The National Intelligence Agency on Thursday provoked a fresh discourse on the accreditation of foreign observers for elections by the Nigerian government saying it should be reviewed in national interest and for security reasons.
The NIA said it had become necessary for the Federal Government to put foreign election observers on its watchlist for national security.
According to the NIA, Nigeria must not grant foreign election observers unfettered access to “certain things that are critical to our national security.”
The Director-General of NIA, Ahmed Abubakar, represented by the agency’s Head (General Operations), Hamza Mohammed, issued the warning during a symposium titled, ‘Elections monitoring and Observation: 2023 general election and way forward’, jointly organised by the African Union Development Agency – New Partnership for Africa’s Development and the National Institute of Security Studies, the training agency for senior officers of the Department of State Services and other security agencies.
At the event, the national coordinator and Chief Executive Officer of AUDA-NEPAD Nigeria, Gloria Akobundu, said the organisation had embarked on a 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.
While stating 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.
For the 2023 general elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission accredited 33 foreign organisations which deployed 2,113 observers to monitor the polls.
The NIA DG said more attention should be paid to foreign observers, and stressed the need for reports made by these organisations on Nigeria elections to be scrutinised by the government.
He said, “Before the 2023 general elections, there were apprehensions 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 to 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 public. We are not saying they shouldn’t publish their opinion but it should be done responsibly.”
The acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Abdulkarim Chukkol, represented by its Deputy Head (General Investigative Section in Abuja Zonal Command), Adariku Micheal, canvassed for stringent punishment against acts of vote buying.
The commission said the presence of anti-graft agencies in polling units went a long way to check the menace during the last general elections.
Chukkol 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 was reduced entirely but our presence helped. One of the things we need to do is to continue to sensitise voters by telling them 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 sections 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 chairman stressed.
The Director-General of the National Youth Service Corps, Brig. General Yusha’u Ahmed, represented by its Director (Corps Welfare and Health Services), Ayodele Omotade, said that about 200,000 corp members were deployed for the 2023 general elections.
He also called for the review of allowances being paid to the corps members during elections.
While lamenting that the allowances do not commensurate with the level of risk involved in the job, he said improved security would allow indifferent corps members to participate as ad-hoc staff during elections.
Ahmed stated that measures were in place to punish erring corps members involved in election irregularities, adding that no corps member died in the last polls.
He said, “We deployed close to 200,000 corps members for the last general elections and of course, they all performed credibly well. Corps member’s participation right from 2011 when we had the first adventure of participating during elections has been commended by Nigerians and the international community.
“Security is very paramount. When you put adequate security in place, you will see more corp 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 the conduct of elections in Nigeria is a 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 corp members. It is almost not impossible for you to deploy almost 200,000 corp members or personnel without having itches. Of course, we recorded a few issues but we did not record any death. Every corp member that was deployed during the last elections came back home.”
The Director of Research, Estimates and Library Services in 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 “with a view to identifying necessary loopholes and nipping them in the bud before the proper election.”
While also calling on INEC to improve the deployment of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, he stressed the need for heavy deployment of security to flash points to deter, detect and deal with any attack from hoodlums.