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Election: Why Nigeria must review its engagement with foreign poll observers – NIA

By Sodiq Omolaoye, Abuja
08 September 2023   |   7:27 am
Director General of National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ahmed Rufai Abubakar, has said Nigeria must review its engagement with foreign election observers for the purpose of national security.

EFCC demands stiffer penalties for vote buyers
NYSC wants increased renumeration for corp members

Director General of National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ahmed Rufai Abubakar, has said Nigeria must review its engagement with foreign election observers for the purpose of national security.

He warned that the country must not grant foreign election observers unfettered access to “certain things that are critical to our national security”.

The NIA DG stated this on Thursday at a symposium titled elections monitoring and observation: 2023 general election and way forward’ organised by African Union Development Agency – New Partnership for Africa’s Development (AUDA-NEPAD) in collaboration with National Institute of Security Studies (NISS) in Abuja.

At the event, national coordinator and Chief Executive Officer of AUDA-NEPAD Nigeria, Gloria Akobundu, said the organisation had embarked on nationwide awareness campaign on violence free elections across the six geo-political zones and the FCT to ensure effective implementation of the National Programme of Action (NPoA).

Noting that the organisation also set up a situation room to monitor and observe the 2023 general election, she said the report of the election was prepared with recommendations that could enhance best practices in future electoral processes including the upcoming off-season elections in line with the electoral act.

Abubakar, represented by head of general operations, NIA, Hamza Muhammad, also called for mechanisms to be put in place to combat fake news and disinformation.

Recall that for the 2023 general elections, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) accredited 33 international organisations that deployed 2,113 observers to monitor the polls.

After the polls, the presidency rejected a report released by the European Union claiming that the election which produced President Bola Tinubu was flawed. The presidency described the report by the EU observers as a “poorly done desk job.’’

The NIA DG, who said more attention should be paid to foreign observers, stressed the need for report made by these organisations on Nigeria elections to be scrutinise before going to the public.

He said: “Before the 2023 general elections, they were apprehension even from our partners abroad on whether the elections will hold or not. We are happy that it was successful. We played our role as expected. However, there are two issues. One is that the election has the highest number of youth participation and usage of social media. There were attempts by groups to influence opinion. We should look at how to counter fake messages distributed on social media.

“Also, we have a large number of election monitoring organisations both local and foreign. Yes, we want our elections to be transparent but we shouldn’t allow foreign organisations have unfettered access to certain things that are critical to our national security. That is something we should pay attention to.

“Most importantly, a situation where these organisations just go to the public to say things does not augur well. There should be some kind of harmonisation, where things are shared with stakeholders before going to public. We are not saying they shouldn’t publish their opinion but it should be done responsibly.”

Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Abdulkarim Chukkol canvassed for stringent punishment against act of vote buying.

According to him, the presence of anti-graft agencies in polling units went a long way to check the menace during the last general elections.

Chukkol who was represented by Deputy Head, General Investigative Section, Abuja Zonal Command, EFCC, Adariku Micheal, however, said it was important to sanitise the country’s electoral system to be devoid of malpractices, adding that the N100,000 penalty for perpetrators of vote buying and selling was not enough to combat the act.

“In the 2023 general elections, we covered almost all the polling units in the 36 states and Federal Capital Territory. One of the lessons we learnt is that the presence of the personnel in polling units sent a strong signal. It is not that the issue reduced entirely but our presence helped. One of the things we need to do is to continue to sensitise voters by telling that selling their votes will only bring bad governance. There is no how you will sell your votes and expect the person to perform. We also need to amend section 121 and 127 of the Electoral Act 2022 to make way for stiffer punishment for stiffer penalties so that vote buying will be discouraged”, the EFCC boss stated.

On his part, Director General of the National Youth Service Corps, Brigadier General Yusha’u Ahmed who revealed that about 200,000 corps members were deployed for the 2023 general elections, called for the review of allowances being paid to the corps members during elections.

Lamenting that the allowances does not commensurate with the level of risk involved in the job, said improved security will allow indifferent corps members participate as adhoc staff during elections.

The NYSC DG who was represented by director, corps Welfare and Health Services, Ayodele Omotade, disclosed that measures were in place to punish any erring corp members involved in election irregularities, adding that no corps member died in the last polls.

He stated: “We deployed close to 200,000 corps members for the last general elections and of course, they all performed credibly well. Corps members participation right from 2011 that we had the first adventure of participating during elections had been commended by Nigerians and international community by the patriotic zeal of these corps members.

“Security is very paramount. When you put adequate security in place, you will see more corps members coming out. No responsible parent will want anything bad to happen to the corps members when they are carrying out these duties. You will agree with me also that conduct of elections in Nigeria is high risk adventure, so anywhere we go, we always want to canvass for the security of corps members.

“In the last elections, we witnessed a tremendous improvement in terms of security of corps members. It is almost not impossible for you to deploy almost 200,000 corps members or personnel without having itches. Of course, we recorded a few number of issues but we did not record any death. Every corps member that was deployed during the last elections came back home”.

Director of research, estimates and Library services, NISS, Dr. Adegboyega Karim, who presented the 2023 general elections report called on INEC to ensure a simulation exercise with all critical stakeholders for the delivery of materials to polling units ahead of any election.

According to him, this is “with a view to identifying necessary loopholes and nipping them in the bud before the proper election.”

While also calling on INEC to improve on the deployment of Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), he stressed the need for heavy deployment of security to identified flash points with a view to deterring, detecting and dealing with any attack from hoodlums.