By Chibuike Nwabuko
Abuja (Sundiata Post) – The 2023 general elections did not ensure a well-run transparent, and inclusive democratic process as assured by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) has said.
The EU EOM noted that shortcomings in the law and electoral administration hindered the conduct of well-run and inclusive elections and damaged trust in INEC.
In its final report released on Tuesday in Abuja, the EU EOM said public confidence and trust in INEC were severely damaged during the presidential poll and were not restored in state-level elections, leading civil society to call for an independent audit of the entire process.
“The widely welcomed Electoral Act 2022 (the 2022 Act) introduced measures aimed at building stakeholder trust. However, the Act’s first test in a general election revealed crucial gaps in terms of INEC’s accountability and transparency, proved to be insufficiently elaborated, and lacked clear provisions for timely and efficient implementation.
“Weak points include a lack of INEC independent structures and capacities to enforce sanctions for electoral offences and breaches of campaign finance rules.
“Furthermore, the presidential selection of INEC leadership at the federal and state level leaves the electoral institution vulnerable to the perception of partiality. Closer to the polls some started to doubt INEC’s administrative and operational efficiency and in-house capacity. Public confidence gradually decreased and was severely damaged on 25 February due to its operational failures and lack of transparency.
“While some corrective measures introduced before the 18 March elections were effective, overall trust was not restored,” it said.
Addressing a press briefing in Abuja, the Chief Observer, EU EOM, Barry Andrews, noted that his team carried out its work between 11 January and 11 April on the invitation of the INEC.
The EU EOM offered 23 recommendations for consideration by the Nigerian authorities that would contribute to the improvement of future elections.
Andrews said: “We are particularly concerned about the need for reform in six areas which we have identified as priority recommendations, and we believe, if implemented, could contribute to improvements for the conduct of elections.”
The six priority recommendations point to the need to; remove ambiguities in the law; establish a publicly accountable selection process for INEC members; ensure real-time publication of and access to election results; provide greater protection for media practitioners; address discrimination against women in political life, and; impunity regarding electoral offenses.
Reacting, INEC’s National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, who spoke to journalists after the presentation said: “We are going to harmonise all the reports by international observers that have been presented and we are going to look at the reports holistically.
“From the report presented, the EU made mention of the fact that there have been significant improvements in our electoral process and there have been so many positives to this particular election.
“One of the positives is that we registered over 93 million Nigerians during this election. Not only that if you look at the reports submitted by international observers, in terms of voters accreditation, the BVAS performed optimally.”
Okoye, however, admitted that there were challenges, promising that recommendations from international observers would be worked on and implemented.