By Bassey Udo
The European Union Election Observation Mission to Nigeria said several challenges encountered during the 2019 general elections call for fundamental reforms in the country’s electoral system for better future elections.
The EU Chief Observer, Maria Arena, said in the final report presented on Saturday in Abuja that the reforms require political leadership dedicated to the rights of Nigerian citizens and an inclusive process of national dialogue involving state institutions, parties, civil society and the media.
“This needs to be urgently undertaken to allow time for debate, legislative changes and implementation well in advance of the next elections.”
Besides, the report said the elections were “marked by severe operational and transparency shortcomings, electoral security problems and low turnout.”
Of the 30 recommendations the Mission made in the report, it identified seven areas that should accorded priority considerations.
They include the need to strengthen the Independent Electoral Commission of Nigeria (INEC) procedures for the collation of results to improve integrity and confidence in electoral outcomes.
Other recommendations are establishment of requirements in law for full results transparency, with data easily accessible to the public; considerably strengthen INEC’s organisational and operational capacity as well as its internal communication.
Also, the report called on the inter-agency body responsible for electoral security to work more transparently and inclusively, with regular consultations with political parties and civil society.
Introduction of a legal requirement for political parties to have a minimum representation of women among candidates, an electoral tribunals to cover pre-election cases in order to improve access to remedy and to avoid petitions being taken to different courts at the same time.
Reform the licensing system for the broadcast media to provide for media pluralism and diversity in all of Nigeria’s states.
Although the Mission noted the INEC worked in a difficult environment handmade some improvements, like simplifying the voting procedures, Mrs Arena said considerable weaknesses remained.
She said some of those operational deficiencies led to the postponement of the elections, apart from insufficient checks and transparency in the results process as well as general lack of public communication and information.
The Mission said the elections became increasingly marred by violence and intimidation, with the role of the security agencies becoming more contentious as the process progressed.
On the suspension of the Chief Justice of the Federation by President a few weeks before the elections, the Mission said the action not only lacked due process, but also undermined judicial independence.
Other issues highlighted in the report include conflicting and late rulings on electoral disputes that undermined opportunity for remedy and created uncertainty; the dysfunctional regulation of political finance; very few electoral offences resulting in arrest or prosecution; problems with the collection of permanent voters cards, and the further fall the number of women elected.