Nigerians Hopeful for Credible Elections in April Despite Continuing Challenges
Abuja, Nigeria – The citizens of Nigeria will go to the polls in April, engaging in the largest electoral exercise in Africa in 2011. The elections in Nigeria are critical to the future well-being of this nation; but they are also of great importance to the continent of Africa and especially the sub-region of West Africa.
The balloting will begin with the national assembly elections on April 2, followed by presidential and vice presidential elections on April 9, and concluding with state level (governors and state assembly) elections on April 16. To assess the legal and political environment prior to this exercise of the franchise, IRI deployed an assessment mission to Nigeria from February 28 to March 3, 2011. Led by His Excellency John Kufuor, former president of the Republic of Ghana (2001-2009), this mission met with almost all major stakeholders involved in the 2011 election cycle.
The IRI delegation met with the Chairman and commissioners of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), members of the National Assembly, the President of the Court of Appeal, and the Inspector General of Police (IGP), as well as presidential candidates, religious leaders, representatives of political parties, civil society organizations, including women’s activists, the media, and international development partners.
The mission was assured by both the INEC and IGP that the government has provided adequate funding to conduct the April elections.
The delegation noted with satisfaction the commitment by INEC Chairman Attahiru Jega, who, a few days prior to the mission’s arrival, made the following public statement, “The commission will spare no effort on its promise that the elections will be free, fair and credible. We recognize that a major step towards achieving that goal is to be transparent with our operations.”
Chairman Jega reaffirmed this commitment in the meeting with the IRI delegation. In every one of its meetings, the delegation heard praise for the INEC chairman. It is clear that the Nigerian people have confidence in Chairman Jega’s commitment to transparent, free and fair elections. Nigeria is fortunate in having an INEC Chairman praised across the political spectrum. However it is also critical that this confidence in the Chairman’s integrity extends to the entire INEC structure. The means for achieving this is for all INEC personnel to exercise the utmost professionalism and impartiality in the fulfillment of their responsibilities. The delegation further noted a strong desire from Nigerian stakeholders to raise the quality of their electoral processes and, equally of note, was encouraged by the stakeholders’ respective commitment to an improved process.
There are still some challenges to address with less than a month to go before the first of the series of important elections in April 2011. The delegation offers the following observations and recommendations:
- All stakeholders should continue to support the electoral process by renewing their public commitment, through words and deeds, to respect the independence of INEC, the sanctity of the electoral process and respect for the rule of law.
- Some stakeholders expressed concerns about security. The delegation was informed that full funding and an operational plan for the deployment of security personnel is in place for the elections. The appropriate authorities are urged to continue to take steps to allay these fears.
- The Nigerian Judiciary, which is already confronted with an overburdened docket, has had added to its responsibilities a role of adjudicating electoral disputes. This has allowed for situations through which candidates can thwart the will of voters as well as placing the courts in a politicized environment detrimental to public confidence in the integrity of the judicial branch of government. It is recommended that consideration be given to the establishment of an administrative review process of petitions before they reach the court to determine whether they are frivolous or would materially affect the outcome of an election and thus merit judicial hearing. It is also recommended that, for these April elections, Nigerians only refer electoral disputes to the courts once all other means of resolution have been exhausted.
- Another concern presented to the delegation was that of unequal access to state media. Given Nigeria’s political landscape, the ability of political actors to have access to the media remains central to a fair election process. All those who feel aggrieved are encouraged to document unequal access and submit their complaints to the appropriate media regulatory agencies and INEC. Media outlets are encouraged to ensure fair coverage of political activities.
- The delegation welcomes the cooperation between INEC and the political parties in the development of a Code of Conduct for the parties, which is scheduled to be signed by all political parties and INEC on March 8. This is an important initiative by INEC and the parties, but it will be imperative that parties ensure that their candidates and supporters strictly adhere to the code.
- In early February 2011 the INEC completed what many Nigerian stakeholders consider to be a successful voter registration exercise. The commission decided not to use the old, flawed, voter register and, instead, developed a completely new register using biometrics. INEC reported that it registered more than 67.7 million voter names. The INEC should build on this register to undertake continuous voter registration after the 2011 elections to improve the quality of the data captured.
- The delegation was encouraged by the decision of INEC to address past election problems related to the integrity of the ballot process. In an attempt to strengthen the independence of poll workers, INEC has announced its intention to deploy members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) as poll workers. However, based on reports that NYSC members, in some instances, were not well trained to handle the voter registration process, it is imperative that the commission ensures the proper and timely training of these workers before the elections commence.
- It was highlighted to the delegation that election offences have gone unpunished in Nigeria. In order to send a forceful message that Nigeria is serious about remedying this history and promoting respect for the law, the appropriate authorities should take the necessary legal actions to prosecute individuals, including election officials, flouting the election law and committing such offences.
- The delegation was concerned to hear about and see media reports of inflammatory rhetoric, including such characterizations by political actors as these elections being “do or die politics.” This neither promotes a respectful and thoughtful process nor encourages participation. Political parties, candidates and supporters should refrain from using inflammatory language in the run up to the elections.
- The manipulation of youth to perpetrate violence on behalf of political actors continues to be a significant threat to the integrity of the electoral process. For the benefit of the April elections, as well as the long term health of Nigerian democracy, it is recommended that those who engage in election-related violence in 2011 be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. There should be no tolerance for those who engage in violence.
- It was reported to the delegation that, in past elections, there has been a failure to adequately pay polling staff and police, resulting in a circumstance that can make these individuals susceptible to being compromised. The appropriate authorities should ensure the provision of sufficient and timely funding to enable these persons to fulfill their electoral duties.
- The delegation was advised that the “modified open ballot system” would be used for the 2011 elections in an attempt to reduce multiple voting and other fraud on Election Day. This is a significant change from the system used in 2007. It is recommended that there be vigorous and extensive voter education between now and Election Day to emphasize this change.
- There exist strong barriers, including the use of violence and intimidation, to the full participation of women in Nigeria’s political life. Political parties should ensure that women have equal access to leadership opportunities, including the ability to run for office at all levels of government. Political parties are encouraged to examine party structures and procedures with the objective of removing all barriers against the participation of women.
- The delegation heard numerous concerns about the lack of transparency and accountability of Nigeria’s campaign financing system. The deficiencies and abuses of this system continue to undercut the credibility of the electoral process. The delegation strongly recommends that, at a minimum, political parties and candidates fully adhere to current financial disclosure rules. Further, for the longer-term confidence in the election system, the delegation recommends the establishment of a national commission to develop a comprehensive framework to strengthen the reporting of all expenditures related to the activities of political parties and candidates and the prosecution of campaign finance violations.
In addition to His Excellency John Kufuor, the delegation included Dan Fisk, IRI’s Vice President for Policy and Strategic Planning; Martin Kimani, Director of the Michael S. Ansari Africa Center, the Atlantic Council; Fernand Julien Gauze, Secretary General of the Convention of Ivorian Civil Society; Charles Lasham, Electoral Consultant; and Frank Agyekum, Spokesperson for President Kufuor. Supporting the delegation were Paul E. Fagan, IRI’s Regional Director for Africa; Mourtada Deme, IRI’s Resident Country Director in Nigeria; Sarah Aldrich, IRI Assistant Program Officer for Africa and the IRI in-country team.
Since 1999, IRI’s Nigeria program has focused on enhancing the credibility of the electoral process. With the 2011 elections approaching, IRI is working across the nation with a variety of stakeholders including political parties, youth, women, media, persons with disabilities and civil society groups. IRI will send a delegation to observe the elections in April 2011.
IRI has monitored more than 135 elections in more than 40 countries, including Nigeria’s 1999, 2003 and 2007 elections.
The delegation is grateful to all who took the time to meet with them and for sharing their views and opinions on the current state of the electoral process in Nigeria.Top