The European Union Election Observation Mission has said the Independent National Electoral Commission political parties and security agencies performed below expectations during the last general elections in Nigeria.
But it conceded that the elections were generally competitive and the parties were able to campaign while the civil society enhanced accountability.
Citing alleged systemic failings by INEC in the conduct of the polls, the group on Saturday called for urgent improvement in the electoral system to enable more Nigerians vote in future elections.
Only 34.1 per cent of eligible voters, it said, turned out for the February 2019 presidential poll.
The mission, in its final report on the elections released in Abuja, blamed the political parties for failing to stop their supporters from provoking violence.
Such violence, it said, led to the death of 150 people nationwide during the elections.
It said the security agencies were also at fault for their inability to prevent the violence and deaths.
It claimed that some security personnel were even involved in maltreating voters and electoral personnel.
It listed 30 recommendations on how to improve elections in the country.
The Head of Mission, Maria Arena, who unveiled the report, called for more transparency in the operations of INEC.
Arena said such reforms require “political leadership that is dedicated to the rights of Nigerian citizens, and an inclusive process of national dialogue involving state institutions, parties, civil society and the media.”
She added: “This needs to be urgently undertaken to allow time for debate, legislative changes and implementation well in advance of the next elections.
“Overall, the EU EOM concluded the 2019 elections were marked by severe operational and transparency shortcomings, electoral security problems and low turnout. Positively, however, the elections were competitive, parties were able to campaign and civil society enhanced accountability.”
Leading parties, the EU EOM report said, “were at fault in not reining in acts of violence and intimidation by their supporters, and abuse of incumbency at federal and state levels.
“Except for federal radio, state media primarily served the interests of the president or the governor at state level. Journalists were subject to harassment, and scrutiny of the electoral process was at times compromised with some independent observers being obstructed in their work, including by security agencies.”
The EU EOM said that INEC worked in a difficult environment and made some improvements such as simplifying voting procedures.
However, considerable weaknesses remained, including operational deficiencies, which it said led to the postponement of the elections.
There were also insufficient checks and transparency in the results process as well as a general lack of public communication and information, it said.
The EU said: “The elections became increasingly marred by violence and intimidation, with the role of the security agencies becoming more contentious as the process progressed.”
The EU EOM reported that this damaged the integrity of the electoral process and may deter future participation.
It said during collation of the federal results, EU observers directly witnessed or received reports of intimidation of INEC officials in 20 states.
It said: “While the legal framework broadly provides for democratic elections and some improvements were made to the Constitution, various legal shortcomings remained, including in relation to the use of smart card readers.”
The EU EOM also noted the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, now retired Justice Walter Onnoghen, by President Muhammadu Buhari a few weeks before the elections, which it said was seen to lack due process and reportedly 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; dysfunctional regulation of political finance; very few electoral offences resulting in arrest or prosecution; problems with collection of permanent voter cards; and further fall in the number of women elected.
The report highlighted seven priority areas from the 30 recommendations for consideration, which are the need to “strengthen INEC procedures for the collation of results to improve integrity and confidence in electoral outcomes. Establish requirements in law for full results transparency, with data easily accessible to the public.
“Considerably strengthening INEC’s organizational and operational capacity, as well as its internal communication. The inter-agency body responsible for electoral security to work more transparently and inclusively, with regular consultations with political parties and civil society.
“Introduce a legal requirement for political parties to have a minimum representation of women among candidates.
“Electoral tribunals to also 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 all of Nigeria’s states.”
The Mission also said only 34.1 per cent of eligible voters turned out for the February 2019 presidential poll.
It described the turnout as low despite the increase in registered voters.
The turnout in the states election was said to be even lower.
The declining participation, the EU said, was worrisome, and therefore warrants a review by political parties and INEC in order to make elections more inclusive and those elected more representative.
The EU Mission also noted that majority of the polling units opened extremely late.
Though the National Collation Centre was opened to party agents and observers, the mission however said it lacked transparency.
According to the report, despite the openness of the National Collation Centre, “inconsistent numbers and lack of clear checks and explanations and sufficient public information undermined confidence in the integrity of the election.
“There was a large discrepancy of 1.66 million fewer registered voters recorded than was previously announced by INEC in January.”
The report also faulted INEC for cancelling polls without sufficient accountability.
The main reasons given were incidents of violence.
The report also identified over voting and non-use of Smart Card Readers, resulting in the annulment of about 2.8 million registered voters.