Publication | Report/Paper

Report of the AAEA/IFES Observation of the Transitional Elections in Nigeria (December 1998 - February 1999)

Executive Summary

In support of Nigeria's transition from a military regime to a democratically-elected civilian government, the Association of African Election Authorities (MEA) and the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) undertook a technical assessment of that nation's electoral process. The AAEA and IFES examined the legal guidelines governing the elections as well as the election procedures and the organizational capacity of the Nigerian election authority. The objectives of the AAEA/IFES project were:

•         to contribute to the knowledge of the Nigerian people and the international community about the elections so that they are better able to judge the freedom and fairness of the elections, and to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the electoral process; and

•         to exhibit by the presence of the AAEA and IFES the interest and support of the international community in the electoral and democratic processes in Nigeria.

AAEA and IFES activities in Nigeria involved long-term monitoring of the electoral process, a pre-election assessment mission and missions to observe the elections.

Head of State Abdulsalami Abubakar, who came to power with the death of General Sani Abacha in June 1998, directed the holding of elections in order to bring an elected, civilian government into power in Nigeria by May 29, 1999. Elections were held according to the following time line:

December 5, 1998: Elections for Local Government and Area Councils

January 9,1999: Elections for Governors and State Houses of Assembly

February 20, 1999: Elections for National Assembly

February 27,1999: Election for President

This report is based on the findings of IFES long-term monitors, who were present in Nigeria from November 1998 to April 1999, and of the AAEA/IFES missions to observe three of the four transitional elections-the local government elections on December 5, 1998; National Assembly elections on February 20, 1999; and the presidential election on February 27, 1999 (the IFES monitors observed the January 9 state elections). In this report, the AAEA and IFES present their observations to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEG) of Nigeria, political parties, civic organizations, the Nigerian public and to the international community to encourage these actors to work to enhance the credibility of the Nigerian electoral process in order to promote the sustain ability of democracy in Nigeria.

Following the December 1998 local government elections, the INEC has clarified and added to the election procedures in response to· its review of the electoral process and to comments made by the AAEA/IFES missions and other observers. Of great importance was the use of indelible ink to mark voters in the February 20 and February 27 elections-a notable safeguard against multiple voting. The step-by-step INEC poll worker manual, produced for the January and February elections, and further training of election staff also increased the uniformity of election day procedures from polling station to polling station. Also, in its observation of the February 27 presidential election, the AAEA/IFES mission noted the distribution of additional forms to record the number of accredited voters at the close of accreditation (a procedure designed to thwart additional accreditation and ballot box stuffing); the increased awareness on the part of election officials and the Nigerian voters as to the timing of the accreditation and voting processes; and an enhanced effort to protect the voter's right to mark his or her ballot in secret.

The AAEA and IFES recognize that improvements have been undertaken by the INEC in an effort to increase the transparency of the electoral process and to promote participation in the elections by eligible Nigerian voters. However, throughout the course of these transitional elections, the AAEA/IFES missions observed numerous election irregularities and some cases of fraud which resulted from the shortcomings in the electoral system and the lack of civic awareness of many Nigerians. The AAEA and IFES recommend that the following steps be taken to strengthen Nigeria's electoral process:

•         the development and promulgation of a new electoral law;

•         the review of the electoral procedures to enhance the participation of all Nigerians and to promote the credibility of the process;

•         the computerization of the voter register;

•         the enhancement of the organizational capacity of the INEC, with a focus on training of its permanent and temporary staff;

•         the promotion of transparency of the electoral process through the institutionalization of dialogue between the INEC and the political parties; and

•         the conduct of national civic and voter education campaigns.

Achievement of these steps necessitates a long-term commitment on the part of the INEC, the Nigerian government, political parties and Nigerian citizens. Particular attention needs to be given to the process by which Nigerians undertake these reforms. During the transitional elections, the INEC demonstrated its commitment to dialogue by meeting frequently with political parties and other stakeholders and acting on their concerns. The INEC's accreditation of more than 14,000 local and international observers reflected its recognition of the need for a transparent process. Nigeria's local government elections are to be held in three years. For the credibility of these elections to be ensured, the process by which they are conducted must be democratic-inclusive and transparent-to reflect the democratic system that Nigeria seeks to build and sustain.

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