Abuja, Nigeria – IRI sponsored a delegation of 20 election observers for the April 12, 2003 Nigerian national assembly elections. They represented the first phase of a two-part election observation process that will include a subsequent, much larger IRI delegation to observe Nigeria’s April 19 presidential and gubernatorial elections.
IRI observers witnessed the balloting and ballot tabulation process in six Nigerian states – Cross River, Gombe, Imo, Katsina, Kogi and Lagos – and in the Federal Capital Territory. Prior to Election Day the observers participated in briefings in Abuja and in their respective states. They met with election administrators, leaders of Nigerian nongovernmental organizations, representatives of national and local media, long-term international election monitors and representatives of many of the major political parties taking part in the election.
It is important to stress that the following election assessment is preliminary. A comprehensive final report, evaluating the election process in its entirety, will be released in the weeks following the April 19 elections.
The IRI delegation’s mixed findings, and the relatively limited geographic scope of its mission, make it impossible for the Institute to reach any concrete overall conclusion regarding the adequacy of the election process or the credibility of the election result. The Nigerian people are commended for making a substantial effort to participate in this election under often difficult conditions. Based on what our delegates saw, the Institute believes the elections left substantial room for improvement. IRI’s observers did not find evidence of widespread or systematic misconduct intended to favor particular parties or candidates. They did, however, witness serious lapses at critical levels of the election administration structure.
On a positive and very important note, the worst fears of the Nigerian public and the international community did not occur. While an unacceptable level of violence occurred in the period before April 12, Election Day related violence appeared relatively minor. While IRI observers did report minor occurrences of fighting and intimidation of voters, they were the exception rather than the rule. IRI observers also wish to acknowledge the professional courtesy that they were accorded by Nigerian election workers and officials at all levels.
The vast majority of polling stations observed by IRI failed to open on time on Election Day because essential materials such as ballot boxes and ballots were delivered well after 8:00 a.m., the time polls were supposed to open. Many did not open until early afternoon, or in some cases, the end of the day. As a result, a substantial number of citizens were either discouraged from voting or denied the opportunity to vote.
Shortages of ballots and permanent voter cards in several areas had the same effect, as did problems with ballot design and insufficient voter education. These problems resulted in a relatively high percentage of invalidated ballots being reported at several polling stations visited by IRI observers. Badly oversubscribed and poorly arranged voting stations slowed the balloting process and rendered it less than orderly. Many voters were forced to spend a very long time at the polling stations, resulting in frustration with the delays. The cumulative effect of these failings on the overall level of voter participation in the election is impossible to quantify precisely, but was certainly significant.
Significant procedural irregularities were also identified at practically all stages of the voting and vote tabulation process in the states covered by IRI observers.
There appeared to be a general lack of observance of the proscribed procedure for securing ballot boxes, for example, or for providing voters with a private space to record their vote. Irregularities were most dramatic, and also of greatest concern, in the vote tabulation and collation processes. Many of the voting station workers that IRI observers encountered during closing and tabulation had difficulty filling out and balancing their protocols. In notable instances, moreover, voting station teams did not even tabulate their own ballots at the end of Election Day, but instead delivered their filled ballot boxes directly to their Ward or LGA collation centers. In at least one instance, the ward collation center level of the tabulation system appears to have collapsed entirely for want of senior level election officers, and many hundreds of filled ballot boxes were delivered directly to the LGA level. Important “checks and balances” elements of the tabulation process were circumvented.
In addition, in many areas insufficient light existed to facilitate counting. It was also unclear as to how unused ballots would be accounted for and secured.
Consistent, well articulated and properly implemented procedures are essential to the credibility of any election. Though none of the administrative and procedural problems identified by IRI observers would by themselves call the integrity of the April 12 election process or the credibility of the result into question, their overall impact on the perceived quality and transparency of the election was substantial.
Looking ahead, IRI observers believe that the weaknesses observed during the April 12 election process, if not addressed and corrected, could damage the quality and efficiency of the April 19 presidential and gubernatorial elections. IRI observers urge Nigerian election administrators and political leaders at all levels to quickly assess and address the problems that were most evident on April 12.
IRI observers specifically recommend that:
- While providing appropriate security, INEC change its material distribution schedule to insure that all voting stations are prepared to open on time;
- Every voting station be provided with at least as many ballots for each election as there are names on the station’s registration list;
- INEC insure that all voting stations and collation centers are staffed with enough officials to reduce the long times taken to vote and to tabulate votes on April 12;
- Adequate transportation be provided for the transfer of election results from polling stations to collation centers;
- Oversubscribed voting stations be subdivided in order to avoid delays in the processing of voters;
- Polling places provide voters with greater privacy when marking their ballots.
- Adequate lighting be provided for after dark;
- Unused ballots be properly accounted for and secured;
- INEC clarify the “tendered ballot” process;
- Polling stations and collation centers receive calculators.