Nigeria’s April elections may have broken somewhat its cycle of deeply flawed polls, but the country still must meet many and daunting challenges to ensure a stable and democratic future.
Lessons from Nigeria’s 2011 Elections , the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, examines the vote that returned President Goodluck Jonathan to office and left the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) weakened but still in control of the national legislature and nearly two thirds of the 36 states. It highlights the steps that are needed to prepare for the next major elections cycle, in 2015, including extensive technical and administrative reforms of and by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), in parallel with broad political and economic measures to make the state more relevant to citizens and address the root causes of deadly violence in society.
“Between now and the next general polls in 2015, far-reaching electoral, political and economic reforms are needed to help consolidate the modest gains made in 2011 and launch the country on the path of permanent and sustainable electoral change”, says Kunle Amuwo, Crisis Group’s Senior Nigeria Analyst.
After three bad elections – 1999, that heralded the Fourth Republic, 2003 and 2007, the last being marked by widespread electoral malpractice and a staggering scale of falsified results – the 2011 exercise was critical for Nigeria’s fledgling democracy and overall political health. There were grounds for pessimism: the upsurge of violence in several states, encouraged by politicians and their supporters who feared defeat; an ambiguous and confusing legal framework for the elections; and a flawed voter registration exercise, with poorly functioning biometric scans, that resulted in an inflated voters’ roll.
What resulted was an improvement over past elections, especially the 2007 debacle, but still serious problems, including highly questionable majorities reported for the incumbent president in certain areas, and extensive violence, producing more than 1,000 deaths, mainly in the troubled North, after the presidential results were announced.
The new government should prioritise releasing funds to INEC so it can begin early preparations for 2015. INEC should compile, maintain and update the National Register of Voters on a continual basis, in accordance with the 2010 Nigerian Electoral Act. But major electoral, constitutional and economic initiatives are also needed to make the 2015 polls truly free and fair and to ensure they are not tainted by blood. The proposals in the 2009 Uwais Electoral Reform Committee report should be widely published, and efforts enhanced to make the system more inclusive; there is urgent need to reduce poverty and create jobs for restive young school-leavers and graduates. Constitutional amendment should be done with a more holistic, less piecemeal, approach, with full involvement of the Nigerian people, who have long been demanding it.
“Nigeria has the resources and the capacity to entrench a culture of credible elections, with all that would mean for sustainable democracy”, says Gilles Yabi, Crisis Group’s West Africa Project Director. “Otherwise, flawed elections will continue to threaten its fragile democracy and reduce its diplomatic weight on the continental and global scene”.