….Urges INEC to ensure uniform, firm application of electoral rules
…..Says huge election budget unsustainable
A coalition of over 70 civil society organisations, under the auspices of the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, on Tuesday, released its final report on the 2019 General Elections in Abuja.
According to the CSOs, from the lapses noted during the observation of the polls, it is its conclusion that the 2019 elections failed to meet the threshold for a credible election.
The Convener of the Situation Room and the Executive Director, Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), Mr Clement Nwankwo, expressed worry that the development poses serious questions about the future of elections and quality of democracy in the country.
“It is our reasoned conclusion therefore that the elections did not meet the credibility threshold based on the patterns of abuse of process and the consequent lack of integrity observed,” he said.
He said despite the enthusiasm of the citizens to exercise their voting right, including marginalised groups such as women, persons with disabilities (PWDs), young people, etc, the positive excitement was truncated by the unexpected postponement of the elections from the initial dates set.
”Situation Room, a platform of over 70 Nigerian civil society organisations (CSOs) working in support of credible and transparent elections in Nigeria, observed the country’s elections to determine if they conform to minimum requirements for a free and fair conduct and has observed all Nigerian elections as a group since 2011.
”Ahead of the 2019 elections, Situation Room issued an Election Threshold documents to help define a common expectation from the elections,” he said.
According to him, to effectively play the role of an election observation group during the 2019 elections, Situation Room deployed observers about 4, 000 field observers, with an additional 20, 000 field observers deployed by member and partner-organisations.
“Situation Room also had observers in 8, 809 electoral wards across the country’s 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja,” he said.
Nwankwo pointed out that based on the group’s eight measures used to assess the polls, there was significant non-compliance with five of them.
He said logistical and operational challenges marred the credible conduct of the elections.
”Postponing voting about six hours to the start of polls did not only expose an ill-prepared INEC, it also dampened the nationwide enthusiasm that had built up for the elections,” he said.
The convener said the collation of results, another major weakness of Nigerian elections, remained a concern throughout the elections, with observers reporting interference with the process, especially by political parties and security agencies, oftentimes, with the active participation of INEC officials.
”Data in the voters’ register as well as results declared by INEC threw up several glaring discrepancies that have yet to be explained.
”There were differences between the number of accredited voters and the total number of votes cast in many polling units,” he remarked.
He added that the election day was characterised by localised incidents of voter intimidation, ballot box snatching and destruction, and general voter apathy as the national voter turnout rate dipped from 43.7% in 2015 to just 35.6%.
He said it was disheartening that many of the lapses that were observed could have been taken care of if the Electoral Act amendment passed by the National Assembly had been signed into law and put into use.
Nwankwo, who listed recommendations to better improve the country’s electoral system, said lasting reforms to the electoral process is inevitable.
”The Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill passed by the National Assembly and declined by the president, should be re-introduced, passed by the National Assembly and transmitted to the president for assent.
”The executive should commit to passing reforms proposed on the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill and also champion a credible implementation of the recommendations in the 2008 Uwais Panel Repory,” Nwankwo said.
He urged INEC to take steps to ensure the uniform and firm application of the electoral rules across all regions, stakeholders, and institutions during elections.
“In particular, where the system makes enforcement difficult, INEC should take steps to at the least, call out erring institutions or individuals.
The convener, however, expressed concern over the country’s election which he noted has continued to be very expensive.
According to him, the budget for the 2019 elections was 242. 4 billing naira.
“This cost is not sustainable. It is important to open up national conversation on how to achieve sustainable costs for the conduct of elections in Nigeria,” Nwankwo said.