In this post-election Q&A, IFES Program Manager Julia Hedlund discusses why the outcome of the Nigerian 2015 general elections were so important for democracy in the country; security concerns on Election Day; the performance of new technologies; and the legacy of outgoing Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman Attahiru Jega.
Why is the outcome of the 2015 general elections so important for Nigeria?
There was much at stake during the 2015 general elections. Over the past few years, Nigerians have suffered from increasing insecurity due to Boko Haram’s terrorist activities, as well as periods of economic insecurity due to volatile oil prices and continued corruption scandals in government. For these reasons, the presidential elections garnered a lot of public interest as voters expressed frustration over their current situation, and looked to political leaders for solutions. In the lead up to the March 28 elections, it was clear that the opposition candidate had widespread support in Nigeria, but the ruling party was also making efforts to secure the presidency for another term, fueling uncertainty about what the outcome would be.
Following the success of the 2011 general elections and subsequent governorship elections, which were largely seen as credible and transparent, voters also had high expectations of the INEC. The introduction of new voting technologies, including the Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC) and electronic card readers, was controversial and led to much speculation in the press, with some expecting that these new measures would improve the credibility of the elections and others expressing fears that they would fail or be manipulated. These factors, coupled with the contentious nature of the presidential race, meant that expectations and anxieties surrounding the general elections were very high.
As results were being announced by INEC on March 30 and 31 and it became clear that the opposition party was poised to win the presidency, domestic and international observers watched with apprehension, since this would mark the first democratic transition of power from one political party to another in Nigeria. When incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan made a call to President-elect General Muhammadu Buhari to congratulate him on his win before official election results were announced, the mood lightened and turned to wonder as Nigerians celebrated this benchmark in the country’s democratic development.
The 2015 general elections were originally postponed six weeks due to security concerns. What was the security situation like on Election Day? Was electoral violence a major concern?
Security was a major concern on Election Day for several reasons. Although the Nigerian military had gained a lot of ground in the northeast during the six-week election postponement period, Boko Haram continued to control several local government areas on Election Day, and Boko Haram fighters were still active and at large in the country. In the lead up to the elections, Boko Haram had issued specific threats to violently disrupt the elections. Tensions were also high in some parts of the country due to the contentious nature of the race and the fact that the two leading presidential candidates were seen as running neck and neck in the polls.
Despite all of these concerns, voting proceeded smoothly on Election Day with minimal violence or disruptions. Security personnel from Nigeria’s police, Civil Defense Corps and an array of other domestic security agencies were deployed at polling units in adequate numbers, while members of the Nigerian military were posted on roads and at state and national borders to enforce movement restrictions. Many Nigerians were undeterred by the threat of violence and turned out in large numbers to vote for the candidates of their choice in a largely peaceful and sometimes festive atmosphere.
How did the new technologies introduced for the 2015 general elections perform?
The new voting technologies had a mixed track record in the March 28 general elections. While the electronic card readers performed well in reading PVCs and confirming their validity, they were less successful in reading voters’ fingerprints and matching them against the voter registry. This could be due to several factors, including dust or dirt on the fingerprint scanner screen or voters’ fingerprints and poll workers not capturing voters’ fingerprints effectively, among others. In some isolated cases, the card readers did not work at all, leading the INEC to announce on Election Day that voter accreditation could be conducted manually in such cases. Another overall effect of the introduction of the electronic card readers was that the accreditation process took longer, which resulted in voting carrying on until late in the evening and even continuing into Sunday in some cases.
The issues that arose with the introduction of the new technologies did not result in voter disenfranchisement, because of the contingencies that the INEC planned, and their use did have the effect of bolstering public confidence in the credibility of the elections. The use of the electronic card readers cut down on the possibility of voter fraud and also acted as a deterrent to discourage people from trying to vote multiple times or fraudulently. Ultimately, the use of the card readers was seen as a success and a step forward by many Nigerians in improving the credibility of elections.
There has been a major focus in the media on the results of the presidential election. What major developments came out of the legislative elections?
In the March 28 general elections, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which had previously dominated Nigerian politics for the past 16 years, lost both the presidency as well as their majority in the National Senate. In the new Senate, PDP holds 49 seats, while the All Progressives Congress (APC) won 60, along with the presidency. The APC also retained control of the House of Representatives with 214 seats as compared to PDP’s 125. This change in majority control through the election follows a general trend that began with the formation of APC as a political party in 2013, after which some elected officials in both houses of Nigeria’s legislature began changing their party affiliation from PDP to APC.
How did women candidates fare in the vote?
Women candidates fared poorly in the 2015 general elections, winning only eight of the 109 Senatorial seats. During this election, Nigeria did see its first ever female presidential candidate, Comfort Oluremi Sonaiya, running for the KOWA party. Although she scored only a nominal amount of votes nationally, she hopes that her example will inspire more Nigerian women to get involved in politics.
What have election monitors said about the transparency and credibility of the vote?
Domestic and international election observer groups were generally very positive about the conduct of the 2015 general elections. While various groups noted challenges on Election Day, including the late opening of many polling units, failure in some cases of the electronic card readers and fingerprint verification, and isolated violent incidents, they applauded INEC for its impartiality and professionalism, Nigeria’s security forces on the largely peaceful conduct of the elections, and Nigerians themselves for their enthusiastic participation in the process. Most observer reports noted that there is room for improvement in some areas, including Election Day logistics and use of the electronic card readers, however, the elections were generally seen as credible with their outcome reflecting the will of the Nigerian people.
INEC Chairman Attahiru Jega will finish his term in June 2015. With many observers hailing these elections as an important step for Nigeria, and democracy in Africa, what will his legacy be?
Through his leadership and the reforms that he championed, Chairman Jega’s legacy is the public’s increased confidence in elections in Nigeria and in the INEC as an institution. Chairman Jega oversaw the institution of a new and publicly accepted biometric voter registry; the introduction of new voting technologies that have cut down on the possibility for voter fraud and manipulation of results; and has reformed the INEC as an institution, streamlining its internal organization. Perhaps most importantly, Chairman Jega’s commitment to impartiality and integrity was welcomed by Nigerian stakeholders and has provided an example for the INEC moving forward. Because of his leadership, Nigerians now increasingly believe that their vote will count, and may in turn become encouraged to participate to a greater extent in political and electoral processes.
More from IFES on Nigeria’s 2015 general elections:
Read IFES President and CEO Bill Sweeney’s testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations on “U.S. Election Support in Africa.”