tally trouble

Nigeria: Tinubu snubs EU proposals but key is ‘lessons learnt’

By Ben Ezeamalu

Premium badge Reserved for subscribers

Posted on July 7, 2023 07:29

 © Two European Union (EU) election observers watch during the collation of the presidential election results at the Independent National Electoral Commission headquarters, Lagos, in Nigeria, 26 February, 2023. (Photo by Benson Ibeabuchi / AFP)
Two European Union (EU) election observers watch during the collation of the presidential election results at the Independent National Electoral Commission headquarters, Lagos, in Nigeria, 26 February, 2023. (Photo by Benson Ibeabuchi / AFP)

A report on Nigeria’s 2023 general election by the EU Election Observation Mission received an aggressive pushback by the presidency.

Analysts say this is an indication of the government not taking an objective look at criticism of the electoral process.

The EU EOM final report, released last week, detailed the observations of the group deployed to all regions across Nigeria during the general elections. The 92-page report also provided proposals of which six were termed ‘priority recommendations’ to the Nigerian government.

The government, however, immediately rejected the report, saying it was targeted at Bola Tinubu, who was declared the winner of the presidential election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Rather than dismissing the report, the Nigerian government should take an objective look at the recommendations and how to strengthen the country’s electoral process, says Akinbode Oluwafemi, the executive director of Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA).

“The election itself had its shortcomings, but the biggest issue will be the lessons learnt,” Oluwafemi tells The Africa Report.

Electoral commission skewered

The final report was as comprehensive as it was scathing on the electoral commission, particularly its preparedness and conduct during the 2023 polls.

According to the report, the INEC lacked efficiency in implementing its election project plan which affected the voter registration exercise and permanent voters card production and distribution.

“The training of ad-hoc electoral staff was negatively assessed by EU EOM observers, as it was delayed and often overcrowded, with insufficient copies of manuals, a lack of BVAS [Bi-modal Voter Accreditation System] devices for training sessions, and [it was] not focused on the most important procedures such as the use of technologies, counting procedures, and the completion or cancellation of polling units results and collation forms.”

The report indicated that procedures for the counting and collation of results put in place by the INEC were too complex, involving multiple steps, which made it difficult to understand for ad-hoc staff.

Additionally, the manuals given to polling officials did not include sufficient provisions for dealing with anomalies during collation, according to the report.

“These shortcomings contributed to a series of operational failures, particularly in the federal polls,” the report found.

Faulty viewing portal

On the day of the presidential election, the report noted the late arrival of sensitive materials as well as the failure of the electoral commission to display the presidential result forms on the viewing portal (IReV) as promised.

The EU EOM said it conducted a study of presidential results forms available on IReV on 9 March using a sample of 385 presidential forms.

The study showed that 91% of the sampled result forms were available on IReV on 9 March. Of them, 71% were clear and readable, and 53% were seen to be unaltered and intact without any manual modification.

Only 31% of the presidential election results uploaded on IReV were formally and mathematically correct, which reflected serious deficiencies in how polling staff were trained.

The report termed the collation centres as “chaotic and overcrowded” on election night, but that organisation eventually improved. The same could not be said for transparency, according to the report, noting that this was lacking even when the results were declared on 1 March.

Technical hitches

Ahead of the elections, the INEC assured observers that the results would be uploaded on the election viewing portal in real time.

But at the close of voting on 25 February, the first batch of results were only uploaded after 10pm, reaching a mere 20% by noon the next day and then arriving more slowly over several days, the report said.

The INEC explained the delay as “technical hitches”, but analysts questioned why only the presidential results were affected, and not the parliamentary results.

By the time the commission declared Tinubu as the winner of the election, more than a quarter of the presidential result forms were still missing on the portal.

“Delays and friction in the IReV portal (especially during 25 February elections) prevented smooth access to view the scans,” stated the report.

“Assurances from the INEC that [the) system was adequately prepared and tested were undermined by the system’s performance, thus contributing to diminishing public trust and confidence in results processing.”

Recorded violence

The report took note of violence at polling stations and how journalists covering the election were mistreated.

“During the 18 March governorship and state assembly elections, there were reported thuggery and intimidation of voters in 21 states, resulting in 21 fatalities,” the report found.

There were over 30 incidents of attacks on journalists covering the elections, with several of them occurring in plain sight of the police, the report noted.

“In some cases the police detained journalists documenting irregularities, but not the attacker.”

The report noted the National Broadcasting Commission hampered the freedom of the media by sanctioning media organisations without giving them fair hearing.

“Overall, the widespread anticipation for well-managed elections were dashed by a flawed process leading to widespread public disappointment and concerns about increasing voter disenchantment,” said the report.

Few lapses

After voting and collation, the INEC declared the All Progressives Congress’ Tinubu the winner of the election having polled 8.7 million votes to defeat Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party, who secured 6.9 million votes. Peter Obi finished third with 6.1 million votes.

Atiku and Obi have headed to the election tribunal to challenge the outcome of the polls.

In his acceptance speech on 29 May, Tinubu commended the INEC for the conduct of the elections, stating that lapses were “few in number” and “immaterial to the final outcome”.

After the EU EOM’s final report, the presidency doubled down on their claim that election was credible, with Tinubu’s adviser describing it as a “jaundiced report” and “a poorly done desk job”.

Dele Alake, the president’s special adviser on special duties, communications and strategy, said in a statement that the 2023 elections were “the best organised general elections in Nigeria since 1999”.

“We strongly reject, in its entirety, any notion and idea from any organisation, group and individual remotely suggesting that the 2023 election was fraudulent,” Alake said.

Other prominent members of the ruling party have also adopted a belligerent approach towards the report. Festus Keyamo, the spokesperson of the Tinubu-Shettima presidential campaign, accused the EU observers of collaborating with opposition parties to produce a “one-sided narrative”.

Femi Fani-Kayode, another member of the ruling party’s campaign organisation, said the report is “the biggest and best example of fake news and belongs to the dustbin”.

Take an objective look

The EU EOM had earlier issued preliminary reports after the 25 February presidential and parliamentary elections, as well as the governorship and state assembly polls, in which it stated most of what appeared in its final report.

Analysts say the tone of the government’s response to the report raises concerns over their readiness to objectively study the document.

“That response is uncalled for,” Oluwafemi says. “That’s why I said the government should take a second look at the report, maybe the person who drafted the [government] response did so on the basis of third-party narratives without necessarily reading the report itself.”

Paul James, programme manager, Election YIAGA Africa, says the Nigerian government’s response to the report is a disservice to Nigerians because the state invited the EU observers. He says the EU invested huge financial resources into the electoral process.

“This is the most expensive election in our history, this was the election that was predicated on technology,” James tells The Africa Report.

“The EU supported the INEC to get some of this infrastructure. So, as far as we are concerned, they have invested heavily. Any sensible person will want to ask: what happened to my investment?”

There's more to this story

Get unlimited access to our exclusive journalism and features today. Our award-winning team of correspondents and editors report from over 54 African countries, from Cape Town to Cairo, from Abidjan to Abuja to Addis Ababa. Africa. Unlocked.

Subscribe Now

cancel anytime