The European Union (EU) election observation mission in Nigeria said that the country’s general election in 2023 showed that there are long-term problems with the system that need to be fixed.
It said this in its final report, which was given out on Tuesday in Abuja.
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Barry Andrews, the chief observer, said that the report was based on an analysis of how well Nigeria kept its promises for democratic elections in the region and around the world.
Andrews said, “This was the seventh EU election observation mission in the country since 1999. This shows how strongly the EU cares about Nigeria’s democracy.”
“Before the general election in 2023, Nigerians made it clear that they were committed to the democratic process. Still, the election showed that there are long-term problems with the system and that more legal and operational changes are needed to make the system more open, fair, and accountable.
Andrews said that two-thirds of the 9.5 million new voters were young people, which was a good thing about the voter registration process. However, he said that the collection of permanent voter cards (PVC) was hurt by bad institutional planning and a lack of transparency.
“An independent audit from the outside would help make sure the voter list is correct and includes everyone,” he said.
NAIRA SCARCITY, VIOLENCE, INTERFERENCE BY GOVERNORS SUPPRESSED VOTER PARTICIPATION
The chief observer said that a flawed democratic process was also caused by things like a lack of money and different kinds of violence.
Andrews said that the campaigns were competitive because a lot of people went to rallies for different political parties and candidates. He also said that the naira and a lack of fuel kept people from voting on election day.
“The EU EOM also found cases of governors interfering too much, and there were also fights within the parties during the campaign. Personality-based campaigning and governors misusing their power as incumbents skewed the playing field, which led to more polarization caused by rhetoric based on race and religion, he said.
“Our mission kept track of more than 100 violent events related to the campaign, such as assassinations. These and other illegal actions hurt the campaign, messed up the elections, and made it harder for people to vote.
“Weaknesses in the legal framework for these and other election crimes, like misuse of state resources, intimidation, and buying votes, led to poor enforcement. Important parts of the government, like INEC and political parties, didn’t do anything to fix these problems.
“THE PUBLIC’S BELIEF IN INEC WAS SEVERELY HURT.”
The EU election observation mission praised the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for taking some good steps early on in the election process, like increasing the number of polling stations and putting in place the bimodal voter accreditation system (BVAS). However, the mission also pointed out that these steps did not increase public trust in the electoral body.
“The public’s trust in INEC was severely hurt on February 25 because of its operational problems and lack of openness. Even though some of the fixes that were put in place before the 18 March elections seemed to work, overall trust was not restored, and civil society eventually asked for an independent audit of the whole process.
“Before the elections, the selection process was questioned, which made it easy for people to mistrust the institution.”
Andrews said that the bimodal BVAS and the INEC results viewing portal (IReV) were not used in a way that was open and honest, which hurt the integrity and credibility of the elections.
“We think that these weaknesses can be fixed in an effective way by setting up a strong operational framework for the independence, integrity, and efficiency of electoral administration. This can be done by making sure that candidates for INEC commissioners and RECs are chosen based on clear criteria for judging their merits, qualifications, and non-partisanship.”
The mission also didn’t like how the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) fined media outlets, saying that the fines were given without due process and stopped analytical reporting.
LOW LEVELS OF INCLUSION
The chief observer said that the fact that only one woman ran for president out of 18 candidates in the general election was a cause for concern.
He said that no women had been chosen to be running mates, and only two women were running for governor.
“Nigeria’s international commitments and laws about equality don’t match up with the fact that women can’t vote or run for office. Since 2007, there has been a worrying drop in the number of women taking part in the process, he said.
“The government and major political parties failed again to do anything about women being left out and treated unfairly, even though the national gender policy goal is for 35% of appointed and elected positions to be held by women. At all levels of government, the number of women running for office barely reached 10%.
“This long-standing discrimination requires urgent and strong affirmative action to ensure meaningful women’s representation through special measures in line with the Beijing principles and the national gender policy to increase the representation of women as candidates and in elected office, supported by cross-sectoral, intensified, and sustained capacity building and sensitization to end discrimination.”