So much has been said and written since the report’s release by the European Union Election Observer Mission. Ordinarily, it won’t be in my place to interrogate the credibility of the process that the European Uni Lion Election Observer Mission used for their report on Nigeria’s 2023 election.
But it is essential that as a participant election observer and someone who has invested so much in our electoral process, we must educate Nigerians on elections and the electoral process.
We cannot continue to allow public commentators to discuss elections from the perspective of ignorance of the electoral process and the electoral law. Nigeria is one place where people who are ignorant of a particular issue discuss such issues with so much passion. Unless such ignorance is corrected by those with the right information, we may never progress as a nation.
First, it is essential to say that Nigeria has a long history and relationship with the European Union and its Election Observer Mission, the EOM that occasionally comes to observe our elections.
I do not quarrel with this relationship, but the more significant questions are; what is the driving motive for the EU to always think that we can’t do it well or that there is always a need for them to come and help us? At what point will we get to where they think we can do it for ourselves.”
Are there EU Election Observation Missions to American, British or French Elections? Why does the EU think they have to come to Africa every time there is an election? While it is okay to do what I refer to as desktop arrangement, which is a means of gathering information, the sensitivities and the objective conditions of the reality on the ground are something foreign election observer missions cannot be arrogant about.
Of course, there are arguments to the suggestions that the EU should have a say in our elections since they provide funding support for INEC. First is to look at the percentage of the financial support. And this is very important. Because when we hear support, is it 2 per cent or 1 per cent? The whole donor support for the country, what does it amount to?
Unfortunately, as a people, perhaps because of our colonial history, when we have an election, if the EU does not speak, then every other person that has said it does not matter because they made a financial contribution.
Having established this point, let us look at the six areas in which the recommendations from the EOM touched. But again, before I delve into this discussion, it is essential to ask, whose standard is being benchmarked for a credible election? So, is it the EOM that determines the benchmark for credible election?
I have looked at the 2019 and 2023 reports of the EOM. I have also looked at the recommendations of the 2023 and 2019 elections. I want to think that for us as a country, we did shift the needle in terms of institutional leapfrogging of our electoral process. We have made progress. We had an electoral law with sweeping reforms, which helped us take away the challenges we were facing. For instance, Section 65 of the Electoral Act 2022 states that once a presiding officer announces a result, nobody can review it.
The EU Election Observer Report: Separating Fact From Fiction
We had a situation in 2023 in which we reviewed three fundamental issues which couldn’t have happened in the past. These were in Adamawa, Enugu, and Abia states.
Section 65 of the Electoral Act allowed INEC headquarters to intervene directly in those states. It ensured the tribunals did not eventually determine those issues that arose during the polls. That is a significant shift. So, when an observer group says legal framework, for instance, it appears they have not considered the progress that Electoral Act 2022 has given us.
The second issue is that of safety for journalists. This is a security issue. It is given that people who work in elections must be provided with security. Unfortunately, the security agencies are responsible, and we offer them much comfort. Ninety per cent of the conversation Nigerians have after elections, we zero in on what INEC did and what INEC did not do.
But there are two critical institutions that reform within them will help to guarantee free, fair elections. Number one is security. If we continue to outsource conversations about security provisions after the election and refuse to interrogate it, we will hardly make progress. The security provision must be interrogated because we don’t always put them on the spot.
The following sets of people we rarely pay attention to are the politicians and their roles in elections. When we talk about violence, it is in the domain of those who want dubious advantages in elections. Those who wish to create voter suppression want fear and a siege mentality.
And it is the politicians who are the beneficiaries of chaotic elections. Political parties need to carry out reforms within their system. As INEC is auditing the election, political parties under their umbrella, the IPAC should also have reviews.
Let us go back to the EOM report. The aspect of the recommendation from the EOM that has generated more discussion is access to results.
As a participant observer in the election process, I have asked who should have access to the results at the polling units. It is essential to state that four levels must be satisfied at that level of election result collation and announcement.
Number one is form EC8A, the manual result sheet handed over to party agents and security. After the party agent and security personnel at a particular polling unit have collected those results, you can upload them on the IREV. Again, there is also a lift in integrity level for election results management, the form E60.
This is the people’s result, passed mandatorily on the wall for interested voters in that polling unit. They can have an opportunity to take a snapshot.
The EU Election Observer Report: Separating Fact From Fiction
So in addressing the different layers of access to election results, the voter in the polling unit has been satisfied by E60, and the party agent has also been helped by form EC8A. So when an election observer complains about access to results, I imagine they are talking about the one uploaded on IReV.
I have continued to maintain that IReV is an add-on. Why is it an add-on? The simple explanation is that, since 2003, you cannot find results in the cloud. You cannot find any outcome of the 1999 election as a researcher or interested person. But today, with all its weaknesses, if you are researching Nigeria’s election in 2023, you can find some results in the cloud. So, that is access.
For me, the EU report did not consider the objective conditions of the reality on the ground. And that, for me, is the arrogance of knowledge. I have said repeatedly that even if you are an international election observer, you must be trained. This is important because recruiting people for election observation doesn’t necessarily mean people who work in elections. It could be political people.
For instance, former President Goodluck Jonathan, Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, and most recently, former vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, serve as international election observers. The fact that someone has been a President or has worked in Civil Society does not guarantee that the person has taken the pains to understand these processes and procedures of elections.
For the record, I’m not dismissing the report. I’m ignoring the tone with which it was crafted. And that tone results from the conflict between those who went to the field and the report’s drafters.
Of course, the report carried a lot of positives. For those who have read through the words, there are positives. But the report’s challenge is that it ran in a negative tone from the beginning to the summary. And that negative tone is what generates the adverse reaction.
My quarrel with that is that, as a nonpartisan, you cannot make a report that undermines the sovereignty of a country. If the conclusion is anything, it is weak, especially when you establish a sense of ambiguity in the claim of lack of access to results.
Where do collation and announcements of results end? *By the Electoral Act, announcement and declaration of results end at the polling unit, while collation continues afterwards. It* is absurd for anyone to think collation ends when results have been uploaded on the IREV.
I agree that we have a challenge with appointing the last RECs. It is on record that civil societies and the media did say the work of some of the RECs before politicians hijacked the 2023 election. Some of the RECs were partisan, and we saw their performance in those states that we flagged before the polls.
We had a situation where somebody managing a hotel for someone in the government was appointed a REC. We had another case where a card-carrying member of a political party who ran for Governor under the banner of a particular party was appointed into INEC as REC.
Unfortunately, as Civil Society, we pushed against these appointments. But what did the National Assembly do? Nothing. The APC government needs to take a critical look at the fact that if we are not going back to the recommendation of the Justice Uwais Commission, then we need to devise a way in which people of character are appointed to critical institutions such as INEC.
Without any doubt, the BVAS and IREV creation, which litigants are using to challenge the elections at different levels, is an initiative of the Prof Mahmood Yakubu-led INEC.
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