EU mission not in Nigeria to validate elections – Chief observer


The Chief Observer of the European Union Election Observation Mission to Nigeria, 2023, Barry Andrews, on Tuesday led some members of the mission on a visit to PUNCH Place, headquarters of PUNCH newspapers. In this interview with DAYO OYEWO, he explains the objectives of the mission as Nigerians go to the polls on Saturday

Can you brief us about your mission in Nigeria?

 The European Union Election Observation Mission has come to Nigeria for the seventh election in a row. We follow a very clear methodology of non-interference in the political process, but we will produce reports with recommendations after the elections are completed. We are here on the invitation of the Independent National Electoral Commission. We have long-term observers across the country since January. We also have long-term observers this week throughout the country. In total, we have a total of 100 observers and we will produce a preliminary report two days after the election, February 27 and a final report within three months after the election. That is the process, we are completely impartial, independent and non-political. We will make our assessment ultimately about the transparency and credibility of the election.

What are your observations about the political campaigns held so far?

We don’t make any observations until we complete the process. That could be next Monday in the preliminary stage and we will share that with all interested stakeholders including the media. We will also hold a press conference, but in the meantime, we are gathering evidence and taking note of all the issues that everybody is well aware of around security, the naira redesign and the operations of the technology during the election and the electoral act. We have also met all political participants and I have to say that we have had a very warm welcome from civil society organisations, regulators and those who are charged to make sure that the electoral act is fully implemented. And we hope to continue that relationship with Nigeria in the spirit of partnership and we hope to add value to this process.

And how has your meeting with the stakeholders fared?

Again, we have been welcomed by all political participants and they have been very open. We have asked them questions, and we would like to think that the European Election monitoring process is officially robust and people trust us and the recommendations that we have made are in the best interest of deepening the roots of Nigeria’s democracy. So we have had a high level of cooperation with the stakeholders involved in the election and we have exchanged information. So far, it has been really excellent.

What is your assessment of the EU team that has been observing the election campaigns?

Our election observers are deployed across the country right now. They are attending rallies and reading everything they can and talking to as many people at the state and the local levels and they are sending information back to our core team who are preparing the preliminary statement. That is the process and that is how it works. We will do a final report within three months after the end of the election which will contain the recommendations which we can then share with the Nigerian authorities. A lot of recommendations at the federal level, the state level, and local government level, including the judiciary. We have had really excellent cooperation I have to say.

With the information passed across to you so far, do you think the campaigns are addressing issues affecting the country?

We have taken notes of comments that have been made. Some of them are personal and some of them are based on policy. So, we have taken note of that and we will make conclusions, observations and any recommendations that arise in due course. We will continue to gather evidence. We will continue to obtain data. We will cooperate with other election monitoring bodies that are present here in Nigeria, particularly ECOWAS, African Union, the commonwealth foundation and people from the United States. We will work with them and obviously, our own conclusions will be our own conclusions. It will be independent and we hope to be constructive in that regard.

What are the indices you are considering for the election to be adjudged free and fair?

We don’t make a conclusion whether it is free and fair. We generally try to avoid that language. We try to test it against inclusivity, transparency and credibility and the standard that has been set by international conventions which Nigeira is already a signatory. So we here on the invitation of Nigeria to test whether this election complies with the standards of Nigeria itself as committed to its own legislation and international conventions. So, we are not here to validate the election. We can’t give it a yes or no. We make observations based on the entire process and make recommendations thereafter. But that process is proven to be sufficiently useful and we have been doing this work across the entire globe and for many decades.

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What are you doing differently from the EU election mission’s previous visits?

I think we are here for the long haul. It is also important to say that we have had people on the ground since January and we will still be here in April. So, we are covering the entire process and not just the presidential election. We also have a very strong core team here. This is a team of experts including for the first time, election technology analysts because as you know, the BVAS process is attracting quite a lot of discussion and having a team of election technology analysts, certain things are analysed to form a clearer view of how things are going and whether or not this is satisfactory and meets the standards that Nigeria has set itself. Yes, we react to circumstances, and we try to evolve our processes based on how we understand elections generally across the world.

The nation is currently grappling with the Naira redesign crisis. What is the implication for the coming election?

Everybody is talking about naira redesign. It is hard to ignore it and it is really impacting people’s lives. But we will obviously have to factor that into the conclusions that we draw and the recommendations that we make as to whether or not it will have a significant impact on the election. So, it is too early to draw any conclusion. It is clear that it is unavoidably an issue that is impacting the lives of ordinary Nigerians. But whether or not it will impact the elections, is something we will have to discuss over the weekend and based on the evidence we have obtained from our observers across the field and discussions that we have with other monitoring groups.

How do you think the BVAS will impact the election?

We are watching very carefully and we will be in attendance at the polling stations throughout the country. We attended the mock exercise that took place on February 4 and 5, and all of the data that we have been able to gather and observations we have been able to make, we fill them into a preliminary statement to be able to share with the public on February 27. There is no doubt that the BVAS is a significant evolution and it is important that it works. And it is important that people have faith in the technology and I know that a lot of interlocutors and experts as well as stakeholders that we have spoken to are very hopeful that it will go extremely smoothly and that Nigeria’s democracy will take a step forward.

The government had claimed that the naira redesign would curb vote buying. How realistic do you consider this claim?

Again we try to stay out of the political process. We are not here to supervise the elections or make political comments that would be seen to undermine our impartiality and independence. So, we would certainly make our comments and take note of what is happening at the moment. We would not want to say things about the election that will be perceived as interference in the process itself.

What is your submission on the electoral act and how it has impacted the electioneering process since its implementation?

We have studied the electoral act and it is an addition to the process here in Nigeria’s establishment of INEC. We have had discussions with INEC and we have discussions with all stakeholders that are impacted by the electoral act. We have been able to see how it is understood. And sometimes we have been able to get some really good insight about people who are very enthusiastic about it. But it was hard to put into legislation and it was in legislation for a sufficient time. Some of the details are what everybody knows, making sure INEC was provided with its funding a year ahead of the election and the primaries had to be held a long time before the election. So all of these are impacting the elections and it is something we take note of and we will fill into our preliminary statement.

What do you have to say about the recommendations that were made by past EU missions to Nigeria?

This is a public record that out of the 30 recommendations, 13 were implemented. But generally, the scale of this election is so great for the region and for Africa generally that the investment we make in terms of time, in terms of expertise is one of which we gather enormous returns because Nigeria is a key partner for the European Union from every policy point of view. So, we can see the impact and we add some value to deepening the roots of Nigeria’s democracy. And that is really a positive thing.


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