This is the details of the European Election Observation Mission, EU EOM final report on the February 25 general elections and March 18 State elections in Nigeria held in 2023.
The European Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) to Nigeria has today published its final report on the federal and state elections of 25 February and 18 March. The Chief Observer, Barry Andrews, Member of the European Parliament, stated: “In the lead up to the 2023 general elections Nigerian citizens demonstrated a clear commitment to the democratic process. That said, the election exposed enduring systemic weaknesses and therefore signal a need for further legal and operational reforms to enhance transparency, inclusiveness, and accountability.”
Following a three-month-long observation across Nigeria, and in accordance with its usual practice, the EU EOM is now pleased to present its findings and recommendations. Shortcomings in law and electoral administration hindered the conduct of well-run and inclusive elections and damaged trust in INEC. With the aim of contributing to the improvement of future elections, the EU EOM is offering 23 recommendations for consideration by the Nigerian authorities.
“We are particularly concerned about the need for reform in six areas which we have identified as priority recommendations, and we believe, if implemented, could contribute to improvements for the conduct of elections.” – said Barry Andrews.
The six priority recommendations point to the need to (1) remove ambiguities in the law, (2) establish a publicly accountable selection process for INEC members, (3) ensure real-time publication of and access to election results, (4) provide greater protection for media practitioners, address (5) discrimination against women in political life, and (6) impunity regarding electoral offenses.
Chief Observer, Barry Andrews, noted: “Importantly, there is a need for political will to achieve improved democratic practices in Nigeria. Inclusive dialogue between all stakeholders on electoral reform remains crucial. The European Union stands ready to support Nigerian stakeholders in the implementation of these recommendations.”
At the invitation of the Independent Electoral Commission of Nigeria, the EU EOM carried out its work between 11 January and 11 April. A delegation of the European Parliament joined the EU EOM for the observation of the Presidential and National Assembly elections. The mission accredited a total of 110 observers from 25 EU Member States, as well as Norway, Switzerland, and Canada.
The 2023 general elections did not ensure a well-run transparent, and inclusive democratic process as assured by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Public confidence and trust in INEC were severely damaged during the presidential poll and was not
restored in state level elections, leading civil society to call for an independent audit of the entire process. The pre-poll environment was volatile and challenging, affected by economic crises. Fundamental freedoms of assembly and movement were broadly respected, yet the full enjoyment of the latter was impeded by insecurity in some parts of the country. Abuse of
incumbency by various political office holders distorted the playing field and wide-spread vote buying detracted from an appropriate conduct of the elections. Incidents of organised violence shortly before and on election days in several states created an environment deterring voter’s participation. Media raised voters’ awareness, fact-checkers stood up against disinformation and civil society demanded INEC’s accountability. The overall outcome of the polls attests to the continued underrepresentation of marginalised groups in political life. Positively, candidates and parties disputing outcomes took their complaints to the courts, although the number of such cases was extensive. The electoral legal framework lays an adequate foundation for the conduct of democratic elections, with key regional and international standards being ratified. However, gaps and ambiguities in national law enable circumvention, do not safeguard transparency, while also
allow undue restrictions to the rights to stand and to vote. Fundamental freedoms of assembly, association, and expression, while constitutionally guaranteed, were not always well protected. The widely welcomed Electoral Act 2022 (the 2022 Act) introduced measures aimed at
building stakeholder trust. However, the Act’s first test in a general election revealed crucial gaps in terms of INEC’s accountability and transparency, proved to be insufficiently elaborated, and lacked clear provisions for a timely and efficient implementation. Weak points include a lack of INEC independent structures and capacities to enforce sanctions for electoral
offences and breaches of campaign finance rules. Furthermore, the presidential selection of INEC leadership at federal and state level leaves the electoral institution vulnerable to the
perception of partiality. Early in the process, while enjoying a broad stakeholder trust, INEC introduced a series of positive measures to strengthen the conduct of the elections. However, closer to the polls some started to doubt INEC’s administrative and operational efficiency and in-house capacity. Public confidence gradually decreased and was severely damaged on 25 February due to its
operational failures and lack of transparency. While some corrective measures introduced before the 18 March elections were effective, overall trust was not restored. The introduction of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and the INEC Results Viewing Portal (IReV) was widely seen as an important step to ensure the integrity and credibility of the elections. In practice, multiple missteps and lack of transparency before the
polls, compounded by severely delayed display of presidential result forms, dashed the public trust in election technologies used. INEC failed to give a timely and comprehensive explanation for the failures on 25 February, hence the improved online display of results forms from the 18 March state elections just fuelled further speculations about what exactly caused the delays after the presidential poll. A total of 93.4 million voters were registered for the 2023 elections. Owing to civic mobilisation during registration, two-thirds of the 9.5 million new registrants were youth.
Yet, poor institutional planning and, again, lack of transparency negatively affected the collection of Permanent Voter Cards (PVC). Confidence in collection rates per polling unit was undermined due to their belated publication. Overall, an external independent audit could have helped to assure accuracy and inclusiveness of the voter register. Following a contentious candidate registration process there were 18 contestants for the presidential office, 4,223 for national assembly seats and some 11,000 for state elections. All candidates were selected in party primaries many of which reportedly involved excessive costs
to participate, lacked transparency and were marked by low levels of participation of women as aspiring candidates. Leading political parties fielded only two female candidates for highly prized governor seats. This demonstrated a severe underrepresentation of women in political
life and a lack of internal party policies to support inclusion, contrary to constitutional principles and international commitments. Excessive pre-election litigation exposed pervasive intraparty conflicts and, compounded by protracted legal deadlines for solving candidacy disputes, created uncertainty for voters,
electoral contestants, and INEC alike. Among at least 1,200 court cases, some were perceived as politicised, others too technical, while some overlapped with the polls. Some legal disputes negatively impacted candidates’ prospects to meaningfully campaign, while others risked undermining trust in the democratic process. The campaign, extended under the 2022 Act, took place in a shifting political landscape with ongoing realignments across party lines. It was competitive and presidential contestants
conducted rallies nationwide, but Naira cash and fuel scarcity and insecurity reduced activities and attendance. Canvassing was personality-centred, and many governors used their executive
powers to tilt the playing field. Overall, divisive rhetoric with ethnic and religious undertones led to increased polarisation.
The EU EOM recorded 101 violent incidents during the campaign, including at least 74 fatalities. Assassination attempts and killings increased closer to the polls, creating a particularly insecure environment in the southern states. In several northern states, systematic
attacks by political thugs on rallies and political opponents was observed. Use of violence obstructed the campaign, disturbed the elections, and supressed voter participation. Campaigning was also distorted by an influx of unrecorded money and despite campaign finance being comprehensively regulated the law appears largely ineffective. EU EOM
observers received reports of and saw widespread distribution of goods and vote buying. Several state agencies tried to tackle corrupt practices, yet their results were modest. This is evidencing that political will, enhanced institutional capacity, and robust enforcement synergy
are needed to ensure transparency and genuine accountability. Media offered extensive campaign coverage, with APC and PDP getting equitable exposure. During interviews, politicians rebuffed merit-based questions, focusing instead on inter and intra party mudslinging. Analytical reporting was scant as, fearing retribution from the governor, many state-level outlets practiced self-censorship. The broadcast media regulator imposed at least 43 fines without a due process, while numerous attacks on journalists went unpunished. Overall, police inaction compounded by institutional pressures impeded freedom
of expression and hindered voters’ access to diverse information on electoral choices.
Social media was an important campaigning and mobilisation tool for candidates, especially in close contests. It was further used by political camps to create false impressions of support or
to attack opponents, as well as to spread false information.
However, social media also provided a platform for citizens to express their views and stimulated important debates about
the elections. Unfortunately, authorities often used the Cybercrimes Act to supress freedom of expression online.
Online and offline media joined forces with civil society and fact-checkers to safeguard the integrity of the information environment. Real-time fact checking of gubernatorial and other contestants’ debates strived to hold candidates accountable, while various formats of voter information raised awareness.
Civil society played a crucial and positive role in the electoral process, offering a non-partisan assessment of INEC’s conduct and, after the 25 February polls, calling for greater transparency and accountability. Statements by citizen observer groups also pointed to INEC’s failures, while their leaders took part in online and offline discussions focusing on the impact of
thuggery, violence, and intimidation on voters, and called for a thorough independent review of the 2023 elections.
Active involvement of youth was expected to be a decisive feature of the 2023 elections, especially considering the 2020’s wave of civic activism. However, despite targeted voter information efforts, political parties were seen to exploit youth, many of whom were vulnerable to pressure or coercion on social, financial, and educational grounds. This underlines the need for greater efforts to protect genuine youth engagement in elections. Independent and active participation in elections of voters from marginalised groups was not sufficiently supported. Persons with disabilities could not always access polling units and assistive devices were rarely available. Data on registration and voting by internally displaced persons was not published. Overall, without a detailed operational framework for inclusion, regional commitments and constitutional guarantees of citizens’ equality cannot be achieved.
On 25 February voting was critically delayed by the late arrival of sensitive materials and, during the early stages of the collation, presidential result forms from polling units were not displayed real-time on the IReV as committed to by INEC and anticipated by all stakeholders.
A critical failure in the entire election process manifested at collation stage on 25 February, due to widespread disorganisation, a lack of adherence to prescribed procedures, and an unsuitable environment. By the time of the declaration of presidential results, one quarter of result forms were still missing from the IReV, and a significant percentage of the forms uploaded on IReV, often needed for comparison with manual results, were not legible.
On 18 March, voting started on time, yet multiple incidents of thuggery and intimidation interrupted polling, targeting voters, INEC personnel, citizen observers and journalists. On election days, most incidents occurred mainly across the south but also in central and northern states. Voters’ deep disillusionment with the conduct of both polls was evident. The quality of the forms uploaded on IReV substantially improved as compared with the presidential elections.
On 1st March, INEC declared that the ruling APC’s Bola Tinubu had won the presidential race, while the party retained its parliamentary lead. In total, eight parties are now represented in the National Assembly. The APC will have 16 governors, the PDP ten, the LP one, and the NNPP one. The outcome of two gubernatorial and 39 National Assembly races were established in repeated elections on 15 April, after the departure of the EU EOM.
The results for many electoral races were disputed in court, with the presidential petitions dominating public discourse.
The judiciary, already challenged by a poor public perception and resources limitations, is now faced with a daunting task with potential significant long term
political consequences. The high number of post-election petitions also are administratively and budgetarily costly for INEC. The post-election environment saw ongoing political animosities, unfolding primarily through the media and online, though protests remained peaceful.
The general elections highlighted a clear commitment among Nigerian voters to the democratic process but also demonstrated an urgent need for transparent and inclusive legal and operational reforms to tackle enduring systemic weaknesses of the electoral process. The EU EOM is offering 23 recommendations to improve electoral processes and to uphold regional
and international commitments. They include six priority recommendations:
1. Protect the interests of voters through certainty of law for all stages and aspects of electoral processes by eliminating from electoral law and regulations errors and
ambiguities to avoid potential for conflicting interpretations, and ensuring the revision processes are inclusive.
2. Establish 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.
3. Protect the free expression of the will of the voter and integrity of elections by
establishing a robust, transparent, and easily verifiable results processing system with clear rules. These include uploading polling unit results from the polling unit only and in real time, at each level of collation results forms to be uploaded in real time, and all forms to be published in an easily trackable and scrapable database format.
4. Afford adequate protection to freedom of expression by developing a comprehensive operational framework underpinned by the skills and means for ensuring prompt investigation and prosecution of all types of attacks against media practitioners.
5. Undertake urgent and robust affirmative action to ensure meaningful women’s
representation through special measures in line with the Beijing principles and the
National Gender Policy to increase the representation of women as candidates and in elected office, further supported by cross-sectoral, intensified, and sustained capacity building and sensitisation to eliminate discrimination.
6. Address impunity for electoral offences through robust, well-defined, and effective
inter-agency co-ordination governed by clear rules on non-partisanship, optimisation of resources, delivery of effective investigation and sanctioning, and provision of regular public consolidated information on outcomes.
The European Union (EU) deployed an Election Observation Mission (EOM) to observe the 25 February Presidential, Senate and House of Representatives (HoR) elections, and the 18 March Governorship and State Houses of Assembly (SHoA) elections in Nigeria, following an invitation from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The EU EOM was
present from 11 January to 11 April 2023. The mission’s mandate was to observe all aspects of the electoral process and assess the extent to which the elections complied with international and regional commitments for elections, as well as with national law.
The EU EOM was led by the Chief Observer, Barry Andrews, Member of the European Parliament from Ireland. The EU EOM comprised a core team of 11 analysts based in Abuja and 40 long-term observers deployed to all regions of the country. For the 25 February election day, the EU EOM was reinforced with 54 locally recruited short-term observers bringing the total to 110 observers from 25 EU Member States, as well as from partner countries Canada,
Norway and Switzerland and including a seven-member delegation of the European
Parliament, led by Evin Incir, Member of the European Parliament from Sweden. For the 18 March election day, the EU EOM was reinforced with 16 locally recruited short-term observers. In total, the EU EOM deployed 63 observers for the gubernatorial elections.
The EU EOM is independent in its findings and conclusions. The mission followed an
established methodology and adhered to the “Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation”, endorsed under United Nations auspices in October 2005 and now espoused by over 50 organisations. The EU previously deployed EOMs to Nigeria in 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015, and 2019.
III. POLITICAL CONTEXT
The 2023 general elections were the seventh since the restoration of civilian rule in 1999 and the second after a completed second term of presidency. The federal polls were held for presidency and two chambers of the National Assembly composed of 109 Senate and 360 House of Representatives, HOR
seats. State polls were held for 28 of the 36 governors in Nigeria and 36 State Houses of Assembly, SHOA comprising 993 seats across Nigeria. Nigeria is composed of 36 states in six geo-political zones and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
In the lead-up to the elections, major concerns were related to the complex security situation in the country. Insurgencies in the North-East zone, banditry and terrorism in the North-West,
ongoing farmer-herder conflicts in the Middle Belt, secession agitations in the South-East, and increased cases of political abductions and killings in the southern parts of the country made for a very challenging election environment.
In addition, the elections took place against the backdrop of deepening economic crises, with rising unemployment and poverty rates, high inflation, and prevailing fuel scarcity across the country. The crisis was exacerbated by the government decision of October 2022 to implement the Naira reissue policy to tackle, among others, the illicit influx of money in the country. The swap of the Naira amid the campaign led to an acute Naira cash scarcity and precipitated
economic hardship leading to protests, social unrest and increased political tensions shortly before the elections.
Nigeria has a history of troubled elections and steadily growing voter disenchantment. Nevertheless, the 2023 presidential elections were highly anticipated due to the long-awaited
reforms introduced by the 2022 Act and the widespread expectation that voter participation, especially among the youth, would be significantly higher than in previous elections. The great public interest in the elections was also related to the emergence of other party contenders challenging for the first time the two-way electoral contest between the incumbent
All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which lost power in 2015, after 16 years in office. There is a constitutional requirement for political parties to reflect a federal character. Parties have become devoid of distinct ideology, with leading candidates at federal and state level often changing loyalties to increase their chances in elections. The backdrop of the 2023 elections was marked by a shifting political landscape due to increased factionalism, especially within the major opposition PDP. The APC ran the presidential race with Bola Tinubu, former governor of Lagos. The flagbearer
of PDP was former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar. The dominance of both main parties was contested by Peter Obi, former Governor of Anambra, who defected from PDP in May 2022 to run under the banner of the Labour Party (LP) and enjoyed strong popularity, especially among the youth, in some southern and Middle Belt states. A fourth contender, particularly
strong in the northern Kano State, was Rabiu Kwankwaso, a former governor, who ran with the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP). In all, there were 18 parties participating in the elections; all of them fielded a presidential candidate, only one of them was a woman.
By convention there is a rotation between zones in key elected and appointed positions in Nigeria, to promote national balance of religious representation between the predominantly Muslim north and the predominantly Christian south. At the end of the constitutional two terms
limit of President Buhari (Muslim from the north), the presidential elections ensued wide-reaching controversies about zonal representation triggering intra-party disputes as neither the APC Muslim/Muslim ticket nor the PDP Muslim/Christian ticket were seen to adhere to it.
Federal and state-level elections dynamics are interrelated in Nigeria, with governors and SHOA candidates playing a key role in the mobilisation of grassroot support for the federal elections. For many voters, state elections are particularly important as governors hold extensive executive powers and influence over state resources and local development. Prior to the elections, the APC had 17 of the 28 contested governor offices and PDP 11 of them.
IV. IMPLEMENTATION OF PREVIOUS EU EOM RECOMMENDATIONS
Some partial implementation of recommendations after the 2019 elections.
Following the 2019 elections, the EU EOM pointed to the need for ‘serious legal and
institutional reform’ and consequently made 30 recommendations, of which seven were identified as priority recommendations. Of these, one can be considered as fully implemented. INEC did start to hold regular consultations with political parties and increased its use of press conferences before the elections. Some 10 further recommendations were partially implemented, of which three of were priority recommendations.
The three partially implemented priority recommendations included i) provision for real-time access to polling units’ results, ii) powers to INEC to review decisions of returning officers, and iii) moving pre-election legal disputes to Federal High Courts; a positive step toward avoiding conflicting outcomes, despite ongoing problems for timely resolution of cases. Other recommendations that were partially implemented included i) a clearer basis in law for determining over-voting, ii) some improved access for Permanent Voters Card (PVC) collection, iii) additional powers for INEC in monitoring party activities, and iv) new caps for campaign financing. However, all these developments lacked a further component of transparency as there was no assurance of timely access to key information of public interest. Remaining partially
implemented recommendations included i) significantly increased numbers of polling units, albeit with many variations in voter numbers, ii) transmission of voter accreditation data with results for polling unit level and iii) INEC improvements on voting for the community of persons with disability, although access to assistive devices was very limited and braille ballots, where issued, were only available for the presidential election. Among the unimplemented 2019 EU EOM recommendations, suggested reforms to enhance participation of women were not undertaken.
V. LEGAL FRAMEWORK
An adequate foundation for conducting democratic elections, but uncertainty stems from legal restrictions, ambiguities and inadequate transparency mechanisms. Nigeria’s electoral legal framework lays an adequate foundation for conducting democratic elections, with a consistent hierarchy of rules and clear mechanisms for dispute adjudication.
At the apex is the 1999 Constitution (as amended) (Constitution) followed by the recently enacted Electoral Act 2022 (the 2022 Act), INEC Regulations and Guidelines for the Conduct of Elections (INEC Regulations) and the Codes of Conduct (CoC) for various electoral stakeholders.6 Nigeria’s common law based judicial system is central to electoral dispute resolution.
a. International principles and commitments
Positively, the framework is assessed against all key international and regional standards and commitments for democratic elections, as Nigeria has acceded to, signed, or ratified them. The
key commitments include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG), the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the Convention on the Elimination of all forms
of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), and the United Nations Convention against Corruption
(UNCAC). Key regional instruments also endorsed include the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and the ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Governance. Most of these commitments have not been fully transcribed into national law, exposing gaps in domestic legal protections.
Despite some concerns, INEC repeatedly assured stakeholders that it had the necessary resources and that it was ready for the smooth conduct of the elections. However, INEC faced a hostile environment for election organisation on several fronts. This at times impeded its operational capacity and instilled fear in voters. In the one-year period preceding the polls, and excluding election days, 21 attacks on INEC facilities and staff were recorded. These were mostly in the South-East during the final weeks before the elections. INEC’s operational capacity was also hampered by the fuel and Naira shortages which affected the smooth transport of materials and deployment of some 1,000,000 ad-hoc staff. Poor infrastructure in some parts of the country also entailed challenges for logistical operations such as the delivery of materials. There were considerable budgetary allocations for the administration of the 2023 general elections, more than twice the budget received for the 2019 general elections.20 The 2022 amendment of the electoral law foresaw a timely budget disbursement to facilitate, inter alia, deployment of new technologies for voter registration, verification of voters, and transmission of results. However, financial limitations were apparent prior to election day as EU EOM observers reported a shortage of training materials, limited capacity to grant accreditations, and inadequate monitoring of the campaign. Early in the electoral process, INEC introduced a series of positive measures. It increased the number of polling units from 119,974 to 176,846, including in difficult-to-serve areas. However, there were still great disparities between the number of voters registered per polling station with almost 100,000 having more than INEC’s operational ceiling of 500 voters. INEC also established a system for electronic accreditation of party agents, media representatives and observers, and deployed new technological solutions to improve candidate and voter registration, voter identification and the transmission of results. However, little effort was devoted to responding to other recurrent problems, such as vote buying, which goes hand-in-hand with illegal campaign financing and remains a challenge in Nigerian electoral processes. INEC did not manage to successfully establish its own in-house capacities effectively and continued having weaknesses in its administrative and operational functions. INEC adopted the 2023 Election Project Plan with the specific timelines and activities for the general election. The plan was often referred to publicly, however INEC lacked efficient implementation during critical stages of the electoral process, impacting several schedules, notably the voter registration exercise and the production and distribution of PVCs. The training of ad-hoc electoral staff was negatively assessed by EU EOM observers, as it was delayed and often overcrowded, with insufficient copies of manuals, a lack of BVAS devices for trainings, and not focused on the most important procedures such as the use of technologies, counting procedures, and the completion or cancellation of polling unit results and collation forms. Furthermore, the procedures for the counting and collation of results adopted by INEC were too complex, involving multiple steps, which made it difficult to understand for ad-hoc staff. At the same time the guidelines and manual for polling officials did not include sufficient provisions for dealing with anomalies during collation. These shortcomings contributed to a series of operational failures, particularly in the federal polls.
RECOMMENDATION: Enhance capacity of electoral staff by revising procedures and
subsequent training of the election supervisors, collation officers, and ad hoc polling staff addressing, in particular, the use of technologies, counting procedures, and the completion or cancellation of polling unit results and collation forms.
Ahead of the governorship elections, INEC invested some efforts to address the failures in the federal-level elections. For example, some ad hoc staff, who performed poorly on the 25 February, were replaced. However, INEC did not provide information about the figures of replaced staff. EU EOM observers noted that between the polls INEC conducted refresher training exercises in some states, including for registration area technicians (RATECHs), poll workers, and collation officers. Training focused on the use of BVAS, as well as on procedures for efficient and timely distribution of materials to polling units. On 8 March, INEC postponed the gubernatorial and SHoA elections from 11 to 18 March. Prior to this, opposition parties had gone to court to seek access to key election technology linked to presidential data leading to the postponement. Stakeholders considered the postponement as an unavoidable outcome from the court processes, but it was also seen as a window of opportunity for INEC to deliver a better managed election. Despite compressed timeframes, some of these corrective measures were effective including the delivery of electoral materials, and prompter publication of result forms in IReV. INEC collaborated on voter education with civil society, state agencies, media outlets and influencers to spread its messages, for example, regarding the functioning of the BVAS and IReV, electoral offences, and voting procedures. Despite such efforts, there was widespread public confusion and misinformation as to the differences between manual collation of results and real-time transmission of the results forms for public scrutiny.
While there were several options for some 6.7 million voters who were assigned to a new polling unit to locate it, there was a lack of timely information which caused confusion particularly on the presidential polls. EU EOM observers reported very little voter education devoted to the state elections.
VII. ELECTION TECHNOLOGY
Lack of transparency in the implementation of election technology used and failure to promptly upload the presidential elections results on IReV contributed to decreased public trust in the credibility of the elections. Public enthusiasm for the 2023 election was strengthened by the introduction by INEC, for the first time in a general election, of new technology for biometric voter verification and electronic transmission of results forms. BVAS was used for biometric facial and fingerprint voter verification and for scanning and uploading the forms. INEC used the IReV portal for publication of results, aiming to enhance transparency and trust and to minimise malpractices.
The BVAS technology was originally introduced as INEC in house development in June 2021 for voter registration and has been used subsequently in off-cycle and by-elections, enabling gradual development and adaptation. On polling days, the BVAS was used to verify a voter’s
identity by matching the fingerprints or face with the biometric data stored in the memory of the device – in the Nigerian context called accreditation. Without accreditation, the voter is not allowed to vote. BVAS implementation on election day should have significantly mitigated the
possibility of multiple and proxy voting and recorded the number of voters who voted in assigned polling stations, so reducing eventual malpractices with inflating the number of voters who voted.
A second use of BVAS was for scanning and uploading polling unit results forms to IReV. This was set up in August 2020 and used during Ekiti and Osun off-cycle elections in 2022. Its aim is to enhance transparency and overall confidence in results by providing real-time public access to polling unit results forms. This was intended to mitigate the risk of
manipulation of results between the polling station and collation centre. Most stakeholders including CSOs conveyed a generally positive perception of the technological innovations prior to the elections.
a. Legal framework
Given the context of extensive challenges to the integrity of the elections in recent years, there had been huge interest in increasing the use of technology as a safeguard against malpractices. Strong stakeholder demand in that direction led INEC to take proactive steps for a transition to increased use of technology. INEC strengthened its position through legal provisions for the use of technological devices for voter verification and electronic transmission or results (now
introduced in the 2022 Act). Newly introduced provisions on the use of technology included article 47 of the 2022 Act for the verification, together with reasoning for cancellation of and re-scheduling of an election in respective polling units in case of malfunctioning and non-replacement of the technological
device or if the device is not deployed. The law also stipulates compulsory use of the
technological device for voters’ accreditation, further detailed in INEC Regulations. Relevant regulations refer to the electronic transmission of results to the collation system as well as uploading a scanned copy of the results form to IReV.
This is only vaguely supported by article 60 of the 2022 Act. Regulations foresee electronic transmission of results from
collation centre to the higher level of collation. These results processing measurements were not implemented and utilized during the elections, as the collation was conducted manually. Despite the clear intention to verify original hardcopy polling unit results forms with transmitted polling unit results during collation in the 2022 Act, the elaboration of these steps in the INEC Regulations is rather vague. The 2022 Act and INEC Regulations also stipulate the need for comparison of the number of accredited voters from the BVAS with the respective number on the results form.
According to section 62 of the 2022 Act, INEC should maintain an electronic database of elections results but it remains unclear if this has been implemented yet. By the time that the EU EOM left the country, INEC did not publish the full presidential election results.
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 4 February, 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.
RECOMMENDATION: 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. During both election days BVAS was able to accredit voters without significant issues.
The lack of trust and transparency made it difficult for INEC to assure stakeholders that all data erased from the BVAS would be stored on a back-end server accordingly.
VIII. VOTER REGISTRATION
A lack of a reliable and inclusive voter register and of adequate delivery of PVCs.
a. The right to vote: Every Nigerian citizen 18 years of age and over may vote, provided they are resident or working in or originating from the locality of registration. As Nigerian citizens must be 18 years of age at the time of registration, any eligible person turning that age after the registration period closed was effectively disenfranchised. The law allows registration up to 90 days before elections, but INEC closed the possibility over 6 months before election day, citing time constraints for preparing the voter register. No temporary mechanism was adopted to avoid disenfranchisements.
RECOMMENDATION: Provide the opportunity to allow citizens attaining 18 years ahead of elections to register during the previous registration period.
b. Voter registration On 11 January, INEC publicly announced the final figures for the voter register and delivered an electronic copy of the same to political parties. Following a partial removal at state level of double registration and underage voters, there were a total of 93,469,008 eligible registered voters, an increase of 9.5 million over 2019. Following mobilisation efforts during the voter registration drive, youth aged 18 to 34 comprised 76.6 per cent of new registrants. Men comprised 52.5 per cent of the voter register and women 47.5 per cent.
Voter registration ran from June 2021 and ended July 2022. INEC improvements to voter registration included online applications, though physical attendance was required twice subsequently for capturing biometric data and for PVC collection. For the first time INEC displayed the voter register online and physically in all LGAs for public inspection. More than 2.8 million double/multiple, underage, and fake registrations were removed. While this was a positive development, it also exposed controversial disparities in the number of removed registrants from the states in the north and in the south. Despite INEC’s effort to improve quality and reliability, the voter register included a considerable number of deceased and emigrated voters, as well as internally migrated but not transferred voters, due to the absence of systematic recording of death and migration. Stakeholders widely acknowledged that there are underage registrants, though the number is unknown. This makes percentage turnouts less and less accurate. There has never been an audit of the voter register. While not mandated by law, such an exercise could enable assessing the accuracy of the register, including the biometric data and inclusiveness.
RECOMMENDATION: Establish a reliable basis for an inclusive and accurate voter
register by undertaking a timely external independent audit of it including in person data checking, sample analysis, and biometric data quality assessment. The process to be followed by implementation of a clear protocol and guidelines for maintaining the register and should be publicly accountable. The law provides that only voters who present a PVC can vote. Registrants had to collect their PVC at the ward or LGA where they registered during a specified period ahead of the polls.
The facial accreditation process was on many occasions surprisingly faster and had fewer rejection cases compared to the fingerprint accreditation. This casts doubts on the quality of biometric data (especially fingerprints) in the voter register. At the same time, the calibration of software used for biometric recognition was not publicly known.
The certainty and integrity of IReV portal, promoted as a real-time public viewing platform for results transmitted directly from polling units, was greatly diminished due to failures of prompt transmission and publication of presidential results. Despite expectations that close to all results would appear on IReV immediately after the count on election day, the first results were uploaded only after 10 pm, reaching only 20 per cent by noon on 26 February and then arriving only slowly and steadily over several days. INEC explained the delay as “technical hitches” in a press release on the evening after election day. Moreover, the results of parliamentary elections started appearing before the presidential ones. By the time of the declaration of the presidential results, more than a quarter of the presidential result forms were still missing on the portal without a clear public justification. By the end of March, there were more than 5 per cent of polling unit results still missing without any explanation; results forms about cancelled polling unit results were missing as well. IReV performed significantly better during the 18 March election, but still inadequate for a real-time viewing platform. Delays and friction in the IReV portal (especially during 25 February elections) prevented smooth access to view the scans. Assurances from INEC that system was adequately prepared and tested were undermined by the system’s performance, thus contributing to diminishing public trust and confidence in results processing. IReV was not used regularly to verify and validate results in collation centres.
PRIORITY RECOMMENDATION: Protect the free expression of the will of the voter and
integrity of elections by establishing a robust, transparent, and easily verifiable results processing system with clear rules. These include uploading polling unit results from the polling unit only and in real time, at each level of collation results forms to be uploaded in real time, and all forms to be published in an easily trackable and scrapable database format.
On election days, some procedures connected to the use of BVAS were not entirely followed as well as unexpected issues occurred. EU EOM observers noted that the information about the number of accredited voters was not always sent from BVAS regularly after the closing, contrary to procedures. BVAS offline option to upload results forms, in case of weak internet connection, was largely unused. Results forms were uploaded many times from outside of polling units, also from collation centres, and frequently multiple forms from one BVAS. The role of different levels of credentials used by technical staff were unclear for the observers. The forms with the right credentials could be uploaded from any gadget with respective browser, not exclusively from BVAS. The EU EOM noted during the 18 March elections that re-transmission of the corrected polling unit result forms from collation centres led to replacement of originally uploaded result forms on IReV, contrary to the expectations and information from INEC that both results forms would be visible. The BVAS machines deployed on 25 February were used again in the same polling units on 18 March. Between the elections BVAS was reconfigured, which also included deletion of accreditation and results data from the previous polls and subsequent storing of the data on the back-end server. INEC did not inform clearly what data exactly were deleted from the BVAS and what exactly were stored on the back-end server.
The number of PVCs collected by polling unit was legally established as a basis to determine if the margin of lead between two leading candidates would necessitate a re-run of elections in a close-run contest and if results not obtained from some polling units. Collection started on 12 December and ended on 5 February after INEC twice extended the deadline. Of the 93 million registered voters, some 87 million collected their voter card, 93.3 per cent of the total. INEC did not disclose how many of the 9.5 million newly registered voters collected their card.
Data was also not broken down to polling unit level until almost the end of the electoral process. EU EOM observers noted that, at times, PVC collection was negatively affected by poor logistics, incorrectly designated collection offices, and excessively long queues at understaffed collection points. There were also credible reports of proxy collection and PVC buying. REGISTRATION OF PARTIES AND CANDIDATES
Processes for registering parties and candidates lacked adequate mechanisms to ensure inclusivity and transparency.
a. Participation of political parties:
Political parties must be registered with INEC in order to sponsor candidates and canvas for votes and may be deregistered by INEC for failing to meet constitutional requirements relating to legal minimum representation and non-compliance with internal democracy and administrative rules. In a significant change from 2019, 18 political parties were registered for
the 2023 elections, down from 91 previously. This followed deregistration of those who failed to reach the representational thresholds in previous elections. Various parties challenged INEC’s decisions to deregister them, including one, the Youth Party, who succeeded in their Supreme Court case, but too late to contest the 2023 polls. Some 26 other parties also appealed to the courts, but those cases are still pending. Various aspects of party registration rules could be strengthened, in particular transparency
around the correctness of party constitutions and accuracy of membership registers. Parties can register up to a year before elections. Registered parties must maintain a headquarters in the FCT, an up-to-date party constitution, and provide INEC details of national officers periodically and democratically elected. Parties cannot register unless membership is open regardless of origin, sex, religion or ethnicity. INEC powers are overall inadequate to effectively ensure, as anticipated by the Constitution, that internal democracy is observed by political parties. There is a lack of provision for timely public disclosure of non-compliance.