Nigeria’s 2011 Elections: Obstacles and Opportunities

Where do preparations for Nigeria’s 2011 elections stand?

As chair of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Maurice Iwu oversaw one of Nigeria’s worst elections in decades. The Domestic Election Observation Group said after the elections in 2007, “We do not believe that any outcome of the elections can represent the will of the people.  A democratic arrangement founded on such fraud can have no legitimacy.”  The international observers, including NDI, IRI, and the EU, offered similarly strong commentary on the elections.

The firing of Iwu and the subsequent appointment this summer of Attahiru Jega, an accomplished political scientist thus offered hope for Nigeria’s next round of elections.  Jega is the author of Democracy, Good Governance and

Development in Nigeria (Spectrum Books, 2007),  an evaluation of the Fourth Republic’s performance.  As a former university vice chancellor, he brings potentially useful experience in running a large organization.  Jega is also serious about electoral reform; this week INEC fired all 774 electoral officers serving in the country’s local government areas.

Nigeria’s New Electoral Law

The legal environment for the 2011 elections is framed by the 2010 Electoral Act, harmonized (similar to a U.S. conference report) several weeks ago by the National Assembly.  It is also the culmination of a process of electoral reform begun long before Jega took over, and discussed in a report by the Electoral Reform Commission.  This new electoral law contains important new provisions, including a requirement for party primaries and various steps to improve the efficiency of election result appeals.  Significantly, it also requires electoral results to be declared at the polling unit and at the ward level; this makes good on President Jonathan’s promise to audiences in Washington, D.C. and in Nigeria when he said this reform is necessary to improve the integrity of the elections.   For a more complete analysis, see the side-by-side comparison of the 2006 and 2010 electoral laws, which I completed with lawyer Amarachi Utah.  (We plan to update this document as necessary.)

Unfortunately, Dr. Jega appears to have backed himself into a corner, which puts him at a distinct political advantage at a time when INEC needs to unequivocally demonstrate its neutrality and its commitment to fairness.  His predecessor spent his final weeks arguing that the 2011 elections should be moved up from April to January.  The idea was that this would allow enough time for electoral disputes to be resolved in the courts before candidates are sworn in in May; it also of course assumed that many election results would be challenged.  However given the poor state of preparations, this would have also had the effect of increasing Iwu’s influence by creating an “electoral emergency” of sorts.  When Jega took over he went along with the January date.  He now therefore looks like he’s calling for a delay of the elections, when in reality it would have been difficult logistically and otherwise to hold them in January.  Moving the date back to April now requires consultations with a National Assembly constitutional reform committee, which apparently supported the January date, as well as possible modifications to the electoral law.

Follow this page in the coming months for additional analysis, news, and primary source documents from Nigeria.

3 thoughts on “Nigeria’s 2011 Elections: Obstacles and Opportunities

  1. Nengak Daniel

    The 2010 Electoral Act is a good law; but in Nigeria, while we need the good laws, we still need to find a way to make ourselves obey the laws we have. I think the 2011 polls would have been a major improvement to those of 2007, thanks to the Act as well as a few other reforms in the system.
    Unfortunately, time is threatening to derail the whole process. It has become clear that nothing short of terrible elections would be conducted in 2011 if the elections were to be held in January as envisaged in the Electoral Act and the (Amended) Constitution. The request for time extension to conduct the elections in April 2011 has opened the 2010 Electoral Act to amendments; therefore, Nigerians are not as yet sure when they will be going to vote.
    Also, some of the proposal outline in the Bill for an Act to Amend the Electoral Act No. of 2010 sent by the President and currently before the National Assembly is worrisome. For example, the bill proposes that Section 87(7) “A political party that adopts the system of indirect primaries for the choice of its candidate shall clearly outline in its constitution and rules the procedure for the democratic election of delegates to vote at the convention, congress or meeting” should now read “A political party that adopts the system of indirect primaries for the choice of its candidates shall outline in its constitution or guideline:
    i. Who shall be a delegate at the congress or convention;
    ii. in the case of democratically elected delegates, the procedure for the election of such delegates”
    I guess the difference is stark.

    While we are yet wondering what the Act would look like, now it seems INEC Chair crossed the line by making some comments that the National Assembly didn’t like!

  2. Carl LeVan

    NDI Report on Nigerian Election Preparations

    The National Democratic Institute has just released a pre-election assessment report for Nigeria. Though the mission was unfortunately very brief (October 11 – 15), it identified key concerns for political reform, as well as possible opportunities for deepening democracy.

    Troublesome areas include:

    — the legal framework for the election, security and policing throughout the electoral process;
    — concerns regarding the overall efficiency of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) organs at the local government, constituency and ward levels;
    — the fact that registration, which will include upwards of 70 million voters, has yet to begin;
    — no consensus for when the election itself will even take place. The last two federal electoral cycles took place in April, but as noted in earlier blog posts, politicians and administrators moved the date to January in order to allow for resolution of electoral disputes before swearing in takes place. With so few electoral preparations under way, that decision now seems both improvident and impractical.

    The mission’s recommendations call for:

    • Nigeria’s leadership to re-affirm its commitment to free, fair and credible elections;
    • Clear declarations that electoral misconduct by public officials and others will not be tolerated;
    • State and Federal legislative action to change the election date;
    • Early and comprehensive accreditation of election observers;
    • The security services to require that all officers remain neutral, avoid intimidating voters and to protect civilians;
    • Political parties to consider measures to reduce politically motivated violence. (Presumably this would include a joint declaration co-signed by the parties.)

    Having participated previously in a NDI/Carter Center election assessment mission in Nigeria — and followed developments closely since — these measures sound like a solid start. But clearly a sense of urgency is needed. Another round of electoral amendments are pending in the National Assembly, and one issue they likely need to address is the process for appealing electoral disputes. Just a few days ago, courts ruled in favor of Kayode Fayemi’s petition, giving him the green light to assume the governorship of Ekiti State after a legal fight that dragged on for three years. Another issue concerns the legal framework governing the role of the security services in the elections. Typically private sector forces are employed, but without a clear chain of command at the polling station and with limited (if any) training on their role on election day.

    You can read the complete NDI report, dated October 15, here. Come back here for other updates.

  3. Carl LeVan Post author

    New USIP report on Election Violence in Nigeria

    The United States Institute of Peace has just issued a report which raises concerns about pre-electoral violence in Nigeria. The report arrived as Nigeria experienced a new string of killings with political implications this week, including a bombing in Jos and new attacks by the Islamic sect, Boko Haram. This is potentially important for scholars because violence after elections rather than before has until recently been the dominant pattern in Africa’s democratizing countries. Indeed this was a key observation of a 2009 USAID workshop in Kenya entitled, “Elections and Stability in Africa: Conflict, Peace and Political Processes.”

    The USIP report shares my view that the new INEC director, Attahiru Jega, offers the best hope Nigeria has had for fair elections in a long time. But the authors also note that timetable changes damaged the credibility of the electoral process, and that disagreements over political “zoning” could still pose a risk of instability since a southerner took over when Yar’Adua passed away in office.

    You can read the full report here.

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