The European Union has expressed concern over the autonomy of the national electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC).
Sunday Tribune checks revealed that the perceived lack of “independence of INEC formed part of the observations of the European Union Electoral Observation Mission (EU-EOM) for 2023 general election in Nigeria.
The EU-EOM, which monitored the pre-election and post-election processes in Nigeria from January 11 to April 11, 2023 at the invitation of the electoral umpire, formally unveiled its findings and recommendations last Tuesday, at the Transcorp Hilton, Abuja.
In the document released to newsmen by leader of the team, Barry Andrews and his team, tagged “Nigeria 2023 Final Report,” sighted by Sunday Tribune, the observer team noted that the recruitment process of senior personnel, particularly the commissioners and Resident Electoral Commissioners, constitute a serious encumbrance on the diligent operation of INEC.
Further checks revealed that the INEC chairman, his commissioners and the RECs are appointed by the sitting president, subject to confirmation by the Senate.
The EU-EOM which acknowledged that the recruitment process has an expressed provision that such personnel must not be seen to be partisan, it, however, maintained that “the selection process leaves the electoral institution vulnerable to being viewed as aligned with the government.”
The report recalled that erring RECs could not be reprimanded by the INEC Commissioners as they are “presidentially-appointed officers. This exposes further systemic weakness in the electoral institutional design that obstructs fostering of professionalism and trust.”
The report reads in part:” The constitution provides that all members of INEC are strictly non-partisan. At the same time, there is no legal requirement that their selection be undertaken according to merit and qualification to ensure the independence and efficiency of the institution.
“CSO examination of the selection process signalled that the selection processes of both INEC commissioners and RECs were neither transparent nor in line with the non-partisan requirement.
“The selection of some commissioners also raised concerns about their professional skills and background. The selection process leaves the electoral institution vulnerable to being viewed as aligned with the government.
“Following the federal-level elections, RECs were mandated by INEC to bar all staff found to be negligent from conducting the elections. However, only a few key electoral officials were held accountable, despite the scale of election day failings across the country, as observed by the EU EOM in particular in the South-East, South-South, Kano and Lagos.
“The RECs in Abia and Sokoto were suspended without clear public explanations and their role filled by administrative secretaries. INEC has the power to withdraw powers from the RECs, but cannot legally dismiss them as they too are presidentially-appointed officers.
“This exposes further systemic weakness in the electoral institutional design that obstructs fostering of professionalism and trust,” the report said.
To wean the electoral umpire from the influence of the governing party, the Barry Andrews team further recommended the establishment of “a robust operational framework for the independence, integrity, and efficiency of electoral administration through an inclusive and publicly accountable mechanism for selecting candidates to the posts of INEC commissioners and RECs based on clear criteria of evaluation of merits, qualifications, and verified non-partisanship.”
Amidst the criticisms and subsisting litigation trailing the performance of the Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS) and the INEC Results Viewing Portal (IReV), the EU-EOM restated its stance that the INEC deployment of technology fell short of public expectations.
While it recalled that the leadership of the electoral umpire conducted mock exercise of the technology prior to the conduct of the general election, the EU-EOM also expressed strong reservations about the modalities.
“The election technology used was implemented under serious deficiencies in the transparency of the whole process. Hardware and software specifications of BVAS, test results, audits, basic procurement details, protocols and guidelines for specific operations and functionality were not made public.
“Functionality and specifics of the transmission of the results forms were also unclear, without details publicly available, apart from information found in late published manuals, lessening transparency, trust, and certainty. Interviewed Nigerian IT professionals (outside INEC) were not informed about the basic specifics of the election technology used.
“INEC missed the opportunity to substantively test operational issues connected with its technology before the 25 February election day. On February 4, it conducted an inadequate mock exercise in 436 polling stations testing the functionality of the BVAS.
“EU EOM observers and civil society stakeholders noted that the timing of the mock, the small size of the sample, low voter participation, and unclear written guidelines diminished the practical value of the exercise, while exposing some technical problems with biometric recognition and transmission of results.
“Furthermore, the mock was run only by INEC professional staff and
not by election day poll workers. There was delayed recruitment and training of RATECHs, key technical support staff, as well as of polling staff handling BVAS. At the time of the mock exercise only one fifth of RATECHs were trained.”
Going forward, the team recommended that in future elections, the Commission must “ensure transparency and allow for public scrutiny of election technology by mandating in law timely disclosure of test and audit results, together with protocols, guidelines, methodology of implementation, procurement, and functionality details.”