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.
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