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Wednesday 13 February 2019

Fears over Obasanjo’s link with foreign poll observers

Fears over Obasanjo’s link with foreign poll observers


There is anxiety in political circles over the composition of some of the international observer missions deployed in the country for the general elections. The presidential election is slated for Saturday.

The popular thinking is that former President Olusegun Obasanjo may have been influential to the composition and emergence of some of the chairmen of some of the observer groups.

The ex-President, who is backing former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, is suspected to have sold an agenda to these observers, based on a  perception of what a source described as a “willy-nilly”regime change.

Some of the groups are suspected to be in the country to “work to the answer” by prejudging the election as “not free, fair and credible” — a perception that has been debunked.

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But it was gathered that the Federal Government is “paying keen interest” to their activities.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has accredited 144 observer groups, including 116 domestic and 28 international teams.

The foreign groups are:  African Bar Association;  African Parliament of The Civil Society; African Union; British High Commission; Democrat Union of Africa; ECOWAS; Elections Cameroon, Republic of Cameroon; and the  Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa.

Theere are also Embassy of France; Embassy of Japan; Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt; Embassy of The Republic of Korea; European Centre for Electoral Support; European Union; German International Agency;  High Commission of Canada;  and the International Foundation For Electoral System.

The International Human Rights Commission; International Peace Commission; International Republican Institute; the National Democratic Institute; the Network for Solidarity; and the Empowerment and Transformation for All were also accredited to cover the elections.

Other international observers are Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation; Pan African Women Projects;  Pan African Youth Training and Enlightenment Centre;  Queen Zara Foundation for Human Resources Development; The Commonwealth; and the United States Embassy.

Some of the observer groups are being led by some ex-leaders, including  ex-Tanzanian President Dr. Jakaya Kikwete (Commonwealth Observer Group); former Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn (African Union);  ex-Liberian President Ellen  Johnson-Sirleaf (ECOWAS); and Maria Arena (the Chief Observer, European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) to Nigeria).

Ms Arena is a member of the European Parliament from Belgium. Kikwete is “a well known friend of Obasanjo” a source said, adding: “He was regular at the Ota Farm House Dialogue in the eighties. They even worked together at the African Union on the NEPAD programme.

Obasanjo is also believed to be close to Mrs Johnson-Sirleaf. “We all know Nigeria’s role in Liberia during the Obasanjo Presidency,” the source said, pleading not to be named because he is not permitted to talk to the media.

Another source spoke of an intelligence report that some of the observer groups are in Nigeria to work in line with “pre-determined agenda” of their countries. Besides, the source noted that it was wrong for some ambassador to be moving round the country on “election tourism” without the foreign minister’s permission.

The Federal Government had last week raised the alarm that the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party( PDP) was planning to send a delegation to some western capitals.

A source, who spoke in confidence, said: “The security report available to the government indicated that some foreign observer groups are already biased and they are in the country to act out a script already written for them.

“Some countries already accused of interfering in the internal affairs of Nigeria have exerted much influence on the observer missions to discredit the poll.

“These groups have prejudged the election as not free, fair and credible. This is going to be their ultimate verdict, irrespective of what the Independent National Electoral Commission ( INEC) does.

“The most disturbing in the security report is the fact  that some chairmen and members of these observer groups have links with a former President who is suspected to have influenced their choices for a purpose.

“A few of them had been visiting the ex-President in the past and some were even helped to power through the international goodwill of the ex-leader.”

The intelligence source added that some of the observers may have been playing into the hands of those plotting “an electoral stalemate and drag Nigeria into a political crisis  to put an interim government in place”.

“They are ready to do whatever they can to get President Muhammadu Buhari out of power.”

Responding to a question, the source said the surveillance on some observer groups showed that they were violating the code of conduct put in place by INEC.

On its website, INEC says: “All accredited observers shall abide by the code of conduct for election observers, which is available for download on the INEC website (www.inecnigeria.org).

“INEC reserves the right to cancel and withdraw the accreditation of any organisation if its members or agents breach the code of conduct.’’

But some missions have already assured Nigerians that they will be impartial.

The  Chair of the Commonwealth Observer Group, Dr. Jakaya Kiwete, on Monday said the mission will be impartial in its assessment of the elections.

He said the group will  issue an interim statement on its preliminary findings on the first set of elections on February 18.

He said the18-man team of observers was  drawn from Africa, Asia, Europe, the Caribbean and the Pacific.

They were deployed to observe the opening, voting, closing, counting and the results management processes.

This is the sixth time a Commonwealth Observer Group will be observing elections in Nigeria since 1999.

Kikwete, a former President of Tanzania,  made the clarifications  in a statement in Abuja against the backdrop of anxiety over the roles of the group and others.

He  said: “Our Group was constituted following an invitation from the Independent National Election Commission, drawing together 18 eminent persons from across the different regions of the Commonwealth, including Africa, Asia, Europe, the Caribbean and the Pacific.

“We come in our own individual capacities, bringing a wide range of expertise in the areas of election administration, political development, law, human rights, civil society, gender, youth, as well as media.

“As a group, we are here to observe the organisation and conduct of the election process as a whole, and will form an impartial and independent assessment of its credibility.

“The Commonwealth Observer Group will consider the pre-election period, polling day itself, as well as the post-election period. Our main task is to assess whether the elections have been conducted according to the national, regional and international standards to which Nigeria has committed itself, including its own laws.

“On election day, we will observe the opening, voting, closing, counting and the results management processes.”

The group will submit a final report to the Commonwealth Secretary-General and, thereafter, share with the Government of Nigeria, INEC, political parties, Commonwealth governments, then make it public.

The group expressed hope that its presence will confirm the unwavering solidarity of the Commonwealth with Nigeria as the country conducts the elections.

The group however encouraged all citizens to “play their part in ensuring peaceful and credible elections this weekend.”

The Head of EU EOM, Maria Arena, said: “It is a great honour for me to lead this important EU Election Observation Mission to Nigeria. I am hopeful that our observation will provide a meaningful contribution to the electoral and democratic process in Nigeria.”

In a statement, the EU EOM said: “The EU only deploys an election observation mission when it is invited to do so by the authorities of a country.  The EU has been invited to observe all of the general elections in Nigeria since 1999. Thus, this is the sixth time the EU is observing elections in Nigeria.

“The Independent National Electoral Commission invited the EU to deploy an observation mission for the 2019 general elections.

“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.”

But the Buhari Media Organisation( BMO) has cautioned Kikwete against being used by Obasanjo former President.

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A statement  by the Chairman, Niyi Akinsiju and Secretary of BMO,  Cassidy Madueke, the group said: “Many Nigerians are worried that the head of the Commonwealth observer group may be swayed by Obasanjo’s skewed pre-election position that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) does not have the integrity to conduct free, fair and credible elections.

“This concern, we know, is as a result of the long standing friendship between the two former Presidents which began long before Kikwete became the head of the Tanzania government in 2005.

But we are encouraged by the values that the Commonwealth holds sacrosanct, and the fact that the head of the election observer team has a track record as a peace maker, especially in the Great Lakes region of East Africa.

“So we hope that Kikwete would resist the pressure that will surely come from former President Obasanjo who believes that he has a divine role to determine the winner of the Presidential election.”

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