Election reform needed in Nigeria

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Nigeria’s elections need serious reform after being marred by violence, systemic failings and low turnout according to the European Union observer mission.

The EU commented after elections last Saturday for governors in 29 of 36 states and two weeks after a presidential vote in which Muhammadu Buhari won a second term at the helm of Africa’s top oil producer and biggest economy.

The election was tarnished by organisational breakdowns and factional violence. Buhari’s main rival Atiku Abubakar alleged fraud in voting and plans to challenge the result in court after inspecting voting materials.

“The systemic failings and electoral security problems of the last few weeks and months show there is real need for serious reform in Nigeria,” Maria Arena, chief of the EU mission, told a news conference in Abuja.

Improvements in how the electoral commission conducted the governors’ vote, compared with the presidential election, were overshadowed by a lack of security near voting stations, improper use of state media for campaigning and “institutional failings”, according to Arena.

Around 600 people died in election-related violence since the start of campaigning in November to the end of the presidential election, according to reports by two Nigerian security research groups.

Insecurity in Rivers state in the gubernatorial election prompted Nigeria’s electoral commission to halt vote counting.

In last month’s presidential election, Buhari, of the All Progressives Congress (APC), beat Atiku of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) by 15.2 million votes to 11.3 million with voter turnout at 35.6%.

The PDP then asked to inspect voter registers, card reader machines, ballot papers and other documents used for the vote. On March 6, a three-man tribunal granted the request.

International observers do not dispute Buhari’s victory but said conduct of the election was widely flawed.

Civil society groups said turnout in the governors’ elections was low across Nigeria, due in part to a large military presence intimidating voters and apathy after the presidential election was delayed by a week.

Previous gubernatorial elections in Rivers and other parts of Nigeria were marred by violence, including shootings and snatching of ballot boxes by armed gangs.