The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) deployed to each of the five states of Kano, Benue, Sokoto, Adamawa and Bauchi, were supplementary governorship elections held on 23 March, has deplored the violence, intimidation and vote-buying that marred the elections especially in Kano state.
The EU made this known in a statement the Mission issued on Monday, stressing that extensive electoral security problems were observed in some areas, with groups of men with weapons intimidating and obstructing the process, and security agencies ineffective at protecting citizens’ right to vote.
The EU said that in Kano state polling units were largely inaccessible to EU observers, and citizen observers and journalists were also obstructed. EU observers also witnessed increased interference by party agents and cases of vote-buying, the statement said.
“Party leaderships did not appear to take any steps to rein in their supporters. Given the high stakes and the reduced electorate involved, supplementary elections are systemically vulnerable to parties strategically pressurising voters and disrupting the process.
“In the polling units that could be fully observed,there were improved logistical arrangements and procedures were mostly followed, although there were problems with secrecy of the ballot,” the statement said.
The EU added that the environment particularly in Kano state was intimidating and not conducive to voters’ free participation in the election.
It said further that party leaderships locally and centrally did not appear to take any steps to rein in supporters and prevent evident violence, intimidation or other misconduct.
“In Nasarawa local government area (LGA) in Kano, which accounted for approximately one-third of all registered voters for the supplementary governorship election, EU observers witnessed organised intimidation of voters. For example, groups of youths with clubs and machetes patrolled the streets, and people with party agent tags harassed voters.
“During collation in Kano, EU observers saw that several INEC polling staff had been attacked. Large groups of men with weapons were not contained by the police.
“Due to intimidating crowds and disturbances, EU observers in Kano could not access or continue observation in polling units in Dala and Nasarawa LGAs. The electoral process in Kano was further compromised by the harassment and obstruction of citizen observers,and journalists from BBC Hausa, the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA),and TVC. This compromised scrutiny of both polling and collation of results in the affected areas,” the statement said.
The statement added that isolated violent incidents also disrupted voting and counting in other states. “In Bauchi, EU observers witnessed around 50 people with clubs disrupting counting in one polling unit. In Benue, election materials were burnt, resulting in the cancellation of polling affecting 13,000 registered voters, and a collation officer carrying result sheets was shot in the leg,” it said.
The EU Mission also observed that party agents were seen to interfere more in the process than on the previous two election days. The Mission said further that some polling units in Kano were dominated by controlling party agents and supporters.
“Of the 40 polling units that EU teams could fully observe, agents were present in all and in five cases were seen interfering in the work of polling officials, in Benue, Plateau and Sokoto.
“EU observers in all five states also saw party agents trying to influence voters, assisting voters or voting on their behalf. Supporters and agents were sometimes present in polling units in excessive numbers, resulting in overcrowding.
“EU observers also saw vote-buying in Sokoto by both the leading parties, and indications of vote-buying in Kano. Citizen observers also reported party agents involved in vote-buying, and bribery of polling staff and police,” it said.
The EU said that INEC improved logistical arrangements with most polling units observed open within half an hour of the official opening time.
“In the 40 polling units that EU teams could fully observe, procedures were mostly followed. Smart card readers were used to accredit voters in all polling units observed.
“However, manual accreditation procedures were not always correctly followed if card readers failed to authenticate fingerprints. The secrecy of the vote was not always sufficiently protected in nearly one-third of polling units observed,” the statement added.
The EU said further that collation process was finalised in Bauchi, Benue, Plateau and Sokoto within 24 hours, but in Kano it was suspended for several hours due to concerns over the safety of lower-level collation staff.
“For security reasons, collation of results in two of 29 LGAs in Kano had to be undertaken at the state collation centre.
“Similarly, ward collation had to be undertaken at one LGA in Bauchi. Adding to transparency of the process, the media provided live coverage of state-level collation.
“EU observers visited 12 collation centres and observed party agents present in all. EU observers noted thatoverall collation procedures were followed and the process was generally transparent,” the statement added.
According to the statement, the EU EOM will continue to observe the results and petitions’ processes, and will remain in Nigeria until early April. The Chief Observer, Maria Arena, will return in June to present the mission’s final report, which will include recommendations for future electoral processes.
Innocent Odoh, Abuja