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:

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.

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