IDEAS Radio 8 February 2019

Aghogho Oboh: Alright, welcome to Countdown 2019 and we are counting down now to the general elections with just a week from today, believe it or not!  99.3 Nigeria Info; we’re discussing all the big and significant issues on the road to the 2019 general elections.

On the IDEAS segment with Ayo Obe, she’s discussing with comments made by the Governor of Kaduna State Nasir el Rufai, alleging interference by foreign observers  and they face the consequences. A lot of reactions to comments made by Nasir el Rufai.

Remember you can follow the programme on Twitter @Countdown2019NG, @RotimiSankore, @SEzekwesili @AghoghoOboh, @NigeriaInfoFM.  There you can also tweet if you’ve got any questions or comments. If you’ve got questions also, and comments, we’ve got a WhatsApp number: it’s 08095975805.

It’s Countdown 2019 and the IDEAS segment with Ayo Obe is up.

Rotimi Sankore: So today on the IDEAS segment with Ayo Obe on Countdown 2019 we are going to be looking at the role of election observers.  Welcome Ayo.

Ayo Obe: Hi Rotimi.

RS: So the big, the big question is: Why Observers?  And what do they do?

AO: Well as you know Rotimi, election observers have been in the news recently.  But I think it’s … for us to be able to understand the context, against which election observers come, I think it’s important as you say, for us to know: Why do we have observers?  As we know, the observers operate in any election at the behest of the election management body, or the government of the country where the election is being held, so it’s not that they just …

RS: So they’re invited?

AO: They are invited.  They don’t just turn up as busybodies, at least, in terms of foreign election observers.  Now when it comes to Nigerian election observers, they don’t need anybody’s permission to observe an election in their own country.   And it’s been, certainly since the time we returned to civil rule in 1988 to … 1998 to 1999, the Civil Liberties Organisation, of which I was president at that time, made it a point of duty to engage in election observation.  Why? Because in a situation where you have, you don’t have a good history of transparent, credible, free and fair elections, you need to build up the process of making your elections more and more transparent, more credible and more believable.  Because where election results are not accepted, the result is that either the people react violently, the government lacks legitimacy. And when that happened in 1983 in Nigeria, we had elections that were so corruptly conducted that the ruling party of the day said that they had had a moonslide, not just a landslide, but a moonslide.  And by the end of the year we had a military coup, which ousted the government which had won those elections.

RS: The government of Shehu Shagari.

AO: Yeah, the government of Shehu Shagari.  And indeed, it was actually the military coup which brought Muhammad Buhari, General Muhammad Buhari to power at that time.

RS: First time around.

AO:  Yes. So that I think, so that if the election observers … so it’s not just to put a stamp of approval on elections.  They are also there to say: These are what we observed about the elections, and perhaps to proffer suggestions about how things can be improved.  I should say that one of my incarnations was as the head of the Elections Programme of the National Democratic Institute, which is a US-based body, it is a foundation of the Democratic Party in the United States, and I spent just …

RS: … which among other things, observes elections globally …

AO:  … it observes … it does it on a global scale, and I was in charge of their programme here.  But what I wanted to stress is that the observation doesn’t just, you know, start the day or two before the elections.  When I started working for NDI in 2006, they had a pre-election observation mission, and the purpose of that was to see, to take the temperature of the preparations for the elections that were to take place in a year.  So that they could make their observations to the government and to the election management body, maybe some things that they had observed, some suggestions that they might make. So that election observation as I said, is not just, about what happened on the day of elections.

RS: Yeah, I was going say, so it’s about the integrity of the entire process.

AO: Absolutely.

RS: Not just the voting on election day.

AO: Yes.  And I think also, that you find that by … a lot of these overseas missions, they work with Nigerian observers because they are, obviously the Nigerian observers  have their feet on the ground, they know the terrain, they know the background of …


RS: Governor El Rufai [unclear] backtrack, tried to

AO: I think it’s only ‘clarified’ I don’t think there’s been any backtracking or retraction.

RS: Tried to clarify.  But the initial statement he made, it was alarming, when he said that foreigners that come to Nigeria to interfere in the elections would be returned in body bags, would be returned in body bags.  This kind of statement, why would they, or how would they worry observers?

AO: Well they would worry observers, and I should say they worry, they would worry, not … I mean, obviously, this remark was directed at foreign observers.  But they do also worry local observers, because they work with them [unclear] foreign observers. But why they worry foreign observers, first of all, foreign observers mission, and I’ve been on foreign observer missions to

RS: To other countries?

AO: Yes, to other countries, they are always very careful about the security and safety of their observers, and there are certain places that they might not send observers to observe the election.  That’s why it’s important to have partnerships with local groups. But why it would concern them is because an election observer mission is precisely what it says on the tin, it is there to observe.  Now, the governor’s statement was about “interference”, and he then linked it to election observation, by talking about a pre-determined idea about the integrity of the elections (which was going to be described as non-existent), and having had that pre-determined desire to say that the election was not credible, it would then provide the basis for delegitimising the government …

RS: The winner …

AO: … the winner of the election …

RS: … which he presumes would be his party

AO: Well, there you go.  And it’s against the background of what had happened in Venezuela, where …

RS: Which he described as “the Venezuela option”.

AO: Yes, because Venezuela had had an election in which the main opposition parties did not take part.  And, the reason … there were reasons why they said they wouldn’t take part because they said the process leading up to the election was not free, or fair, or credible.  But they didn’t take part, and so the election nonetheless went ahead, a result was declared, the incumbent government of Maduro won and, now the foreign governments are saying that they are no longer going to recognise the government which was declared winner of those elections, and they are going to  recognise instead the leader of …

RS: … leader of the Constituent Assembly as interim President, and they expect him to now organise free and fair elections.

AO: … elections.  Well I mean, that’s a bit of a stretch because in that context it’s not going to be very likely that you can organise anything free and fair.  One side will participate and one will not. But, it’s against that background that the Governor made his remarks.

But you see, this is why it’s always very important to be very careful about the language that you use, because since, he said, his words were that “They will go home in body bags”.  Now, the headlines that have carried that, have said: “Threats to murder”, so already …

RS: Well if you’re going back in body bags …

AO: No no no, you may have …

RS: … it means you’re already a goner already.

AO: No, I’m sorry.  What I want to say is that somebody says that: If you do that, it’s like saying: If you do that, it’s going to be very serious.  Now, he … definitely one should say that one’s assuming that he thinks they’re going to die in one way or another, and it’s not likely to be of natural causes.   It’s actually being as: he has threatened to murder. And then, on top of that you have the reaction from the Presidency, which, instead of saying: Look, the emphasis that we want to make, I mean, they did say they are guaranteeing the safety and security of election observers.  But, at the same time they said they support the comments made by the Governor. So it’s in that context that the election observers are bound to be concerned, and rightly so. Even though we know that that threat cannot and should not override the guarantees that had been given about, firstly security for all voting, for all, the whole of the voting process, which is not just for the observers, but for the voters, for the election staff, the election officials, officers, and so on.  So those are the priorities. And I think also, that we also cannot just – I’m not saying that we should disregard what the Governor said, because in a way, it was a bit of a dog-whistle type of, or at least, I think the objective …

RS: Which is why a lot of people are concerned.

AO: Yeah, I think the objective was to have that dog whistle, but I think it’s also


RS: … dog whistle that election observers are not welcome.

AO: No no no, not so much that.  I think it’s more to say that dog whistle that anything that says that the elections are not credible, free, fair and so on

RS: … have been predetermined …  

AO: are, should be disregarded because they are not the truth, and they are anti my party, the APC, stance.  Okay?

Now, I think it’s important that we also remember that we have the background of the fact that there seems to have been some, how do I put it, some strategy on the part of the opposition to discredit the results in advance, which made the ruling party go overboard in saying that the results are perfect because, as I said, as you … well, obviously they expect to win.  Now, into that, you have civil society which, with the best will in the world, cannot say that the electoral process is going to be perfect. There are bound to be observations that are made which criticise some aspects of what the Independent National Electoral …

RS: … and they will include recommendations on how elections can be done better.

AO: they will include recommendations.  But you see, when you make a criticism of INEC; INEC asks these people to come, and it works with civil society because it knows the importance of being able to say that this was a credible election.  Nobody is expecting an election to be perfect. We’re already hearing stories of the inability of some, several voters to collect their PVCs …

RS: … their PVCs

AO: … and so on, and we can expect that on election day some PVCs, some card reading machines will not work, and so on and so forth.   So there are all sorts of things that could go wrong. And what Election observers do, they don’t go out to say: Let’s look and see what went wrong.  Rather, they observe what happens. And it’s as simple as that. If there are … So they will say: This is when the polling station opened, this is the number of security agents that we saw, these are the number of polling officers.  How did the card readers work? All these things that are part of the election. But if there are extraordinary events, then they will record it. For example, if there was some – even if it’s just pushing and shoving, and the police, extra police had to be called, or if the security on duty had to step in and you know, make any intervention, then they will record it.  And their observations will all be fed into the, in the case of some it will be the Situation Room. When I was an observer it was the Transition Monitoring Group, and so on, and all these will be collated. So that we say look, if you have a situation where people were observing at maybe 5,000 polling stations, and at maybe 50 of them, there were incidents, they will record that there were incidents at 50.  And it could be anything from ballot box snatching and so on and so forth, to non-functioning of these devices. But they will be able to say, to give an overall picture.

RS: There’s an important point which I’d like us to highlight.  First of all, that there are different foreign observer groups.

AO: Oh yes.

RS: There’s ECOWAS, there’s African Union, there’s the European Union, there’s Commonwealth.  All of these are respected inter-governmental organisations.

AO: Yes.  And there’s an International Code of Conduct for Election Observers.

RS: Yes, that’s what I … so this international Code of Conduct, is … all countries have signed up to it?

AO: All the countries that are interested in having credible elections have signed up to it, because as I said, they know that if your election is credible and is seen to be credible: it’s not that they certify you, or that they … because as I said, although people like to cling to these words credible, free and fair, most election observation reports are a lot more nuanced than just say Yes or No.

RS: Ok, so, but the point I want to highlight here, is that if all  these observer groups, foreign and local, and …

AO: … and African, regional …

RS: … African yes, and regional, have this Code of Conduct and Nigeria is signed up to the Code of Conduct.  If what they observe is based on the Code of Conduct that Nigeria is signed up to, what could possibly be the criticism or concern of people like el Rufai?

AO: Well I mean, el Rufai is probably, as you … I mean … obviously he expects to win and he is being very combative in advance.  But you see, I think that we need to remember that in 2007 which was the year when I worked with the NDI, the elections were so lacking in credibility, that the winner set up the Uwais Panel on Electoral Reform.  Now it’s an unfortunate fact that there had been cherry picking about which parts of that report to implement, but nonetheless the … nobody intervened, nobody came in, nobody invaded Nigeria and said You haven’t got it right and so on.  It’s recognised that ours is a work in progress. What we expect is that every time, there should be improvements, not that there should be backsliding. And the kind of threats that were made by the Governor, I’m afraid, tend to suggest that there’s an attempt to give cover to any backsliding.

RS: Yes.  Thank you so much Ayo Obe for providing that rich context and background on what observers are, what they do, and what they are observing …

AO: And why we want them here!   So I want to thank you very much also Rotimi.  Please, I want to urge our listeners to check out our website at, which is  Please also follow us on Twitter, and we’ll be posting the various links to our recordings, our transcripts and so on.

RS: And the Twitter handle is?

AO: The Twitter handle is @ideasradiong

RS: And you are at?

AO: @naijama.

RS: Alright, Thank you again.

AO: Thank you so much.  Bye!

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