• Monday, July 22, 2024
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There were 21 fatalities in 2023 elections — EU Election Observers


The European Union Election Observers Mission (EU-EOM), in its second preliminary report released on Monday, said that the 2023 elections recorded 21 fatalities.

The Election Observers Mission added that these fatalities were the end product of the multiple incidents of thuggery and intimidation witnessed at the various polling stations across the federation, with the highest incidence of these infractions recorded across states in the southern part of the country. While pockets of these infractions were observed in the few states in the northern part of the country.

In the report titled, “Obstruction and organised violence limited the free expression of the will of the voters, despite efforts by civil society to promote democratic standards,” the observers said that in polling units across several states, violent incidents targeted voters, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) personnel, citizen observers, and journalists.

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The election observers added that the outcome of the February 25 presidential and national assembly elections resulted in a dismal level of voter participation in the March 18 governorship and state legislative elections, which meant less pressure on INEC operations throughout the day of voting.

It said politicians used the weapon of vote-buying to influence the choices of voters, a situation that affected the conduct of the elections. The report read, “Vote-buying, also observed by EU EOM observers, further detracted from an appropriate conduct of the elections.”

Unlike the February 25 presidential and national assembly elections, which recorded high incidences of failure of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), especially as pertaining to transmitting the results from the polling units to the INEC collation centers, the EU Mission said that “the 18 March elections did not face the same problems with the use of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS).”

It added that the result forms for the gubernatorial races were uploaded and displayed for public scrutiny.

“The 25 February post-election environment was largely peaceful, with parties appealing to supporters for calm. However, a few days before the 18 March elections, violence abruptly increased with more than a dozen attacks and abductions of candidates by thugs and unidentified gunmen, some of which resulted in fatalities. Violence shortly before and on election day appeared to strategically suppress voter participation,” the report reads.

The mission also noted some salient observations that perhaps dented its flawless expectations from the polls, some of which were the intraparty conflicts and several late court judgments that blighted some candidates’ chances of winning or giving a credible challenge.

“However, the mission said intraparty conflicts, compounded by protracted legal deadlines for solving candidacy disputes, created uncertainty for voters and electoral contestants alike. Some court decisions were taken only a few days before the polls, effectively reducing candidates’ prospects to meaningfully campaign,” it stated.

The EU-EOM said “that campaign for state-level elections was highly competitive and interlinked with parties’ canvass for votes at the federal level. Fundamental freedoms of assembly and movement were largely respected, with the latter being impeded in some states by insecurity and state executive actions. There were defections and switching support by state branches of parties, especially in the aftermath of the federal-level results.”

EU EOM observers noted that in several states, the abuse of incumbency gave an undue advantage to the party in power. Voters in 15 out of 28 states benefited from professionally organised media debates, during which journalists questioned leading gubernatorial candidates on issues of local concern while fact-checkers probed their responses for accuracy.

“It helped voters make a better-informed choice on election day even if most incumbents rebuffed media offers, showing a disregard for an inclusive political debate. Attacks, harassment of journalists that occurred on 25 February went unprosecuted. Gubernatorial candidates’ online communication was more issue focused than that of presidential contestants.

“However, disinformation contaminated the online information space and contributed to confusing voters, with some dangerous rhetoric aiming to foment ethnic divisions also being observed. Positively, fact-checking initiatives continued to debunk such content and strived to preserve the integrity of the online space,” the report stated.