Insight EU EOM Report: Challenges and achievements of Nigeria’s 2023 general elections
The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) has released its final report on the 2023 general elections held on February 25 and March 18, 2023, continuing a consistent practice.
The Independent Electoral Commission of Nigeria invited the EU EOM to carry out observations across Nigeria between January 11 and April 11, 2023. Following the three-month-long observation, the EU EOM released its final report on the 2023 general elections.
A delegation of the European Parliament joined the EU EOM for the observation of the Presidential and National Assembly elections. The mission accredited a total of 110 observers from 25 EU Member States, including Norway, Switzerland, and Canada.
The report reviewed several aspects of the electoral process namely: International electoral laws and framework, electoral administration, election technology, voter registration, registration of parties and candidates, campaign environment, political and campaign finance, the role of the media, and participation of women and marginalized groups.
Other concerns are citizen and international observers, electoral dispute resolution, the conduct and general administration of the February 25 and March 18 elections, the post-election environment and results disputes.
Each compartment is critically analysed, emphasising its legal framework and implementation.
The report on the Nigerian electoral administration revealed a loophole in the appointment of electoral officials. The electoral body is vulnerable to government influence because the Constitution allows the executive arm to appoint its key officials.
The report also highlights the lack of a clear legal framework for the merit-based selection of electoral officials, leading to scepticism from CSOs about how transparent and non-partisan the appointment process is.
Furthermore, a lack of transparency and timely communication of critical information affected the public’s trust in the electoral body.
The EU EOM noted that little attention was given to recurrent electoral problems like vote buying, and illicit campaign financing, which were reportedly rife during the 2023 elections
INEC faced operational and logistics challenges, including insufficient election materials that delayed voting and impacted voters’ franchises. They also had inadequate capacity to grant accreditations and gaps in provisions for monitoring campaigns.
The training of officials and ad-hoc staff was allegedly substandard and lacked established structures for instilling relevant knowledge and skills, resulting in overall operational failure. “Training of ad-hoc staff and electoral officials was not timely and was congested with insufficient copies of manuals, lack of BVAS devices for training,” the EU EOM noted.
The Electoral Landscape
Nigeria’s elections have long been fraught with recurring irregularities, operational setbacks, multi-dimensional electoral violence, voter intimidation, and structural intricacies distorting its essence and constitutional mandate. A Dataphyte report narrated electoral antecedents that validated this trend.
The 1999 and 2003 general elections that produced and re-elected former President Olusegun Obasanjo were marred by pre-election, electoral and post-election violence, leading to 80 and 400 deaths, respectively.
Similarly, subsequent elections threaded the same path compounding its complexities. The EU-EOM 2023 report also recorded 101 violent incidents and 74 fatalities.As a result of the prevailing hostile atmosphere, election results are often disputed and in the case of Nigeria, humongous litigation and petitions always follow elections with opponents and aggrieved stakeholders filing lawsuits to challenge the result of the election. As of March 2023, a Dataphyte report estimated the number of petitions filed in Nigeria’s general elections from 2003 to 2023 at 3,959 with 2007 being the year that recorded the most petition with 1290 petitions.
Aside from violence and social disruption cases that have come to define Nigeria’s electoral landscape, low voter turnout is another concern with the electoral system. In what was described as the lowest since the country’s return to democracy in 1999, among the 93.47 million registered voters of which 93% collected their PVC, the 2023 general elections recorded only 24.9 million (about 26.72%) voter turnout.
A Dataphyte report highlighted cases of the late arrival of INEC’s officials, thuggery, voter suppression and violence as likely factors that could have led to low turnout.
Previous EU EOM observation of Nigerian general elections
Among others, the 2007 general elections, in administration and overall performance according to EU-EOM poorly observe basic regional and international standards for democratic election. They were marred by poor organization, lack of essential transparency, widespread procedural irregularities, significant evidence of fraud, manipulation of election results during the collation process, voter disenfranchisement at different stages of the process, lack of equal conditions for contestants and numerous incidents of violence.
Recurring Institutional inadequacies
Despite continuing efforts to stabilize the Nigerian electoral system and legal reforms to improve the electoral commission’s performance in election conduct, some inadequacies linger.
Previous reports on Nigerian general elections by the EU-EOM showed that Nigeria has made some improvements in addressing electoral issues, but there are still some institutional problems that could lead to similar problems in the future.
An instance is the appointment and selection of the management of the electoral body that remained under the control of the executive arm as rightly stated in the EU 2023 final report, subjecting the commission to severe politicization and external interference which has long clogged its independence in the shackles of political puzzle.
Section 154(1) of the 1999 constitution (as amended) constitutionally places the appointment of the chairman and members of the commission under the presidency, a practice that has been considered by stakeholders—including the EU-EOM — as threatening and detrimental to the full independence of the commission.
Gender imbalance in political composition is another inadequacy that has persisted. The 2011 EU EOM report explicitly recommended that: “the Government should strengthen efforts to implement the National Gender Policy which provides for a minimum of 35 per cent representation of women at all levels of political participation.” Three general elections after the recommendation, women representation in political offices remained insignificant.
A Dataphyte report revealed that since the inception of the 4th Republic, women’s representation in politics has never exceeded 6%.In the 2022 Global Gender Gap Index, Nigeria ranked 123rd out of 146 countries on the list. Although no country has yet achieved full gender parity, yet, Nigeria seems to be lagging behind countries like Iceland and Finland that rank 1st and 2nd and South Africa in Africa continent ranking 20th respectively.
Additionally, transparency is crucial in creating critical legal frameworks that have a significant impact on institutional structures and electoral outlook. It is ideal for these processes to involve relevant stakeholders, CSOs, media, and the public through consultation and participation.
Generally, the credibility and quality of elections in Nigeria remain fraught with immersive administrative inconsistencies, gross misconduct and irregularities that further subject the system to ridicule and contempt in the international community.
INEC’s Responses to EU and stakeholders’ Recommendations
The Federal government, specifically the Independent National Electoral Commission has a track record of responding to recommendations of the EU-EOM evident in the numerous electoral reforms and policies that often àccompany the final reports of the Union extending to subsequent electoral exercise.
However, the EU-EOM 2023 report faulted these reforms as opaque as against full implementation of original recommendations which may be responsible for the persistent institutional drawbacks that continued to beset the Nigeria electoral landscape.
Following the Electoral Reform Committee’s (ERC) report established by then president Goodluck Jonathan in December 2008 that reviewed the 2007 elections, the National Assembly and the State Houses of Assembly, in June 2010, approved the first amendments to the 1999 Constitution that brought among other things, the financial autonomy of INEC and the introduction of the prerequisite for INEC‟s Chairperson and National Commissioners not to be members of a political party.
The Electoral Act of 2010 and 2022 underwent significant reforms, resulting in critical institutional changes and innovations in the electoral process. This included the deployment of new electoral technology in Nigeria.
The deployment of the Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS) and INEC Result Viewing Portal (IREV) in the 2023 general elections is commendable and points to the commitment of INEC and other electoral management bodies to improve electoral integrity and strengthen voter confidence that will ensure a fair play and resuscitate the ailing electoral system.
Finally, the EU EOM offered 23 recommendations that will further fine-tune Nigeria’s electoral process that reflect core democratic principles and meet regional and international electoral standards. They include six(6) priority recommendations:
- Protect the interests of voters through certainty of law for all stages and aspects of electoral processes by eliminating from electoral law and regulations errors and ambiguities to avoid the potential for conflicting interpretations, and ensuring the revision processes are inclusive.
- Establish a robust operational framework for the independence, integrity, and efficiency of electoral administration through an inclusive and publicly accountable mechanism for selecting candidates to the posts of INEC commissioners and RECs based on clear criteria of evaluation of merits, qualifications, and verified non-partisanship.
- Protect the free expression of the will of the voter and the integrity of elections by establishing a robust, transparent, and easily verifiable results processing system with clear rules.
- Afford adequate protection to freedom of expression by developing a comprehensive operational framework underpinned by the skills and means for ensuring prompt investigation and prosecution of all types of attacks against media practitioners.
- Undertake urgent and robust 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.
- Address impunity for electoral offences through robust, well-defined, and effective inter-agency coordination governed by clear rules on non-partisanship, optimisation of resources, delivery of effective investigation and sanctioning, and provision of regular public consolidated information on outcomes.
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EU EOM Report: Challenges and achievements of Nigeria’s 2023 general elections
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