Signs already brewing of a looming face-off
By Akpo Ometan
Ahead of the 2019 presidential polls taking place next Saturday, signals are already emerging that if the present trends are not reversed, the Nigerian authorities may clash with foreign observers over their roles in the electoral process.
And as things are already developing, the observers, whose involvement in the monitoring of elections has now come to be an established global practice are beginning to publicly raise the issue and the related one of their security and well-being should this be the case.
In their response to the comments by Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai that foreign intruders in Nigeria’s electoral process may return in ‘body bags,’ the European Union Observation Mission affirmed that they were in the country on the invitation of, and as guests of the umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC and went on to say:
‘We are aware of the comments by the Governor of Kaduna about non-interference by foreigners during a talk show on the elections Tuesday 5 February.
“EU election observation missions give commentary and analysis, and make recommendations about the electoral process. EU election observation missions are impartial, do not interfere in the electoral process, and operate according to a strict code of conduct.
“While the security of EU observers is of paramount importance, and will remain under constant review, EU observers will continue their work across the country in the run-up to – and beyond – the 16 February elections.”
But perhaps underscoring the fact that the Kaduna Governor’s remarks may not really a lone cannon shot after all, the Presidency has fended off widespread concerns over the remarks, affirming that the Governor’s explanations that they were motivated by national pride and made in ‘the national interest’ was satisfactory and should lay the matter to rest.
‘We have taken note of the clarification to a reported earlier statement by the Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufa’i concerning opposition call for foreign interference in our domestic affairs and to say that latest statement by him should rest the issue for good,” the riposte from presidency spokesman, Garba Shehu outlined.
It will also be recalled that election observers had raised issues over the conduct of last year’s Osun Governorship re-run which is yet a subject of controversy at the courts.
At that time, John Bray, the US consul general, had reportedly told journalists in Osogbo, the Osun state capital, that the observer missions were concerned over reports of irregularities:
“The missions of the United States, European Union and the United Kingdom observed voting at polling stations in Osun. We witnessed what appeared to be incidents of interference and intimidation of voters and have reports of harassment of party monitors, journalists and domestic observers. We are very concerned by these reports and we will be checking with stakeholders to determine the facts. We call on all stakeholders to remain calm,” Bray had said.
Indeed, the field of elections observation across Africa has really been quite problematic, From Kenya to Gabon, Zimbabwe to the recent stand-off in the Democratic Republic of Congo, observers have either had hurdles put in their way or in more extreme cases been outrightly denied ample room to operate within affected countries.
Observers say the presidential polls in Nigeria at the moment is coming across as a very tense two-horse contest between the incumbent President, Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress, APC and the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku.
Mahmood Yakubu, INEC Chairman