IDEAS: The EU Election Observation Report, Episode 40 (21/06/19)

IDEAS Radio 21 June 2019 

The European Union Election Observation Mission Report

Aghogho Oboh: Alright, it’s nine minutes past four, I am Aghogho Oboh, and you’re welcome to Public Square on 99.3 Nigeria Info.  We’re discussing big and significant issues in politics, as well as every other thing that affects us, development, in the country.

We have IDEAS segment first, with Ayo Obe, we’re looking at the IDEAS questions on International Observers’ Reports on the 2019 General Elections.  European Union most notably has released a report together with IRI and NDI. 

And you can follow the programme and ask the questions you want on our different handles: @PublicSquareNG, @RotimiSankore, @ideasradiong, @naijama, @aghoghoobo, @NigeriaInfoFM.  You can also send your questions to our WhatsApp number which is 08095975805. We’ll let you also know the numbers when to call during the course of the programme.

Welcome Ayo.

Ayo Obe: Hello Aghogho.

AgO: Always a pleasure.  And people have been waiting, and they ask: When is Public Square coming up?  I say: It’s coming up, just hang in there. Rotimi, good evening.

Rotimi Sankore: Good evening.

AO: Well, we’re in the Public Square, so … and it’s a good place to be, and the IDEAS segment is really happy to be in the Public Square.

AgO: Right.  Ok, so Rotimi, we go over the EU report, and then we … 

RS: Yes, so the EU Election Observation Mission to the 2019 elections has issued their Final Report, and unless you have just arrived from another planet, you will know that the APC and PDP have been trading words about what it means.  We won’t be going through the entire report, we’ll be looking at the 30 recommendations, and first of all with Ayo Obe on the IDEAS segment, we’ll be looking at the recommendations that relate to Integrity, Democracy, Ethics and Accountability, that is IDEAS.  So Ayo who has also had great experience as an observer in many, as international observer in many other countries, can also bring that to bear.

AO: Home and abroad.

RS: Yes home and abroad.  Well in Nigeria, were you an observer?

AO: Well, yes I’ve … 

RS: Weren’t you a monitor in Nigeria?

AO: I was a monitor when I was monitoring the conduct of the Police during the elections, but I was an observer when I was working with the National Democratic Institute.

RS: In other countries.

AO: In Nigeria, because I headed their Elections programme.

RS: Ah, yes, of course, of course!

AO: So I observed the 2007 elections. 

AgO: I remember that report!

RS: So you’ve been both an Observer and Monitor in Nigeria, 

AO: Yes.

RS: … and then an observer … an international observer in other countries.

AO: … in other countries from Indonesia to Kenya.  So it’s been interesting. But I mean, I think that what’s been interesting about the EU Observation report, has been the reaction of the parties, which perhaps you’re going to get into when we get into the Public Square proper.  

But from an IDEAS perspective, I think that one thing that strikes me when I, the first thing that … (and I have to say that I haven’t read the report, I haven’t had access to the Report yet), but if I look at the recommendations, it starts off by saying: “The systemic failings evident in this election and the low levels of voter participation show the need for fundamental reform”.  And I think I want to unpackage that immediately, because I think that the low levels of voter participation are probably not a reflection of the elections … the systemic failings in the administration of the elections. We’ve had elections that have been much worse than this and the level of voter participation has been higher, so I would perhaps say that the low level of participation is more a reflection of the disappointment or disillusionment of voters who perhaps felt that once you have democracy, every other good thing comes with it.

But if we look at the actual recommendations, you notice, as you said, that there are 30 recommendations, but of those they made seven … what do I call them? … priority recommendations.  And I think that if we are looking for Integrity in our elections, definitely the legal framework has to be established now, because you will remember that when the President was presented with a version of the Electoral Act that he could at last agree with, he then declined to enact it into law, because he said: It’s  too close to the elections. So I think that we are now, we have now enough space between now and the next general elections to be able to have this legislation enacted into law, and it will possibly clear some of the problems. And what the EU is also saying is: Let’s have it all in one place. Don’t let’s be doing: you know, ‘the Electoral Act 2010 as amended by the Electoral Act (Amendment Act) of 2019 or whatever.  Let’s have a consolidated piece of legislation which then repeals the 2010 Act and makes the 2019 … or whatever Act it is going to be … the one that we refer to that covers everything.

But then I think Rotimi, you would also see that there also some things that we ourselves have continued to point out in the IDEAS segment of the programme about the need for transparency, that if an election is going to be taken as having … as having Integrity, then transparency is a primary need.  And that’s one of the things that we have discussed in the programme. I’m not going to say much about organisation and operational capacity within INEC, because those are obvious; those are actually some of the things that led to the … 

RS: Postponement.

AO: … logistic failings which, by themselves, are bound to affect the Integrity of an election.

Again, the issue of consultation with stakeholders.  I’ve had cause before to say that I’m disturbed at the slow response of INEC to many issues that … because it’s not just a matter of: Is the election a credible election, but: Is the election seen to be a credible election?  In other words, by which … Which seems a bit of a circular statement.  But if somebody says that: “This glaring inefficiency is going to happen in your election”, and you as the electoral body know that it’s not, but you keep quiet about … in the face of that assertion, then that assertion now becomes the narrative, and it’s one of the things again, that makes people say: Well, there’s no point in turning out to vote, because we now know that XYZ is going to happen.  And then by the time you the election management body come out to say: “Oh, no no no no no, that’s not what’s … that’s not true.” Then, people say: “Well, I mean, where were you when it was being said?” So I think that consultation with stakeholders, more frequent meetings with political parties and so on and so forth.

Of course, we need to talk about not just training of ad hoc polling staff, but that training is not just … I mean INEC talks about training in the use of Smart Card Readers, closing and counting procedures and so on.  But I think also, that there has to be some level of Integrity training. We remember that when we were discussing the elections, there was a case where people were being asked: Do you want the … just the Presidential election, or do you also want to vote in the National Assembly elections?  Now that should not have happened in any case, because what it meant was that somebody who had been accredited and therefore would be a genuine voter, would actually end up giving up their right to vote in election, whether they wanted to vote or not, they had the right to spoil the ballot paper if they liked, but by leaving it in the hands of the election … the polling officer, of course, as I said, you can see the problem about that, if there’s no integrity in the polling officers.

RS: In terms of Smart Card Reader, the EU Observer Mission’s Recommendation 8  says that the Smart Card Reader data from polling units should be made public, including number of voters accredited, verified, and that this should be announced and recorded on result forms, and this should be on …  

AO: INEC’s website.

RS: … the INEC website, so that there is clear transparency.  Why do you think that they have made this specific recommendation?

AO: Well, because when you have the results announced at the polling station, then if the result announced does not include the number of people who have been accredited, that’s … 

RS: And verified … well verified and accredited, yes.

AO: … then it means you are leaving a gap which could become a real credibility gap, about what happened to the number of people who were accredited but somehow didn’t vote.  Now INEC’s procedure of having it all as one continuous process, accreditation, and then you go and vote immediately (rather than coming back after accreditation) ought to have reduced that gap, but I guess that the EU’s Observer Mission found that it didn’t necessarily reduce that gap.  And then of course, we have been saying time … I mean, I’m tired of repeating it: that INEC needs to make it possible for anybody to check what happened at their polling station on their own website. And this is not just a matter of whether the results can be transmitted electronically. Even if it is carried by carrier pigeon or by hand and foot, it is still something that I should be able to go to my … to the INEC website and see what is there.  That’s what transparency is all about.

RS: Many countries have done this.  You go on the electoral body website, you search or you click by region and there are continuous dropdown buttons … 

AO: Exactly!

RS: … until you get to your own polling station, which says: X number accredited, X number voted, X number spoilt … 

AO: And this is the result!

RS: … so so, this is the final … and everybody says: OK, we were there when it was counted, and we’re happy.  Which is why the EU Observer Mission then says in Recommendation 9, which they describe as a Priority Recommendation, that in fact …  

AO: … it should be a legal requirement.

RS: Yes.  And that those Result Forms should also be scanned, and published on the INEC website, which has been done in countries like Kenya.

AO: Well, and I think that … I think we also need to be clear that … because there’s been this controversy about INEC Server, and we’ve all seen the INEC Chair explaining that results … that the network coverage is not equal across the country.  But this is not, even if the results, however the … if the results come by hand, however they get to the collation centre,

RS: You have to input them at some point.

AO: Exactly.  And that’s the point.  So why isn’t it being done?  And I think that’s …

RS: And you’re not inputting them onto your tablet.  They are going on a computer, which has a server.

AO: Well I think that … I think that’s a separate matter, to be frank.  But what I am saying is that if you get them to a point and they are going to be put onto the … even if it’s you carrying it to Abuja by hand, at some point it gets to INEC, and we ought to be able to see it.  That’s the point.

RS: But why the server controversy?

AO: I don’t know because, as I said, the expression ‘server’ is being used to mean so many things.  And since the matter is before the courts, I’m one of those who has said that: I would rather that the courts determine “Is this a ‘server’?  Does it? Because people use the expression ‘server’ … 

RS: Is it ‘a’ server or ‘the’ server?

AO: No no no, I think that, because … and I must say that since … when I said that I’m happy to let the courts determine it, I was immediately pilloried on social media: Ah, you’re one of those … Is this the Ayo Obe? And so on and so forth.  And I say: Yes, it is me. Because mine is that I let … when these controversies are live, then they’re in court. I think that is where it should be determined. I don’t know what your own solution is, where the matter is in court, and one party is saying there is no server, and the other party is saying there is?  Because as I said, to me, there are different things that are being … different expressions that are going … are being used for it.

But I also want to, still getting back to the … still getting back to the INEC, to the EU Report, is that the … a lot of these recommendations really do hover and centre around this issue of transparency.  Make what is available so … And we’ve also discussed in this programme about the e-server that INEC has … Oh, not the e-s … There am I using the word ‘server’! The e-collation centre. They have a centre, and you’ll remember that Clement Nwankwo of the Situation Room had been pressing that even if it’s a matter of people going in and being there incommunicado so that they can’t get out and send the message: Go and shore up your vote in such and such a place.  

RS: At least they’ll be there to see …

AO: … That they should be able to observe it, and I think that if that had been done … 

RS: During the … what you are talking about during the South African elections, we were watching it, gigantic billboard inside the coalition centre as it comes in …

AO: Collation.

RS: Yeah, the numbers appear under every heading.

AO: We see it in so many situations.  So I think that that transparency and openness to observation within its own headquarters will go a lot of the way towards …  But as I say, because INEC is … was doing so much of a blinkered: “Of course we’re doing the right thing, why are people doubting us?”  And not really understanding the need to reach out and make people – not just accept your word that you are doing the right thing, but also to come in and see that you are doing the right thing.   

Last thing I would want to say is that, before we close the, I’m calling this is the next last thing, let me put it like that, I’ll keep going till I have the … until I’m made to stop.  But I think that another important factor is recommendation 15 is political party oversight needs to be com … strengthened. Now it’s either that INEC is overseeing political parties in the way that they run their business, and have their primaries and select their candidates, or it’s not.  If it’s not, fair enough. But it can’t be that they only wake up when there’s a dispute within a political party, and that’s when they know that things did not go … Because what it means is that all kinds of mago mago and wuru wuru can go on, as long as they are able in the end to stifle any complaint or criticism, then it can be allowed to go without comment.  So, what can I say?

The EU Report I guess you will go into it later.  But I think that if we’re looking for Integrity in our elections, because, one of the points that comes out of the Report is that if the Integrity of the elections is low, if the turnout is low, then the sense of Accountability also falls in those who have been elected.  We’ve already talked about the way that the President is now coming out and making promises that he did not commit himself to when he was running for election. These are some of the things, and then if we now say: But you promised this on Democracy Day: Well, that wasn’t part of my election, and so on.  So I think that … there’s of course, also the Ethics of the people who are operating a system, it can’t be overemphasized, but without all of those coming together, I don’t think we can have an election that meets the IDEAS requirements, and I think that for our next election, that is the least that Nigerians should expect.  And of course, we have elections coming up, gubernatorial elections, off-cycle gub … , then I think the next one is in Bayelsa State, we want to see that INEC is taking some of these issues on board, and is letting people really observe the election in its entirety, in full transparency.

RS: Ok. INEC has said that they will look at the recommendations.

AO: Of course!

RS: And it’s worth mentioning that one of the key recommendations from a previous election observer mission was that accreditation and voting should be simultaneous, and that people shouldn’t have to go home and come back after three hours.  I just flag that so that people who are listening and wondering: Ah, these people and their recommendations you know, what exactly are these things about? It does have a positive effect sometimes.

AO: Oh, I think gen … every election, every improvement that we’ve seen in our elections, is because people have observed and made recommendations.  Some – INEC has seen itself, some – outsiders have seen, some – Nigerians have seen. But it’s a process that we need to improve. And I would say that in some regards, strangely enough, our elections have more integrity than some elections that we have seen in more developed democracies.  

But for now Rotimi, I have to close the IDEAS segment.  I want to thank all of those who have been listening to IDEAS.  Remember to check us out on our website, follow us on Twitter, Aghogho has already given you the details, but I’m sure that if you go to the Public Square, you’ll also find us poking our nose in there, so thanks very much.

RS: Ok. Thank you again.

AgO: Alright, so we’ll take a quick break and when we come back we continue discussion on Public Square, this time with INEC, the Director of Voter Publicity and Education, Dr. Oluwole Osaze who will be joining the conversation.

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