Abuja, Nigeria – IRI sponsored a delegation to travel to Nigeria to assesses preperations for the country’s 2007 national elections. Ambassador Pierre-Richard Prosper, leader of the delegation, isued the following statement on behalf of the delegation.
“It has been my privilege to head this group of prestigious international delegates, organized by the International Republican Institute. The purpose of this mission was to assess the political environment and preparations for this important country’s elections next year.
“We want to express our appreciation to all those who met with the delegation and shared their views. Our interlocutors spoke to us with frankness and out of concern and hope for Nigeria. We have been impressed with the wealth of information provided to us by key government officials, political leaders, civil society organizations, religious groups, the media and the donor community, and their commitment to the issue.
“Democracies around the world are founded on the ideals of freedom, liberty, equality and the rule of law. These values are often difficult to achieve, but we must always remember democracy is not a destination – it is a journey. We may not always succeed in achieving the ideals of democracy, but we must try for the sake of a better tomorrow for our children and grandchildren. This delegation understands and believes the 2007 elections are an historical event and indeed a significant milestone in Nigeria’s young democracy.
“In 2007, political power will transfer from one civilian government to another for the first time in Nigeria’s history. The delegation realizes what happens here next year will have wide implications. The stakes are high: In the words of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman, Professor Maurice Iwu, ‘whatever happens to Nigeria touches the rest of the world.’ As a result, it is important the chosen process be ultimately free, fair and in accordance with international standards.
“The election process must be credible with the Nigerian population because government legitimacy depends on the consent of the people. The history of Nigeria has compelled its citizens to be skeptical about the integrity of the procedures in place. It has caused them to question the weight of their voices and the value of their votes. Many fear they will be disenfranchised by the inadequacies of the electoral system in place.
“Although this may be the case, it must also be noted that there is a determination, among many different stakeholders, to hold elections that are a true reflection of the will of the Nigerian people. While the government has expressed its intention to conduct free and fair elections, the words of commitment can only be judged by actions. It is the opinion of this delegation that in many respects the actions, to date, have been deficient.
“We express grave concern over the fact that with only two weeks remaining before the registration deadline, less than half of the direct data capture machines (DDC) have arrived, let alone been deployed to registration centers throughout the country. We are additionally concerned that only 3.5 million of the potential 60 million eligible voters are registered to vote as of the end of last week. The leadership of the INEC has set a noble and ambitious goal of implementing this cutting-edge system to deter past fraud in registration efforts and the ensuing acrimony; the ability however to meet the expectations of this goal on the timetable established is quite seriously in doubt. As a result, INEC is losing credibility with the public.
“The weaknesses in the voter registration process are mirrored also in basic voter education efforts, characterized by a dearth of information about the most basic practical elements. For example, while potential voters have been informed through various media of the need to register, they have almost no information about when and where to actually go about doing so. During its stay in Abuja, the delegation saw no evidence of civic education for the voter registration exercise, such as posters, billboards or signs indicating voter registration centers. Furthermore, in our conversations with different stakeholders very few had been successful in registering. Our own experience underscores the existence of widespread confusion and skepticism regarding the most fundamental aspect of a democratic process: registering to vote.
“The issue of security surrounding the elections also presented itself as a major concern among many stakeholders with whom we met. We received numerous reports during the week of widespread concerns over intra-party violence as rivals seek their respective party nominations, as well as worry that once the party process is complete, this would simply shift to inter-party violence. Additionally, the delegation heard reports of the stockpiling of cutlasses, firearms and ammunition. Given the combination of the violence surrounding past elections in Nigeria and the reported stockpiling of weapons, the delegation is very concerned about the 2007 poll and the potential for violence.
“What we make today are preliminary observations. Over the coming weeks, the delegation will continue to analyze the data and reflect on its visit, and will issue a final report with conclusions and recommendations.
“Several themes emerged from our work this week. A deficient and confusing voter registration process and the potential for election-related violence are weakening democratic efforts in Nigeria. Despite these serious issues, the many impassioned people who want to make democracy succeed in Nigeria impressed and gave hope to the delegation. There is no doubt that Nigeria has the ingredients of a vibrant democracy and the potential to be a shining example to the African continent and the rest of the world. The delegation supports and encourages the Nigerian people in their efforts to strengthen democracy and enhance freedom.”Top