“Systemic failings” marked by serious operational and transparency shortcomings, electoral security problems and a low turnout was the verdict of the European Union’s election observers on Nigeria’s presidential, parliamentary and governorship elections in February.
The final report, published by the EU election observation mission on Saturday (15 June), three months after the disputed polls, said the elections won by the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari were marred by violent incidents and harassment of voters.
“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 observers said.
“Fundamental electoral reform” needed to be “urgently undertaken to allow time for debate, legislative changes and implementation well in advance of the next elections,” EU chief observer, Maria Arena, a Belgian Socialist MEP, said in the statement.
Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared President Buhari, of the All Progressives Congress, the winner with 15.1 million votes against the main opposition challenger Atiku Abubakar, of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), with 11.2 million votes.
The victory of the 76-year-old retired general has been challenged by Abubakar, who rejected the results as fraudulent and is contesting them at the Nigerian Supreme Court.
Abubakar’s PDP immediately welcomed the EU’s report, which gave credence to its complaints.
“The election was outrightly rigged with the cancellation of millions of PDP votes, alteration of results and allocation of fictitious votes to the APC,” the party said in a statement by Kola Ologbondiyan, its national spokesperson.
“Nigerians are still in shock over the revelations by EU of how about 2.8 million votes were deliberately ‘cancelled without sufficient accountability’ and how several returning officers gave no reason for the cancellations,” the statement said.
The PDP has also demanded the arrest of the chairman of the INEC, Mahmood Yakubu.
However, the EOM report stated that both major parties were guilty of failing to rein in acts of violence and intimidation by their supporters, and of abusing the advantages of incumbency at federal and state levels.
Buhari was sworn in for his second term in late May. There is little prospect of a politically divided Supreme Court finding against Buhari and demanding a rerun.
The EU, as well as individual member states, have ear-marked improved trade and political relations with Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country and the largest economy.
Germany’s Angela Merkel and outgoing UK Prime Minister Theresa May both made a stop in August on their respective trips to promote increased trade and investment ties in Africa, as did France’s Emmanuel Macron earlier this year.
But the February elections saw a historically low turnout of just 35%. Journalists were subject to harassment and there were reports that independent observers were also obstructed in their work scrutinising the elections.
Buhari, perhaps mindful of the importance of strengthening relations with Brussels, moved swiftly to accept the EU EOM report and promised that its recommendations would be implemented ahead of the next elections in 2023.
The Presidency is “engaged in root and branch reviews of the 2019 general elections and will input lessons learned into its recommendations for electoral and constitutional reforms” Buhari’s office said in a statement.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]