Politics

European Union Criticizes INEC over 2023 General Election, Calls for Transparency and Accountability

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The European Union Election Observer Mission (EOM) to Nigeria has expressed its criticism of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) regarding the conduct of the 2023 general election. The EU mission highlighted several issues, stating that the election lacked transparency, inclusivity, and fell short of the benchmarks and standards set by INEC itself. This has led to a erosion of the progress made in Nigeria’s democratic process over time.

During a press conference where the mission released its final report on the election, Barry Andrew, the Chief Observer of the EOM, highlighted the severe damage to public confidence and trust in INEC. The presidential poll and subsequent state level elections failed to restore trust in the commission, leading civil society organizations to call for an independent audit of the entire electoral process.

Andrew noted that the pre-poll environment was volatile and challenging across the country, with economic crisis affecting the electoral atmosphere. While fundamental freedoms of assembly and movement were broadly respected, insecurity in some regions hindered the full enjoyment of these rights. The abuse of incumbency by political office holders distorted the level playing field, and widespread vote-buying undermined the integrity of the elections. Additionally, organized violence before and during the election deterred voter participation.

The EU mission also pointed out gaps and ambiguities in the Electoral Act, particularly in terms of INEC’s accountability and transparency. It highlighted the lack of independent structures and capacities within INEC to enforce sanctions for electoral offenses and breaches of campaign finance rules.

One of the key concerns raised by the EOM was the selection process of individuals appointed as Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) and national commissioners for INEC. The mission called for a mechanism that ensures the selection of candidates based on clear criteria evaluating their merits, qualifications, and verified non-partisanship.

Despite these criticisms, the EU mission acknowledged the determination of Nigerians, especially the youth, to embrace democratic principles fully. They also commended candidates and parties for taking their complaints to the courts when they disputed the election outcomes.

The EOM made 23 recommendations to improve the electoral process, urging the government, INEC, the legislature, and other stakeholders to address six priority areas. These areas include protecting the interests of voters through certainty of law, establishing a robust operational framework for electoral administration, protecting the freedom of expression and integrity of elections, ensuring meaningful women’s representation, addressing impunity for electoral offenses, and undertaking external independent audits.

In response to the report, INEC has assured that it will consider the recommendations alongside those from other international and domestic observer groups for implementation. Festus Okoye, INEC Commissioner for Information and Voter Education Committee, emphasized the need to consider the context and challenges faced during the election, such as insecurity, violent attacks, fuel scarcity, and transportation issues. He highlighted the positive aspects of the election, including significant improvements in the conduct and management of the senatorial, House of Representatives, governorship, and state assembly elections.

Okoye stated that administrative recommendations would be implemented by INEC, while legal and constitutional issues would be reviewed by the National Assembly. He emphasized the importance of having confidence in Nigeria’s democratic institutions and their ability to resolve electoral matters, calling for fidelity to these institutions for progress.

The EU’s critical assessment of the 2023 general election underscores the need for transparency, inclusivity, and accountability in Nigeria’s electoral processes. Addressing the identified shortcomings will be crucial in building trust and ensuring the integrity of future elections, thereby strengthening Nigeria’s democracy.

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