The International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) on Friday said the enhancement of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC’s) secret balloting was boosting Nigeria’s electoral environment ahead of the 2019 elections.
One of the delegate of the NDI, Prof. Mvemba Dizolele, during a news conference in Abuja, said that IRI and NDI conducted a first and second joint assessment mission to Nigeria on the pre-election environment.
Dizolele said that the purpose of conducting the assessments was to measure the current political and electoral environment in the lead up to the 2019 general elections and make recommendations.
He said that the delegation recognised numerous positive developments initiated by electoral stakeholders that were contributing to an enhanced electoral environment including INEC’s secret balloting .
He added that enhanced biometric verification, improvement of election administration and a strong commitment by civil society to improve the electoral process were all factors building confidence of credible elections in 2019.
Dizolele, however, said that the delegation met with stakeholders and observed some challenges with regard to delays in finalising legal framework for the 2019 election and delayed release of funds.
He added that there were issues of security threats, election irregularities such as vote buying, barriers to internal party democracy and women’s participation in election, among others.
“The delegation heard complaints about the lack of robust investigation and where merited, prosecution of alleged vote buying, in spite of numerous instances reported by civil society groups.
“Improvements to the electoral administration and procedure and a higher number of political parties vying for elected positions have enhanced political competition and narrowed margins of victory.
“Tighter political competition heightens the risk of political parties relying more intensively on unethical and illegal means to secure victory ,including inappropriate voter inducement schemes and vote buying.
“IRI and NDI recommends that the government should enforce laws against election malfeasance including, vote buying and ensure equal and robust application through such measures as the establishment of the electoral offences commission and tribunal.’’
Dizolele also urged the government to provide sufficient and timely funds so that INEC and other electoral bodies could fulfill their responsibilities as prescribed by law.
Also speaking ,Mr Robert Benjamin, Regional Director for Central East Europe ,NDI said there was need to ensure the timely passage of the amendment to the electoral act 2010.
Benjamin said that the government should also ensure that security services maintained the highest level of professionalism and impartiality in facilitating the electoral process and refrain from actions that could be seen as partisan.
He also called for the need to respect and uphold press freedom and freedom of information laws in letter and in spirit.
“In more than decades of the organisations work in Nigeria, the group had witnessed democratic transformation of the country.
“We are in Nigeria now because the pre-election environment is critical to the overall process, the process seeks to support Nigerian efforts to make the 2019 elections participatory, transparent and credible.’’
Benjamin said that the delegation believed that with political will and through coordinated efforts by all stakeholders, many of the above-mentioned challenges could be addressed.
This, he said, would enhance citizen confidence and participation in elections and mitigate violence during and after the polls.
Another delegation, Ms Sarah Jegede-Toe, called on INEC to take concrete measures to combat vote buying, increase voter education and enforce laws and ban use of cell phones in voting cubicles.
Jegede-Toe urged political parties to enhance internal democracy ,participate in debates and promote party cohesion through equitable access to dispute resolution and reconciliation .
She also advised civil society groups to promote peaceful participation of citizens in the electoral process and draw on existing inter-religious and peace building bodies and focus on voter education in IDP camps.
She also urged the media to provide balanced coverage for political activities and opinions and disseminate messages on the importance of peaceful participation in the electoral process.