EU Observer Mission Said Organized Violence, Voter Intimidation, Others, Marred March 18 Nigeria Elections

EU Observer Mission Said Organized Violence, Voter Intimidation, Others, Marred March 18 Nigeria Elections

The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) to Nigeria has published its second preliminary report of the Nigeria 2023 elections, supplementing the first report issued on 27 February.

In the report, the EU EOM lamented the pervasive violence during Saturday’s Governorship and House of Assembly elections, which it said claimed the lives of 21 persons across the country, due to various violent attacks relating to the election.

The mission has been present in Nigeria since 11 January and will continue to observe post- election developments.

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In a press conference held in Abuja, the EU EOM decried voter apathy experienced during the governorship and State House of Assembly polls, which it attributed to infractions emanating from the Presidential and National Assembly elections. The mission said something must be done urgently to correct the situation in the future so as not to allow for a relapse in Nigeria’s democracy.

The EU EOM Chief Observer Barry Andrews said the mission observed that shortly before, and on election day, incidents of organized violence in several states created an environment of fear for voters. Andrews noted that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), failed to win public confidence by not addressing the concerns raised by electorates.

He said the March 18 election was marred by thuggery and organized violence in states like Lagos, Rivers and Kano.

“Public confidence and trust in INEC were severely damaged on 25 February due to lack of transparency and operational failures in the conduct of the federal level polls. Up until the postponement, INEC continued to abstain from providing information, limiting its communication to a few press releases and ceremonial statements and hence failing to address public grievances and rebuild confidence in the electoral process,” Andrews said.

“From 11 March onwards, despite compressed timeframes, INEC introduced various corrective measures to render a timely delivery of electoral materials, efficient use of election technologies, and ensure prompt publication of result forms, some of which were effective.

“Overall, on election day, multiple incidents of thuggery and intimidation interrupted polling in various locations, primarily across the south but also in states in the central and northern areas. There were reportedly some 21 fatalities. In polling units in several states, violent incidents targeted voters, INEC personnel, citizen observers and journalists.

“Most polling units opened with materials and personnel deployed on time, although a dismal level of voter participation meant less pressure on INEC operations throughout the day. Vote-buying, also observed by EU EOM observers, further detracted from an appropriate conduct of the elections.

“The 18 March elections did not face the same problems with the use of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS, as on 25 February. Result forms for the gubernatorial races were uploaded and displayed for public scrutiny. At the time of the declaration of presidential results only.”

Andrews said the EU EOM observed that Nigerians have a great appetite for democracy and are keen to engage in various civic activities.

“However, in many parts of the country, their expectations were not met. Many were disappointed and we witnessed voter apathy that is in part a clear consequence of failures by political elites and, unfortunately, also by INEC,” he said.

Andrews further remarked that despite cases of violence, voter intimidation and thuggery, campaigns in state elections were competitive and fundamental freedoms of assembly and movement were largely respected. He said that however, insecurity impeded the canvass for votes in certain parts of the country and organized violent attacks shortly before the elections in several states led to a fearful atmosphere.

“Some states governors took executive actions, negatively affecting the campaign environment,” he said.

The mission also noted the misuse of administrative resources, including through various financial and in-kind inducements to voters, giving an undue advantage to the party in power. According to Andrews, the abuse of incumbency gave an undue advantage to the party in power in several states.

He said that EU EOM observers also received credible reports of pressure on civil servants by governors, citing Katsina state, where several high level officials were dismissed after a disappointing outcome for APC in the 25 February presidential elections and LGA officials were threatened to lose their jobs if they did not ensure victory in the upcoming polls, as an example.

“In the last week before 18 March, the governor of Rivers authorized the promotion of civil servants at all levels in the state and announced the recruitment of 10,000 youth employment positions in the administration.

Similar steps were taken by the Lagos State government and others.

The mission said misuse of state resources was evident, primarily through the promotion of social benefits and relief programmes, which significantly intensified between the polls.

“As noted by EU EOM observers and reflected in media reports, governors publicly provided inducements to voters, including significant grants for traders, distribution of vehicles, buses, and motorcycles (Yobe, Gombe, Adamawa); issuing cheques to different beneficiary groups (Nasarawa, Yobe, Kwara); inaugurating infrastructure projects and for campaign purposes (Ogun, Katsina); and the payment of 1.2 billion Naira in backlogged pensions to civil servants and the release of impounded vehicles to owners free of charge days before the elections (Lagos).”

Andrews pointed out that law enforcement agencies failed to prosecute persons who attacked, intimidated, or harassed journalists during or after the presidential polls in at least five southern states with fiercely contested state-level races.

“In two further states, police arrested two journalists on bogus charges. EU EOM observers confirmed 10 incidents involving media; only in one instance police opened a case. Impunity encouraged by police inaction is detrimental to freedom of expression, particularly as independent and trusted outlets are targeted. This does not accord with Nigeria’s regional and international commitments for protection of the media.

“On 15 February, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) sanctioned 41 media outlets, with excessive fines on 25 radio and TV stations for vaguely defined breaches. The NBC did not publish its decisions nor grant due process, effectively subduing critical reporting prior to the state elections,” he said.

The mission also reported that vote buying by or on behalf of APC and PDP was also observed by five EU EOM observer teams within the vicinity of polling units, including by the distribution of goods and money. It said it will present and publish its final report, including recommendations for improving the electoral framework in the next few months.

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