The host of international observers on ground to monitor the last Saturday’s Presidential and National Assembly elections have expressed deep seated dismay over the turn of events.
The election was marred by violence in some states like Lagos, Anambra and Rivers with over fifteen citizens dead. Video of electoral fraud having an official of the Independent Electoral Commission thumb printing on the ballot paper for yet to be identified political party is currently in circulation.
In their reaction, European Union Election Observation Mission and the Commonwealth Election Observation Mission to Nigeria for the 2019 general elections have expressed misgivings.
The EU Observer Mission said operational shortcomings on the part of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) reduced confidence in the electoral process and put serious burden on voters during the election, the Commonwealth expressed worries over the violence recorded during the elections, stressing that violence has no place in modern democracy.
On it part, the African Union Election Observation Mission (AUEOM) warned Nigerians on the use of the social media to spread misinformation and hate speech during elections, stressing that the country should address the matter forthwith.
However, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), on its part, said despite challenges of violence, delays and malfunctioning of smart card readers in some parts of the country, Saturday’s Presidential and National Assembly elections were generally peaceful and transparent.
“On election day, the majority of polling units opened extremely late, leaving voters waiting for hours uncertain of when voting would begin,” Maria Arena, head of the EU Mission, said at a press conference in Abuja on Monday while presenting a preliminary report on the 2019 election.
“The delay due to lack of materials was compounded by an absence of public information from INEC about what was happening and whether the closing time would be extended. As a result, there was confusion, some tension, and we observed that some people were put off from voting,” Arena said.
The international observer noted that the number of person who died during the elections, the groups noted that at least 46 people were killed in pre-election day violence and several dozens more in crowd-control incidents at rallies while over 20 died at the election day.
“Media coverage of the campaign was dominated by antagonistic commentary by the two leading parties. Consequently, with the exception of a few states, voters had limited access to diverse and factual information on which to make an informed choice,” Arena said.
The International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI), at a press conference to present a joint preliminary report on the 2019 general election, observed that political parties remain the weakest link among Nigeria’s nascent democratic institutions, adding that the opaque campaign financing and candidate selection process, as well as weak internal party democracy are significant disadvantages.
The two groups led by Fatoumata Tambajang, NDI president and former vice president of The Gambia, and Daniel Twining, IRI president, said lack of ideological differentiation between political parties favours ‘cross carpeting’ with party elites regularly switching parties to secure nomination for elected office.
They also called on Nigerians to address immediate and long-term challenges bedeviling the conduct of credible elections in the country.
Hallemariam Desalegn, head of the AU Election Observation Mission, while presenting a preliminary statement on the election on Monday, said the use of hateful language against candidates and groups was rampant during the campaigns and called on Nigerians and other stakeholders to act responsibly and refrain from using the social media to spread hate speech.
The AU said despite the challenges of reported cases of violence and deaths, Nigerians exhibited their strong desire to vote. It observed that there was a large voter turnout in an atmosphere generally regarded as peaceful and that the Presidential and National Assembly elections were critical for deepening and consolidating Nigeria’s democracy.
The AU Mission also observed that the political space has significantly broadened, as evidenced by the high number of registered voters, political parties and candidates who took part in the elections.
“Despite some reports of election-related violence, deaths and intimidation, the overall political climate remained largely peaceful and conducive for the conduct of democratic elections,” Desalegn said, urging political parties to channel electoral complaints through the legal process and accept the verdict of the people.
Jakaya Kikwete, former president of Tanzania and head of the Commonwealth Election Observation Mission, while presenting preliminary statement on the election, said there were logistical and technical difficulties in the elections which INEC and all stakeholders will have to address.
It said notwithstanding the difficulties and challenges surrounding the elections, Nigerians had the opportunity to express their will and exercise their franchise.
Also on Sunday night, while making a preliminary declaration on the election pending the collation and declaration of final results by INEC, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, head of the ECOWAS Observer Mission, said although the media played a major role in informing the people, media platforms were used to misinform the public and propagate hate speech.
The ECOWAS Mission, comprising 200 observers from ECOWAS member states, including 170 short-term observers and 30 long-term observers deployed to 31 states across the six geo-political zones of Nigeria including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), also observed that although the campaigns were largely peaceful, some incidents led to violence and deaths. Some deaths also occurred during the elections.
Johnson-Sirleaf urged INEC to take steps to address the many shortcomings, including operational capacity and systems that were observed all through the process. It further appealed to party leaders, candidates, their supporters and the press to show tolerance and restraint leading up to, and after, the announcement of the results.
She called on the candidates, in the spirit of the commitment made in the Peace Accord of February 13, to accept the verdict of the polls in good faith, and in case of complaints, to seek redress solely by legal means.
Meanwhile, the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Stuart Symington, sent congratulatory statement to Nigerians on the successful conduct of the elections.
In a press statement, Symington commended those that participated peacefully and those who worked with the INEC to conduct the polls, even as he extended his sympathy to all those that lost loved ones or those affected by any form of violence during the conduct of the election.
“As noted by many observer groups in their preliminary reports, this election was predominantly peaceful, and it was proof of the Nigerian people’s resolute commitment to choose their leaders,” Symington said.
“All should convince those who support them to refrain from using force or violence to interfere with INEC. No one should break the law by announcing results before INEC does, or break the peace by claiming victory before the results are final. Everyone has a common interest in showing patience as INEC collates and announces the election results,” he said.