2019 Polls: Contention deepens in Nigeria over EU report

2019 Polls: Contention deepens over EU report
The recently released report of the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) to Nigeria on the 2019 general elections continued yesterday to attract different interpretations.

While the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), in what looked like a sober reflection, said yesterday that it had resolved to review party registration guidelines, proponents of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) said the report (considered damning in some quarters) had vindicated the party and INEC.

The EU EOM specifically described the elections as marred by severe “operational and transparency shortcomings” but said, in response to a question from a journalist, that it had to rely on the results provided by INEC.

The EU EOM had, at the weekend, faulted the election processes, saying only few of its post-2015 election recommendations were implemented in the last poll.

The Director General of the Voice of Nigeria (VON) and card-carrying member of the APC, Mr. Osita Okechukwu, said the report vindicated the position of some members of the party that INEC did not generate results of the 2019 elections from a server. He said the report put to rest the lingering controversy on the subject. “Some of us have been vindicated, as our position has been that INEC did not generate the 2019 general elections result from a server,” he said.

According to him, “We have maintained that it’s trite in law that one cannot build something out of nothing; accordingly, we agree with the EU election observer mission’s denial of knowledge of the existence of the so-called server used by INEC to conduct the 2019 general elections.”

Okechukwu said it was amusing how the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) argued that INEC conducted elections transparently in Adamawa, Bauchi, Imo, Oyo, Zamfara etc where it won but manipulated results in the areas it lost.

“Methinks, it’s wrong to gloss over the truism that President Muhammadu Buhari has a 12 million vote-bank on display in 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015, and in the 2019 presidential elections.

“Therefore, Facebook Server or Twitter Server, the hard fact is that Buhari has cult followership, which is only comparable to that of Mallam Aminu Kano or Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sarduna of Sokoto, both of blessed memory, in the North. Nobody can erase this hard fact,” he said.

Read Also: Breaking: EU final report knocks INEC on 2019 elections

On the report pointing out systemic failings in the elections, low levels of voter participation, and calling for fundamental electoral reforms, Okechukwu said: “I am in league with the statement emanating from the presidency that Buhari will work with all Nigerian citizens, state institutions, civil society, the media and other experts, to make sure there will be proper electoral reforms.

“Let me plead with INEC to gradually commence the introduction of e-voting (electronic voting) in the off cycle state elections, as preparatory ground for full implementation.

“We must remind ourselves that there was a time when one eminent citizen said that telephone is not for the poor, but today the groundnut hawker in his village has a smartphone. We must commence e-voting as a matter of urgent national importance.”

But INEC, in a statement yesterday hinted of efforts to sanitise the nation’s electoral environment, resolving to review guidelines for registration and de-registration of political parties.

The EU EOM had, in its report on the 2019 general elections, concluded that the last-minute decision by Buhari to reject the Electoral Act Amendment Bill (2018) put undue operational pressure on INEC.

The mission’s report was made available to journalists at the weekend in Abuja.

It said the 2019 elections would have recorded substantial improvements from past elections had the president assented to the bill.

“In 2015, the EU EOM made 30 recommendations. Of these, four were implemented, including two priority recommendations. The Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, if assented to, would have increased the number of recommendations implemented as it included many positive measures including provisions on results transparency.

“The lack of legal reform was a missed opportunity and the late rejection of the bill put more operational pressure on INEC.”

The EU also recommended that election tribunals be extended to cover pre-election cases, to improve access to remedy and avoid petitions being taken to different courts at the same time.

It said that prior to the election day, it observed overlapping jurisdictions and lengthy timelines resulting in conflicting and late rulings.

“The timeframes for pre-election cases should be shortened, so that cases are completed well in advance of election day. This could include reducing time limits for determinations and appeals, and the number of appeal levels.”

It further recommended increase in judicial capacity through the appointment of more judges, training on election-related matters, and improved case-management mechanism.

Meanwhile, during the state level review of the elections in Benue State at the weekend, INEC’s National Commissioner on Information and Voter Education, Festus Okoye, hinted that there were 91 registered political parties in Nigeria and that 73 of these fielded candidates for the 2019 presidential elections.

He noted that the current framework for the registration of political parties is insufficient to guarantee the registration of qualitative, membership-driven and ideologically propelled political parties.

He disclosed that following the conclusion of the elections, three new associations had applied to be registered as political parties. What the citizens need are political parties that can bid for political power and not mere commercial platforms for hire, he explained.

According to Okoye, the commission has observed with keen interest how some of the political parties are mere platforms without concrete and visible presence in most states of the federation, and have succeeded in bloating ballot papers and result sheets, making logistics a nightmare.

“The commission will present alternatives to the Nigerian people including alteration of the constitutional regime that ties registration of political parties to visible, verifiable and concrete presence and structures in at least half of the states of the federation,” he said.

He noted further that the commission would review conditions for the de-registration of political parties as the fourth alteration to the constitution was inadequate to weed out dormant and commercial platforms parading as political parties.

According to him, INEC would initiate a legal alteration to the legal framework that makes for the disposal or determination of all pre-election matters before the conduct of elections.

“The 180 days allowed the courts of first instance to determine pre-election matters that dovetail into the conduct of elections. A 60-day time frame for the court of first instance is adequate to accommodate some of the issues arising from party primaries and the management of political parties.”

On the conduct of primary elections by political parties, okoye noted that henceforth, the commission would tie the acceptance of the list of candidates of political parties emanating from party primaries to the authentication of the results of the said primaries.

“Guerilla approach to the conduct of party primaries has no bearing and no foundation in Section 87 of the Electoral Act 2010(as amended),” he declared.

Also, a civil society organisation, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), threw its weight behind the report, calling for the sacking of INEC chairman, Prof. Yakubu Mahmood.

It said allowing the INEC boss who midwifed the 2019 polls to stay on is like promoting a ‘school principal’ who supervised widespread leakage in an examination where 50 per cent of his students were caught cheating with the connivance of the principal and other staff.

It alleged that the last election was so criminally violated and wantonly rigged that over 40 per cent of the results returned were voided and rendered a legal nullity by competent courts of law and election tribunals, to an extent that the results of Zamfara State validated by the commission under the headship of Mahmood were invalidated by the Supreme Court.

“What is Yakubu Mahmood still doing as chairman when the shoddy and shabby electoral heist he supervised has been discredited locally and globally?” HURIWA asked.

In a statement yesterday in Abuja by its national coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko, the group said it was shocking and disappointing that Mahmood who allegedly presided over the most brazenly manipulated and criminally rigged election in the political history of the African continent had refused to voluntarily resign.

HURIWA also noted that the conduct of the electoral body at the presidential elections petition tribunal where it denied deploying the technological transmission of results (electronic servers), for which it made a budget and had the facilities installed, showed that Mahmood had no business remaining as chairman.

“This shows that INEC was an affiliate of the All Progressives Congress during and after the widely disputed polls. An independent commission ought to be focused on helping the election tribunal reach an objective and truthfully honest determination rather than be the megaphone of one of the contending parties in the petition before a competent court of law.

“A self-respecting academic professor would, of his own volition, quit office in any sane government and civilised nation the moment it becomes known that he has failed to discharge the functions for which the Nigerian state invested multi-billion dollars of public funds.

“We agree totally with the conclusions of the election observations made by the EU election monitoring team that watched the 2019 polls to such an extent that the reports highlighted the state-sponsored violence that marred the polls and the lack of openness and transparency by INEC.

“We also accept the EU’s observations about the misbehaviour of some rogue armed security operatives and their officers who were deployed by politicians to kill, maim and destroy many lives and electoral materials in the areas that the leading opposition PDP was coasting home to victory in both the National Assembly, governorship and presidential polls.