Commonwealth observers impressed with polls

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The Commonwealth Observer Group on Monday said a major gain of the Presidential and National Assembly elections were the fact that Nigerians had the opportunity to express their will and exercise their franchise.

They also claimed that in spite of the fact that the elections were “highly-contested”, the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly, association and movement were respected.

The observers said the elections showed that “people of Nigeria have demonstrated patience and commitment to their democracy.”

They commended the Nigeria Police and security agencies for securing the polling units nationwide.

But it asked the Federal Government to hold those who perpetrated violence during the elections accountable.

They however pleaded with all political parties to honour the National Peace Accord and avoid violence.

The group made its verdict known in an interim statement by its Chairperson, Dr. Jakaya Kikwete, who was a former President of the United Republic of Tanzania.

Kikwete said: “No report of underage voters from observers. The disabled voted and given preference. Voting was transparent and open at polling unit level.

“But at the collation stage, we did not participate yet. So, it’s the totality of all levels that will determine the overall status. We reserve that until the process is ended.”

Although the Commonwealth observers acknowledged that there were organisational, logistical and technical difficulties in these elections, they said the challenges should be part of the nation’s electoral reform.

The interim statement said:  “This was a highly contested election. There was a significant increase in the number of political parties and presidential candidates although in practice the campaign was dominated by the two major parties.

“Whilst the environment was tense and divisive, overall, fundamental freedoms of association, expression, assembly and movement were generally respected.

“Notwithstanding the difficulties and challenges surrounding these elections, for the most part Nigerians had the opportunity to express their will and exercise their franchise.

“We trust that the final stages of collation and announcement of results will be handled in a transparent and credible manner.

“The people of Nigeria have demonstrated patience and commitment to their democracy. We appeal to them to maintain the same commitment in the post-election period and as Nigeria prepares to return to the polls on 9 March 2019 for the Governorship, State Assembly and Federal Capital Territory (FCT) area council elections.”

On violence during the elections, the observers urged the Federal Government to hold the perpetrators accountable.

They advised political parties against taking the laws into their hands in any form.

They however praised Nigerian police and security agencies for securing polling units.

The statement added: “Election related violence and loss of life, which occurred in a number of places, is deeply troubling. Nigeria can do better.

“Violence has no place in a modern democracy. Those responsible should be held accountable.

“We acknowledge the important role played by police, together with other security agencies, in securing polling units.”

The observers pleaded with political parties to shun post voting violence under whatever guise.

“The political environment is highly charged and there are security concerns in some parts of the country. Several cases of election related violence have been reported.

“We welcome the signing of the National Peace Accord by political parties shortly before the elections, which was witnessed by the Commonwealth Secretary-General.

“We encourage all political parties to honour their commitments in the National Peace Accord and reject violence,” the statement said.

Regarding the conduct of the elections, the observers identified six challenges which Nigeria should address in its electoral reform.

The statement said: “Electoral reform is a continuous process building on what has worked successfully and addressing weaknesses.

“However, there have been considerable organizational, logistical and technical difficulties in these elections, which we know INEC and all stakeholders will wish to address.”

The six challenges are as follows:

  • Notwithstanding further assurances provided by INEC, there were delays in the distribution of materials, resulting in late opening of polling units. Although INEC subsequently authorized extended voting hours for those polling units that had opened late, this information was not communicated effectively and not followed by all polling staff.

 

  • We noted that polling officials, security staff and other essential workers were unable to vote and were therefore disenfranchised. In addition, we were told that 11.2 million Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) were not collected; consequently, over 13 percent of all registered voters could not vote.

 

  • We observed problems with the Smart Card Readers (SCRs) in a number of polling units. This caused further delays as polling officials awaited technical assistance or replacements.

 

  • The Group was impressed by the hard work and dedication of polling staff. Observers noted however, that many would have benefitted from more comprehensive training in polling procedures. For example, in some places, the layout of polling units, including the positioning of voting booths, potentially compromised the secrecy of the ballot. Incorrect labeling and failure to seal the ballot boxes correctly were also noted. Lack of signage within polling units caused some confusion.

 

  • We witnessed crowding within a number of polling units with large numbers of party agents, many of whom were not wearing INEC accreditation badges. Some party agents attempted to intimidate polling staff and voters, including during counting.

 

  • During sorting and counting, the determination of invalid votes was often vigorously contested by party agents and members of the public, partly due to a lack of understanding as to what constituted an invalid vote.

 

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