can achieve credible elections in future.

The report released Tuesday in Abuja, under the aegis of the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, examined the role of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the Nigerian government, the security agencies, as well as the political parties in the elections.

"There should be an independent inquiry into the poor management of the electoral process by INEC, and other agencies involved in the conduct of the 2019 Nigeria General Elections," the report said.

"This independent inquiry should address amongst others issues; procurement, logistics management, role of the security agencies and abuse of process by INEC officials.

"This is urgently needed to identify challenges and recommendations towards repairing the damaged credibility of Nigeria's electoral process.

"INEC should work with civil society and development partners to operationalise this enquiry."

The Situation Room is made up of 72 civil society groups across Nigeria. It serves as "a coordinating platform for civil society engagement on governance issues".

The report commended the U.S government's announcement of a visa ban on persons who subverted Nigeria's electoral process and urged other countries to take similar action.

The performance of INEC, the report said, was below the standard the electoral commission recorded in the 2015 election won by President Muhammadu Buhari against Goodluck Jonathan, the first time an opposition candidate would defeat an incumbent president in Nigeria.

"Postponing voting about six hours to the start of polls did more than expose how ill-prepared INEC was, it also dampened the nationwide enthusiasm that had built up for the elections," the report said.

"It made it impossible for many who had travelled earlier to vote in their constituencies to make a second trip, exacerbating voter apathy.

"The collation of results, another major weakness of Nigerian elections, remained a concern throughout the elections, with observers reporting interference with the process, especially by political parties and security agencies and oftentimes with the active participation of INEC officials.

"Data in the voters' register, as well as results figures declared by INEC, threw up several glaring discrepancies that have yet to be explained. There were also differences between the number of accredited voters and the total number of votes cast in many polling units. In a similar vein, Situation Room observed that there was significantly more votes casts in the presidential elections than was cast in the National Assembly elections which took place simultaneously with the presidential election.

"Furthermore, a close scrutiny of the registration numbers given by INEC reveals discrepancies between the total number of registered voters announced before the election and the total number of registered voters announced by INEC during the collation in 30 of Nigeria's 36 states," the report said.

The report noted that despite the initial postponement of polls, INEC was still unable to deploy its officials and materials to many polling units on time nationwide.

"Voting ended late in many places, delaying collation and leaving room for malpractices," it said.

The report said the elections were characterised by violence, voter intimidation, and ballot stealing.

The elections were also plagued by high rates of apathy among the voters.

"The national voter turnout rate dipped from 43.7% in 2015 to just 35.6 %.3.

"Though not directly a responsibility of INEC, the inability of INEC to speak out in real-time about these challenges and indiscriminate cancellation of election returns without clear explanation called into question INEC's good faith," the report stated.

The report, however, said INEC was somehow constrained by poor funding and Mr Buhari's refusal to sign into law the Electoral Act amendment passed by the National Assembly.

Onnoghen's removal a "major jolt"

The report said the controversial removal of the then Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen, by President Buhari was a "major jolt" in the 2019 elections.

Mr Onnoghen was kicked out of office about four weeks to the presidential election in which Mr Buhari was one of the candidates.

A relatively unknown group led by a man with ties to Mr Buhari's campaign filed a petition on January 10 at the Code of Conduct Bureau against the CJN, accusing him of failing to declare his asset as required by law.

Mr Buhari said he suspended the then CJN in obedience to an order from the Code of Conduct Tribunal

The Situation Room said in its report that Mr Buhari's action against Mr Onnoghen "cast a shade on the electoral process, given the role the judiciary plays in adjudicating elections".

"Whatever the ostensible reasons provided by the executive for its move against the judiciary, the decision was dogged by the suspicion that there were other unspoken, ulterior motives behind it.

"For a government that repeatedly disobeyed valid court orders in the past, the alacrity with which it obeyed what seemed at face value a dubiously procured order, played into the hands of conspiracy theorists. The opposition, as well as impartial observers, had no choice but to condemn the actions of the government," the report said.

The government actions, including other factors, raised concerns for the elections, among local and international observers, the report said.

"Militarised elections"

The reported noted that there were instances in the elections were the military acted "outside of the limits allowed by (the electoral) law".

"Section 29(3) of the Electoral Act specifically states that military involvement in the elections shall only be at the request of INEC and only for the purpose of securing the distribution and delivery of election materials and protection of election officials," the report said.

"In apparent contravention of this, troops were deployed nationwide during the elections, without any clear coordination with INEC and with President Buhari warning that people who would attempt to snatch ballot boxes risked paying with their lives, a statement the army chief said he would heed.

"In places like Rivers State, the military posed significant challenges and obstructions to the performance of election duties by INEC officials. Situation Room received reports of incidents of partisan involvement in the elections by the military, particularly in Rivers State," the report said.

The police, according to the report, also acted in ways that suggested it was partisan in the elections.

The elections were marred by violence and killings across the country, it said - at least, 626 people were said to have been killed between the start of the campaign in October 2018 and the final election in March 2019.

North-west region had the highest number of people - 172 - killed during the election period, according to the report, followed by North-east, with 146 fatalities.

South-south and North-central had 120 and 111 fatalities respectively.

Sixty-three people were killed in the South-west, while 14 were killed in the South-east.

The report said besides the failure of most of the political parties to conduct transparent primaries, the parties were involved vote-buying, intimidation, use of hate speech and fake news.

"The inability of the political parties to play by the books contributed in no small way to heating up the polity during the elections," it said.

Future elections

The report urged INEC to immediately commence the "push" for reforms in the country's electoral process.

Below are some of the suggestions in the report.

The Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill passed by the National Assembly and declined by the President, should be re-introduced, passed by the National Assembly and transmitted to the President for Assent.

The Executive should commit to passing reforms proposed in the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill and also champion a credible implementation of the recommendations in the 2008 Electoral Reform Committee Report (Uwais Report).

Noting the absence of robust enforcement of election rules, which incentivises impunity, Nigeria should urgently undertake the process of strengthening the framework for electoral accountability. In this regard, the National Assembly should fast track the process of passing the Electoral Offences Commission Bill. The legal framework for political and campaign finances should be reviewed to ensure greater transparency, accountability and fairness.

In addition, amendments to the Electoral Act should include altering section 68, that gives unquestioning powers to the Returning Officer to declare results for an election even where such Returning Officer may have done so dubiously or as a result of coercion. Criminal infractions committed en route to the declaration of results should also compel the review of results announced from such incident without requiring that remedial action be only possible through litigation at either the election Tribunal level or in the Courts.

INEC should take steps to ensure the uniform and firm application of the electoral rules across all regions, stakeholders, and institutions during elections. In particular, where the system makes enforcement difficult, INEC should take steps to at the least, call out erring institutions or individuals.

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