European Union observers said on Monday that Nigeria’s elections had fallen far short of basic international standards and were not credible.
Elections for president and state governors were marred by violence, poor organisation, lack of transparency, widespread irregularities, significant fraud, voter disenfranchisement and bias, the observers said.
”These elections have not lived up to the hopes and expectations of the Nigerian people and the process cannot be considered to have been credible,” said Max van den Berg, chief EU observer, in a statement.
The European Union said urgent remedial action was required but did not clearly say whether the elections should be cancelled and held again.
The EU statement echoed the preliminary findings of the US-based International Republican Institute, another group monitoring the elections, which said it said the elections had fallen ”below the standard set by previous Nigerian elections and international standards witnessed by IRI around the globe”.
Opposition groups have repeated calls for the election to be re-run. Vice president and opposition leader Atiku Abubakar described the polls as a ”national tragedy” and called for the polls to be annulled.
Reports of scattered violence, an attempt to blow up the election headquarters and stolen, stuffed and missing ballots cast a heavy shadow over polling on Saturday.
The elections, which President Olusegun Obasanjo was unable to contest having served a two-term limit, were the third since the military handed power back to civilians in 1999 after 16 years of misrule.
It was hoped the polls would provide an opportunity for Africa’s most populous nation and top oil producer to consolidate its path to more accountable government, with the first transfer of power from one civilian president to another set to take place on May 29.
However, many Nigerians and foreign observers were left questioning the integrity of the process and wondering about the repercussions.
Nigeria’s political establishment has often pulled rank at moments of impending crisis to avoid a breakdown in government authority that might provide a pretext for the military to intervene. However, the country’s politicians have rarely been as divided as now or elections as controversial.
The Transition Monitoring Group, the largest domestic observer organisation, said the polls were so flawed they should be run again. Delays and failures in distributing some 60m ballots meant that only half the country had been able to vote, representatives said.
Max van den Berg, the head of a European Union observer mission, said there was less violence on Saturday than there had been in state elections on April 14, in which an estimated 50 people died. But he had reports of a catalogue of abuses from teams around the country, suggesting little improvement since the earlier vote – swept by the ruling People’s Democratic party (PDP).
“The way the elections have been conducted to date has not lived up to the hopes of Nigerians,” he told the FT.
Both Mr Obasanjo and Maurice Iwu, the chairman of the electoral commission, continued to defend the overall process at the weekend, while other senior political figures warned about the dangers of wholesale condemnation.
“We would be inciting a revolution or a military intervention,” said a senior senator from the PDP.
Ken Nnamani, president of the Nigerian Senate, has called for the upper house to reconvene tomorrow, a week ahead of schedule. There was speculation in political circles yesterday that this would lead to calls for the polls to be annulled and possible impeachment proceedings against Mr Obasanjo.
Frank Nweke, the information minister, has accused Mr Nnamani of plotting to form an interim national government. He suggested an attempt on Friday to blow up the election headquarters in Abuja, the capital, was part of wider plans to sabotage the polls. The truck-bomb, laden with petrol and gas cylinders, hit a lamp-post and failed to detonate.
Some of the fiercest controversy was in the northern state of Katsina, home to both Umaru Yar’Adua, Mr Obasanjo’s chosen successor, and General Muhamadu Buhari, a former military ruler and one of two main opposition contenders for the presidency.
Under the nose of foreign observers, unsealed ballot boxes and election materials were whipped away from several polling stations by thugs. Journalists witnessed similar – and worse – scenes in other parts of the country and in many areas residents complained there were far fewer ballots than voters.
Casting his own vote, Mr Yar’Adua, a Muslim whom most Nigerians expect to emerge as president, said citizens should not expect a flawless vote.
A veteran of the ruling party told the FT that the PDP had expected Mr Yar’Adua to gain 56 per cent of the vote. But party officials now felt he needed to win at least 61 per cent in order to survive opposition attempts to reverse the results at election tribunals. Results are due by today.