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The European Union (EU) Election Observation Mission last weekend released a mind boggling report of the 2019 general elections which showed that the polls were marred by severe operational and transparency shortcomings, electoral security problems and low turnout.
Findings of the report exposed grave issues that culminated into the near sham experienced before, during and after the last elections, such as the failed attempt to improve the electoral law sequel to the decline of presidential assent to the 2018 Electoral Act Amendment Bill, pressure on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), problematic distribution of the Permanent Voter Card (PVCs) and acrimonious party primaries.
Others include, antagonistic campaigns, ineffective and unenforced campaign finance, unbiased media reportage, insecurity -incidents of violence, late opening of polling units and poor following of procedures, high number of vote cancellation, insufficient transparency in collation of results, high levels of anomalies and missing data in result sheets, controversial sacking of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, electoral impunity, obstruction and harassment of the Civil Society, decreased women participation, disenfranchisement of many internally displaced voters and very low nomination of people with disabilities.
Based on these findings, the EU report made 30 recommendations that could be used by INEC and other stakeholders in the electoral process to bring about reforms that would enhance the smooth, transparent and credible conduct of future elections, particularly the 2023 general elections.
The EU report is coming at the time the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has indicated the interest to embark on reforms that would better the conduct of future polls.
Mahmood Yakubu, INEC chairman, while receiving the EU delegation ahead of the public
presentation of its report of the 2019 general elections said, the EU EOM report is coming at the right time as it will feed into the ongoing review of the conduct of the 2019 general elections that would be concluded in the next two months.
According to Yakubu, “the 30 observations and recommendations of the EU EOM to the 2015 general elections were particularly useful not only in the design of some important proposals for reforming the electoral legal framework, but also in improving our electoral processes and procedures.
“One of such key recommendations was that we merge the accreditation and voting processes on Election Day, which was subsequently implemented during the Bayelsa governorship election of December 2015 and in all subsequent elections.
“The implementation of some of the other recommendations went a long way in enhancing our organisational and operational planning and strengthening our engagement with stakeholders”.
As acknowledged by the INEC Chairman, the implementation of the 30 recommendations of the EU report on the 2019 general elections would go a long way to improve the country’s electoral reforms.
The recommendations which cut across various issues found in the report are as follows:
Consolidated official versions of legislation be made available online and in paper format in real time in order to improve public accessibility and awareness and to avoid legal confusion.
Comprehensive legal regulation be established for the cancellation of voting in polling units, with clear grounds specified, time frames elaborated, and requirements made for transparency.
Turn voting points into separate polling units. This would help enable greater transparency in results, and reduce the number of affected voters in case of cancellation of voting in specific polling units. Ultimately, spread the location of polling
units for increased accessibility for voters. All polling units have sufficient space and a layout that protects secrecy of the vote.
Information about smart card readers and data from their use in polling units be made public at the time of results announcement. This includes the number of voters accredited, as verified through permanent voter cards, and those biometrically verified through fingerprint authentication. This information be announced, recorded on results forms, and data put on INEC’s website.
Legal requirements be established for full results transparency, with data easily accessible to the public. All results, including those from lower levels, be immediately displayed at collation centres. Results forms from all collation centres be scanned and published on the INEC website by the time of the declaration of final results. Results forms from all polling units be published before the deadline for submission of petitions against declared results.
INEC procedures for the collation of results be elaborated and strengthened to improve integrity and confidence in electoral outcomes. Detailed INEC procedures be developed that provide for public scrutiny in dealing with irregularities and
anomalies on results forms at all levels, Double entry of data and computerised checks be undertaken to avoid numerical errors.
Training of all ad hoc polling staff, election supervisors, and collation and returning officers be significantly improved, with polling staff having extended practical training on the use of smart card readers, closing and counting procedures and completing polling unit result forms.
Organisational and operational capacity within INEC be considerably strengthened. Improve planning, tracking, and the required human and material resources needed for timely and accountable operations. In addition improve internal communication within INEC.
In order to enhance integrity and confidence in INEC, the commission works with full transparency, making information of public interest immediately and easily accessible, including on its website. This includes decisions, voter registration information, PVC distribution and polling data, manuals for officials and results.
INEC increases consultation with stakeholders, including more frequent meetings with political parties centrally and at state level, especially during the election period. In addition, press conferences be regularly and consistently held, particularly before and after election day. INEC
improves strategic communication on incidents and crises, through early press conferences and statements including on electoral security issues.
Delimitation be undertaken well in advance of the next general elections to reduce inequality of the vote. The legal framework for boundary delimitation be developed to include provision for impartial delimitation decisions, based on consultation and with a complaints and appeals mechanism.
The voter registration system be improved, including with a plan for developing and maintaining the register in order to provide for its accuracy and inclusiveness. This involves improving fingerprint recording and recognition, the removal of the names of the deceased as well as duplicate entries across the country, and the management of transfers of registration. Such processes be subject to stronger INEC supervisory checks and internal audits, with greater scrutiny from agents, observers and the media. More time be given for claims and objections by citizens.
Improve the system of collection of permanent voter cards, with more local distribution points and stricter adherence to distribution procedures.
Regular public updates be provided on collection rates, ultimately with a breakdown by polling unit. In order to improve biometric functionality, the collection of cards be combined with on-the- spot biometric testing of the registrants’ cards and fingerprints.
The law be amended to strengthen legal requirements for integrity and transparency in party primaries as well as internal party dispute procedures. The law also be amended to give INEC powers to reject nominations for candidacies if primaries are not conducted in line with legal requirements.
So that campaign finance rules are comprehensive, establish legal limitsfor campaign donations and expenditures of political parties, and introduce a legal obligation for individual candidates to report on contributions and spending. Reports by candidates and parties be promptly disclosed and subject to full public scrutiny, with sanctions applied for non-disclosure.
Strengthen transparency and accountability in campaign spending. Consider establishing reporting requirements for media outlets, advertising agencies and social network platforms, on prices charged and income received from political advertising. Paid online campaign material be required to be clearly labeled and to display a digital imprint of the sponsoring organisation at all times, so voters can easily distinguish between paid and user-generated content.
Political party oversight be strengthened to promote compliance with legal and regulatory requirements, including in regards to political finance. The responsible body follows robust transparency and accountability procedures, be appropriately resourced, and have strong administrative sanctioning power.
Reform the licensing system for broadcast media to provide for pluralism and diversity in all states. Ownership structures be publicised, powers to grant licences be vested in the NBC without presidential approval, and licence fees be tailored to the economic circumstances in each state.
Transform the National Broadcasting Commission into a genuinely independent media regulatory body. Establish institutional transparency and accountability requirements, and the selection of the board and director through an open, inclusive and competitive system, with a cross-party approval mechanism and/or participation of industry professionals.
Establish a legal and regulatory system that transforms the federal government-owned media, the NTA and FRCN, into genuine public service broadcasters. This includes provisions for editorial independence, financial autonomy, clear separation from any government institution and an open and inclusive selection process of the management.
Adopt a data protection law as well as other mechanisms to protect citizens’ right to privacy of their personal data, both online and offline.
Remove or revise vague legislative provisions that have been used to overly restrict freedom of expression in the media and online. In particular, the vague definitions of “cyberstalking” in the 2015 Cybercrimes Act and “classified matters” included in article 9 of the Official Secrets Act.
The inter-agency body responsible for electoral security works more transparently and inclusively with regular consultations with political parties and civil society. Security arrangements, general principles for rules of engagement, updates and complaints mechanisms be made public. Clear delineation of the operational roles of different security agencies be established, with the military only involved at the request of INEC.
Shorten the timeframes for pre-election cases so that cases are completed well in advance of Election Day. This could include reducing time limits for determinations and appeals, and the number of appeal levels.
To improve access to remedy and avoid petitions being taken to different courts at the same time, electoral tribunals be extended to also cover pre-election cases. Judicial capacity be increased through the appointment of more judges, training on election-related matters and improved case-management mechanisms.
Strengthen the mechanism for the prosecution of electoral offences with responsibility for investigation and prosecution transferred to a separate institution as envisaged in the National Electoral Offences Commission Bill, 2017. Requirements be made for prompt public statistical information on investigations, prosecutions and convictions.
Legal provisions be made for the right of observers to access all stages of the election process, and to make it an offence to obstruct or intimidate observers. Legal provisions to include requirements for timely, accessible and clear accreditation arrangements. Citizen observers be encouraged to undertake observation of many different
aspects of the election, including voter registration activities, the primaries, electoral dispute resolution, election offence prosecutions and media monitoring.
Given that it is only possible to run for office through a party, introduce a legal requirement for political parties to have a minimum representation of women among candidates and non-compliance be sanctioned with proportionate and deterrent penalties. Parties be required to have policies and provide regular information on the promotion of women’s political participation within parties, as candidates, and more widely.
INEC publishes a framework for the electoral participation of internally displaced persons before the start of any voter registration exercise and ensure its full and consistent implementation. INEC undertakes regular consultation with displaced communities and provide updates on plans for their inclusion.
Parties be legally required to have policies on the political participation of persons with disabilities, including within the party and as candidates.
Require INEC to provide assistive devices in all polling units and information in accessible formats.
James Kwen, Abuja