NIGERIA'S LOCAL GOVERNMENT COUNCIL ELECTIONS
December 5, 1998
Association of African Election Authorities (AAEA)
(Issued on November 30, 1998)
This report is a summary of the team's observations and should be considered as a preliminary report on the process. It should be noted that full access to INEC officials was granted to members of the AAEA/IFES team on November 27, 1998. Also, the team was not able to travel throughout Nigeria given the short time that the members have been in the country.
It is within this framework that we have gathered information from a number of varied sources and offer the following comments. This document is not intended to be an exhaustive commentary of the electoral process but identifies several key areas for further attention. All of the recommendations that we make can reasonably be addressed prior to December 5.
This report is the first of a series of reports that will be written as part of the joint
AAEA/IFES observation mission to observe the December 5 Local Government elections. A brief statement will be issued after polling day and will be followed by a detailed analysis of the process approximately four weeks later.
The framework for the current transition was set forth by General Abdulsalami Abubakar, who came to power in early June 1998 after the death of General Sani Abacha. Shortly after assuming his post as Head of State, General Abubakar confirmed the regime's intention to organize the transition to an elected civilian government. His speech of July 20, 1998 provided the framework and timeframe for this transition with the announcement of the dissolution of the existing political parties and of the election commission, the release of political prisoners, the scheduling of elections for the first quarter of 1999, and the setting of a date for the inauguration of a newly elected government on May 29, 1999. He further announced the establishment of a new elections commission and permitted the formation of new political parties.
In August, General Abubakar signed Decree 17, which defined the statutory obligations and areas of responsibility for the new Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The INEC has six responsibilities: 1) organizing elections; 2) registering political parties; 3) monitoring the activities of political parties; 4) auditing the finances of political parties; 5) registering voters; and 6) establishing and enforcing campaign rules.
Shortly after the decree, INEC published the Guidelines and Transition Time Table August 1998-May 1999, which details the various activities and steps, such as the registration of political parties and voters and the nomination of candidates, leading up to December 5, the day of voting for the Local Government Council elections. INEC subsequently issued voter registration and party/candidate registration guidelines. In early November, INEC published the Guidelines for Local Government Council Elections, which was subsequently amended on November 26 to incorporate changes previously announced to the public via INEC press releases.
On December 5, elections are scheduled to take place in 774 Local Government Areas throughout Nigeria. Each Local Government Area is made up of approximately 11 wards, each ward electing one council member. Each voter will also be able to cast a vote to elect the Chairman of the Council.
The November 26 Guidelines will form part of an enabling decree that will provide the legal framework for the Local Government elections. The Decree will be promulgated prior to the election day and it is expected to detail election provisions not included in the Guidelines. The Decree has been formulated through consultations between INEC, the political parties, and key stakeholders in Nigeria, demonstrating the openness of the process to different views and concerns.
While providing the legal framework for the Local Government elections, the Decree will also formally address several of the issues that have been debated by the key actors and the Nigerian public over the last weeks. It is expected that the decree will amend the Guidelines for the Formation and Registration of Political Parties, which was released in August. The original Guidelines states that for the nine provisionally registered parties to have their registration confirmed, they must receive at least 10% of the votes cast in a minimum of 24 States (the Federal Capital Territory is considered a "State" for electoral purposes). In response to discussions with the political parties and others, INEC has recommended that the voting threshold be reduced to 5%. The reported outcome of this change is that it may enable a minimum of three parties to be granted registration and allowed to contest the subsequent elections. The Decree will likely address other issues, the nature of which is not known at this time.
The credibility of any election process starts with an effective registration of voters. The challenge of organizing the registration of voters in a nation such as Nigeria, with a population of over 100 million living in 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, is immense. The logistics required to plan the registration, including the employment and training of over 200,000 temporary registration staff, are vastly complex. In mid-October, voters were registered by appearing in person at registration centers throughout the country. As no national identity document exists, the responsibility of ensuring that only those entitled to vote were registered lay with the registration officials under the vigilant eyes of party agents and other stakeholders. All Nigerian citizens 18 years of age and older were entitled to register in their appropriate Local Council Ward. INEC has announced that it distributed slightly over 60 million registration cards to the States.
Upon registration, each eligible voter received a voter's card that carries information about the person in addition to a voter registration number. Through political party representatives, election officials and others, we learned that the distribution of the cards to the registration centers was regulated to reduce the possibility of misappropriation. Consequently, in very many cases, Nigerian citizens had to return repeatedly to registration centers in order to register as and when cards became available. It has been widely reported that some Nigerians were not able to register, despite repeated attempts, due to the unavailability of cards. However, during our discussions with representatives of the political parties no one suggested that there was pattern to this problem; moreover no one suggested that this will advantage or disadvantage any particular political party contesting the elections.
To counteract possible registration fraud, INEC has established several procedures on voting day to ensure effective voter accreditation and to prevent multiple voting. One measure that has been taken will have the voter remain at the polling station after accreditation and to the time that he/she is able to vote.
We recommend that these crucial safeguards designed to prevent multiple voting be provided for in the Decree or that the Decree enables any clarifying guideline to be published by INEC.
We remain concerned about the possible disenfranchisement of eligible voters during the registration process and understand that this is a concern shared by many in Nigeria. We are encouraged that this issue has been openly discussed by INEC, the political parties and others and we hope that it will be resolved in a way that does not threaten the credibility of and the confidence in the electoral process. We encourage INEC to release the figures of Nigerian citizens who have registered to vote so that this knowledge may enable the Nigerian stakeholders to more constructively debate this issue.
We urge the publication of registration figures before the December 5 vote to facilitate the openness and transparency of the electoral process.
Election Day Procedure
There will be three elements to election day: voter accreditation (from 8:00-11:00am), voting (from 11:30am-2:30pm) and counting. INEC has announced that there will be 111,430 polling stations, located largely in the same places as the previous registration centers. The voter's card carries the polling station information and other important administrative and security details, in particular the registration number of the voter on the registration roll. This number is a sequential record of the individual's position on the register of voters, i.e., the first to validly register on the first day of the registration process at a given registration center will have his/her card marked 001 and so on.
We understand that the system of registration was designed to produce polling stations with 500 (or less) voters on the voters' register, 500 being the number of entries to complete one registration book. However, population demographics are not uniform and in areas of high population, registration officials registered more than 500 people at some centers. We understand that INEC has provided for an upper limit of approximately 1500 registered voters at any one polling station. For polling stations over 1500, the registration list will be "split", creating an additional polling station at the original registration location.
The creation of new polling stations, even if in close proximity to the original polling station (registration center), creates the potential for confusion on voting day. It will present polling officials and others with the problem of ensuring careful direction to the voter to his or her correct polling station. This becomes particularly important as the accreditation process is time-limited. Voters who do not arrive at the polling station early in the accreditation process might find that they do not have enough time to move to the correct polling station. We have further concerns as to whether up to 1500 people can be efficiently processed through the system of accreditation and vote in the three hours defined for the process.
We recommend that INEC issue clear instructions as to the set-up of the newly created polling stations to ensure that voters are quickly directed to their correct polling station. We also recommend that in polling stations of more than 500 voters, special consideration be given to the efficient processing of voters through the possible allocation of additional resources and/or specific guidelines.
A further area that requires clarification is that of situation where a person is not able, for whatever reason, to produce his/her registration card on the day of voting. The Guidelines for Local Government Council Elections provides for a procedure to deal with this eventuality although the instruction manual for poll officials does not. While the Guidelines takes precedence, it is important that this issued be clarified for the poll officials, party agents, observers, and voters.
Neither the Guidelines nor the training manual allows a voter bearing a voter's card that appears to be valid for the polling station to vote if his/her name is absent from the voter register. We note that INEC, in its voter education material, only refers to the entitlement to vote on production of a valid registration card on the day of election.
We recommend polling day issues such as these be addressed by additional written guidance to presiding officers, party agents and observers.
The smooth conduct of any election process relies on staff who are honest, competent and well-trained in all of their duties. An important aspect of training is that of the documentation used, and that of the instruction provided to the poll officials both verbally and through written material. The need for a clear understanding of the process extends not only to the poll officials but also to the party agents, domestic and international observers and the general population as well.
We have detected that the material currently available does not clarify all aspects of the process. A specific example of this is that there are no instructions in either the Guidelines or the poll official training manual concerning the use of indelible ink to mark accredited voters who have cast ballots. We understand that indelible ink will be supplied to every polling station.
We recommend that the use of indelible ink be specifically addressed in additional guidelines to the poll officials, party agents, observers, and voters.
Effective voter education is crucial to the conduct of the elections. Both INEC and the governmental body the National Orientation Agency have the responsibility to inform and educate the populace. While we note that the media, in all forms, together with poster campaigns, are being utilized, further effort is required in this key area. For example, in speaking with potential voters a real confusion appears to exist concerning the methodology on polling day. Voters are confusing the open secret ballot system with methodologies that have been used in the past, which have not ensured the secrecy of the ballot. Concern about these previous failed and unacceptable voting methods has obviously shaped the method that INEC will use on December 5. However, without further and more far-reaching voter education, the credibility of the process in the mind of the electorate will suffer, as will, perhaps, their willingness to participate.
We recommend that further detailed voter education be urgently undertaken, both by INEC and the National Orientation Agency, to clarify the voting procedure used.
Domestic and International Observers
A rigorous election process provides for a number of levels of scrutiny. Traditionally, parties have been able to nominate agents who look after the interests of the party. The process is further observed by nonpartisan domestic and international observers. These levels of scrutiny do not of course mitigate the responsibility of the individual citizens to report activities of concern, but engage specialized and more informed people in the process.
General Abubakar, in his July 20 speech, recognized the importance of impartial observation of the electoral process. While attention is often focused on international observation missions, in reality domestic observation provides for this level of scrutiny in the most meaningful way. The importance of allowing access for informed domestic observers throughout the process and at the points of registration, voting, counting and results declaration cannot be overstated. Domestic observers can provide coverage of many polling stations on election day; international observation is limited in outreach due to the size of the delegations. In the guidelines published to date, the right of a political party to provide agents to observe all stages of the process is well documented. However, none of the guidelines issued specifically notes the involvement of domestic and international observers in the process, nor do they provide for access of media to the process. The status of domestic and international observers together with the media needs to be formally clarified.
We recommend the right of access for accredited international and domestic observers and the media to all aspects of the electoral process, as has been granted to party agents; this will be an additional universal signal that the process is open and transparent.
A centralized accreditation process already exists for observers both national and international. However, given the inevitable logistical constraints that often exist for domestic observer groups, we urge INEC to decentralize the process to allow domestic observers to apply for and receive accreditation at the State level.
Campaign finance is an aspect of the election process that has been widely aired, most notably in the press. We offer no comment on the guidelines concerning this issue, which are largely silent other than to debar parties receiving campaign donations from non-Nigerians. We do, however, echo the specific comments that have been made on the issue of voter confidence in the process. There is a real danger that voters may well lose confidence in the political process if they perceive that politicians can effectively buy their candidature by the size of donation that they bring to a party.
The clear message that we have received from all parties/commentators about INEC is the confidence that exists in it from many sectors of Nigerian society. INEC has been able to demonstrate that the process allows for a meaningful dialogue between the Commission and the parties. This is a highly desirable aspect of any election process and we fully commend and support INEC for this. An election process should be fully open and transparent in order to gain voter's confidence in the process and to facilitate the legitimacy of the final results.
We commend the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the people of Nigeria for their efforts to undertake a credible and transparent electoral process. We hope that the recommendations made in this report will be seen as constructive and useful as INEC continues to develop an election framework and implement a process during such an important time in Nigeria's history.
We note the extreme challenge of conducting elections with all their attendant logistical constraints within the published timeframe. While we have identified several areas and issues that need clarification, we know that the INEC and all Nigerians are committed to a process that will lead to a legitimately elected civilian government. We understand the importance of these Local Government Council elections to the ongoing transition process and extend our support, as international observers, to these elections.
This report understandably focuses on electoral procedures and the INEC as the electoral management body; however, we want to underscore that political parties, the media and the individual citizen all have a responsibility to contribute towards a transparent and peaceful election process.
Finally, we would like to thank INEC, the political parties, Nigerian civic groups, and other Nigerian stakeholders for the information and time provided to us to enable the compilation of this report.