Nigeria 2015

Yesterday I attended a presentation at the Woodrow Wilson Center by Professor Attahiru Jega, head of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Professor Jega assumed his post in 2010, served during the 2011 elections, and continues in the position.

Observers generally rated the 2011 elections much more favorably by outside observers than the 2007 elections, which domestic and international observers basically condemned. Prof. Jega’s personal reputation for integrity has contributed to a widely shared perception that Nigeria’s electoral system is headed in the right direction.

This is not to say that no one criticized the process in 2011 – skeptics pointed toward the post-election violence, which claimed some 800 lives, and the high margins incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan scored in the states of the Niger Delta, as evidence that the process remained flawed, both from a political standpoint and from the standpoint of the integrity of the results. The International Crisis Group gave the 2011 contest a mixed verdict (.pdf).

Now eyes turn toward 2015, the date of the next national elections. Prof. Jega’s presentation focused on the positive trend lines that he sees concerning the integrity of the 2015 contest, particularly with regard to logistical preparations and the role of technology. A series of “re-run” gubernatorial elections in 2011 and 2012, where states held new elections after courts overturned earlier results, has given INEC chances to improve its performance and test new techniques. INEC is planning to minimize problems in 2015 by registering voters over a longer time span and using new technologies, for example machines to read voter cards.

Prof. Jega’s emphasis on technology really struck me. Technology can offer a way out of difficult problems. For example, registering voters in an electronic database and recording biometric information can held reduce fraud. Yet a faith in technology can prove risky. One young man in the audience asked how card-reading machines would function if polling sites lost power (to which Prof. Jega replied that the machines’ battery life extends up to twelve or fourteen hours, longer than voting hours), raising the issue of how technological innovation might be vulnerable to infrastructural deficiencies. Or to outright thuggery, which was the young man’s next question – he asked about thugs stealing ballot boxes from polling stations. One answer to this, stated earlier in the presentation, is that the new forms for recording results bear special markings and features that will allow INEC officials to detect fraudulent forms, while other documents bear serial numbers, etc. One’s expectations for the integrity of the 2015 elections, then, must be partly tied to one’s expectations concerning the capacity of technological innovation to address Nigeria’s other challenges.

There is much to say about the politics of 2015, by which I mean the potential contestants and their struggles. INEC does not have much control over this, a point Prof. Jega acknowledged. For example, INEC does not run political parties’ primary elections. I think I, too, will leave the discussion of these political issues for another time. Suffice it to say that 2015 could be a tense election year, and so it is important to watch INEC’s preparations as it works to ensure that Nigeria is ready to run a logistically sound, free and fair election.

Nigerian Elections: Media Coverage Focuses on Youth and Social Media

It’s election season in Nigeria, and news outlets are paying close attention to how young people and social media are affecting the vote. With Nigeria aiming for – and so far achieving – a smoother electoral process than they had in 2007, digitally-engaged Nigerians are an important group in promoting transparency and change.

To review where the elections stand, tomorrow Nigerians will vote for president, choosing between incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan (PDP), former military ruler General Muhammadu Buhari (CPC), former anti-corruption official Nuhu Ribadu (ACN), outgoing Kano State Governor Ibrahim Shekarau (ANPP), and a host of minor candidates. Last week’s legislative elections (see the latest results here) have yielded major opposition gains, but many analysts still predict that President Jonathan will win re-election in the first round. Just as important as who wins, though, will be how the vote goes in terms of safety and credibility.

The government is playing a role in reforming the electoral process. Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has taken steps to ensure transparency tomorrow, directing “that the results of each polling unit be displayed immediately after the vote is cast so the candidates will be able to tabulate their votes even before a national announcement is made.”

But civil society groups in and outside Nigeria are setting up their own projects to prevent vote-rigging and other problems. Such projects often rely on social media, especially video, and are largely run by youth. VOA gives examples of two activist groups:

A video posted on the YouTube video site Thursday showed alleged rigging by election officials during last week’s legislative voting in Rivers state.

Comments below the video included the cell phone number of a top official from the Independent National Electoral Commission, known as INEC, so Nigerians worldwide could call to complain.

The video was released by a group called Juju Films Productions.

At a recent event in Washington, Reno Omokri explained the actions his Nigerian group, Council for Youth Empowerment, are encouraging.

“Go surreptitiously and just video what is happening and then upload it so that we can actually force the elections to be free and fair and credible. We are not just going to rely on INEC,” Omokri said.

Omokri says Nigerians around the world have been inspired by recent social media driven uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East.

At Slate, Dayo Olopade tells a similar tale:

As telecoms compete for a market of 150 million Nigerians, Web literacy, email usage, and mobile-phone penetration has become among the highest on the continent.

During Saturday’s comparatively smooth first round of voting, for seats in the Nigerian National Assembly (postponed once by the beleaguered electoral commission), the new connections came in handy. I saw dozens of voters transformed into informal election monitors—snapping photos on their mobile phones and alerting friends when the lines were shortest. A local newspaper took note: “The tweets, Facebook updates, Skype messages, text messages and pictures that voters exchanged via email and mobile phones gave the addresses of the polling booths, the locations, the number of people accredited, those who voted and the votes that each party got.” Within 12 hours of the polls closing, a charming YouTube video documented the group count at one polling unit. If thugs tried to snatch that ballot box, they might have seen their face on the evening news.

As Olopade says in his headline, “technology may not swing the election, but it will prove a point.” The same may be said of Nigerian youth. The Financial Times sees a generational shift taking place in Nigeria. As the comparatively young Jonathan (age 53) prepares to solidify his power, analysts quoted by FT say, ethnic, party, and generational power structures are wobbling. In a country where some 41% of the population is under the age of 15, a political opening could amplify the voices of youth – especially if youth continue to latch onto new technologies. The BBC, in fact, is saying Nigeria has already begun to change just as a result of last week’s elections.

We’ll see what tomorrow brings. Oftentimes demographic and technological shifts are overrated, and power structures are often surprisingly durable. But it does seem as though the cumulative efforts of young activists, political reformers (such as INEC’s chairman, Dr. Attahiru Jega), and domestic and international pressure are doing something to significantly change the political process in Nigeria.

Dr. Attahiru Jega, the Symbolic Face of Nigeria’s Elections

Dr. Attahiru Jega, chairman of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), was born in 1957 in Kebbi State. In 1984 he obtained a Ph.D. in Political Science from Northwestern University, and afterwards occupied a variety of academic positions in Nigeria, most recently the vice-chancellorship at Bayero University Kano. Jega stepped into his current role with INEC last spring, and has become the main symbol of Nigeria’s elections. As with any symbol, people struggle to define what the symbol means.

In the context of Nigeria’s delayed elections, blaming or defending Jega has become a symbolic contest over the integrity of the elections themselves. For example, Northern Muslim elites I spoke with in Kano last summer frequently told me that Jega was their bellwhether for the legitimacy of the vote: if Jega resigned, they would know the elections were flawed; if he stayed, they would know the process was clean. Jega has also served to personify the work of Nigerian electoral reform for onlookers overseas: US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson recently called Jega “a person of integrity,” linking Jega’s personal reputation with the outcome of the entire electoral process.

Attaching such expectations and meanings to Jega’s actions magnifies the pressure he is under as an individual. Maggie Fick summarizes Jega’s predicament following the electoral delay:

Jega now finds himself between a rock and a hard place — if he resigns in the coming weeks (as was suggested by the Nigerian Human Rights Commission), he would be making a statement about the attempts of the political elite to discreetly undermine him, but he would forfeit the chance to attempt broader reforms within the electoral commission after the vote. Either way, the elections are coming, and it is clear that the consequences of the 2011 vote will not be inconsequential. Nigeria is a giant on the African continent: It is a diplomatic leader in regional crises from Libya to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and, most recently, the Ivory Coast. And, as Africa’s largest oil and gas producer, it’s the undeniable economic motor of the region. The outcome of these elections will set the tone for a whopping 27 votes set to take place on the continent this year. No wonder the International Crisis Group recently warned that if Nigeria’s elections do not “reverse the degeneration of the franchise since Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1999,” the impact ill be felt locally and internationally.

There is a lot riding on these elections.

Pressure on Jega has increased – and the contest over his symbolic meaning has intensified – with recent calls from civil society groups and some opposition parties for his resignation. As rumors multiply, allegations are circulating that “powerful Nigerians” such as former President Olusegun Obasanjo have been maneuvering behind the scenes to oust Jega. Reports say that Jega nearly resigned during a “tempestuous meeting” on Saturday that pitted the INEC chairman against security officials who supposedly demanded – and were denied – a greater role in managing the elections.

Whatever the truth of such rumors, and whatever the content of Saturday’s meeting, the stories about Jega emphasize how he has become the focal point of competing claims about what is going on with the elections. The dominant view seems to portray Jega as the champion of the people against the machinations of elites, but counter-narratives are working to discredit Jega as weak, incompetent, or partisan.

The rumors and accusations have prompted public commentary by leaders from the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), including President Goodluck Jonathan. Former military leader and current presidential candidate General Muhammadu Buhari‘s spokesman has charged that Jonathan, the PDP, and pro-PDP agents within INEC “deliberately engineered the delay and non availability of the critical materials as an act of sabotage to discredit Jega,” and alleged that Jonathan was pressuring Jega to resign. In response, Jonathan has publicly proclaimed continued support for Jega. I would guess that Jonathan understands well that if Jega leaves now, it will not only damage the credibility of the elections, but also Jonathan’s reputation.

Nigerians will return to the polls Saturday. The world will be watching. And many people, inside and outside Nigeria, will be watching Jega – pinning hopes on him, scrutinizing his words and deeds, and pointing to him as a symbol of what is right or wrong with the elections, and with Nigeria. I do not envy him that position. Whatever happens now, I compliment him for having shown considerable grace under considerable pressure.

Nigeria’s Delayed Elections: Details and Reactions

On Saturday, as Nigeria’s three-week electoral process was launching, the country’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) dismayed domestic and international onlookers by postponing the elections, first for forty-eight hours and now for a full week. The original schedule, available along with other details on the elections, is here. The new schedule is as follows:

  • Saturday, April 9, Senate and House of Representatives Elections;
  • Saturday, April 16, Presidential Elections;
  • Tuesday, April 26, State House of Assembly and Governorship Elections.

Reactions to the delay have typically been negative, but there is some variance in how news outlets have explained the delay and envisioned its consequences. While some remain in “wait-and-see” mode, others feel this incident confirms fears of an electoral “fiasco” in Nigeria.

Regarding the causes of the delay, the official explanation concerns logistical problems with the delivery of voting materials from abroad. But the BBC emphasizes growing suspicion among Nigerian voters regarding potential interference by the ruling party: “The BBC’s Caroline Duffield in Lagos says the country’s political culture of vote-rigging and violence has made it difficult for people to accept the official explanations for the delay. She says many voters – and some politicians – think political interference caused Saturday’s chaos.”

Nigeria’s Vanguard blames the delay on infighting among INEC officials. Punch, meanwhile, depicts pressure from political parties on INEC as a decisive factor in the decision to postpone the vote.

Regarding the consequences of the delay, many people are watching to see what happens next before they pronounce the process a failure, even members of opposition camps like the campaign of General Muhammadu Buhari. 234 Next pulls no punches in saying, “On the face of it, this was a massive failure and a national embarrassment.” But their editorial also notes that INEC, in the person of its chairman Dr. Attahiru Jega, “still enjoys a goodwill that he can exploit towards restoring the public confidence.” 234 Next adds, “The next one week is absolutely crucial. The margin for error is now completely obliterated. The expectations are heightened and the world is now paying even closer attention.”

Some say the outlook has already turned grim. Reuters quotes a young Nigerian who said Saturday, “Nigeria has not changed and today we have seen that.” Maggie Fick, at the Christian Science Monitor, concludes, “The cards remain stacked against a vote free of intimidation and violence.” And This Day, while continuing to urge Nigerians to vote and take the process seriously, writes that the postponement has “cast a shadow  on the entire general election” (permanent link unavailable).

For its part, INEC has apologized and is now working to get the vote back on track. We’ll soon see whether this delay was a temporary setback or a harbinger of major problems to come.

Outlines of Nigerian Election Taking Shape

With around four and a half months to go, the details of Nigeria’s 2011 elections – and the central actors in the competition – are becoming clear.

Yesterday Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission announced dates for the elections: parliamentary elections will take place on April 2nd, the presidential contest on April 9th, and gubernatorial votes on April 16th. May 29th remains the date for the swearing-in ceremony of the president-elect, leaving Nigeria around seven weeks to resolve any irregularities, problems, or complaints stemming from the elections.

The ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is also heading toward its nominating convention. What happens there will likely have a decisive impact on the general election. Incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan faces significant opposition from within the PDP, especially from some Northern members who feel that because a Southerner (President Olusegun Obasanjo) ruled Nigeria from 1999 to 2007, Jonathan should step aside and let a Northerner complete the eight-year rotation begun by the late President Umaru Yar’Adua.

On Monday, Northern elites in the Northern Political Leaders Forum (NPLF) moved to defeat Jonathan and restore Northern primacy. The NPLF officially put forward former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as its consensus candidate for the PDP primary. Abubakar hails from Adamawa State in Nigeria’s North East.


Yola, Adamawa State, Nigeria

Different Nigerian outlets characterize the contest between Jonathan and Abubakar differently. For example, Vanguard depicts the country’s six “geopolitical zones” as somewhat evenly split between the two men, while the Nigerian Tribune argues that the support of powerful governors across the country for Jonathan means that “though politics is no Mathematics,  with all these, the fact that the North has a consensus candidate may not really negatively affect the chances of Jonathan at the primaries.” (I highly recommend both links if you want a zone-by-zone view of the contest.)

What many Nigerian media outlets agree on is that the PDP race is narrowing down to Jonathan and Abubakar. Other Northern political heavyweights such as former President Ibrahim Babangida have reportedly thrown their backing to Abubakar. If you believe, as I do, that the PDP’s nominee is the favorite to win the general election, then the pool for the general has shrunk considerably with the elimination of such PDP giants. And if you go the extra step of thinking, as I do again, that Jonathan will win the nomination, then trends still seem to favor him in the general.

Whatever one’s take on the PDP primaries, we have a lot more information about the elections than we did a week ago: a firm date, clearer electoral battle lines, and a stronger sense of what lies ahead. Now I will be looking out for when the PDP sets a date for its primaries, and for a sense of how opposition parties are planning their electoral strategies.

Nigeria Delays Elections

Following several weeks of discussions on the subject, the Nigerian parliament has delayed the 2011 presidential elections from January to April. This move, recommended by the Independent National Electoral Commission, is meant to give officials more time for logistical preparation. It will also lengthen the campaign season. Some analysts see that as a net negative for President Goodluck Jonathan; I am not so sure.

More details on the delay:

Both houses of parliament approved constitutional changes late on Wednesday allowing elections between 30 and 150 days ahead of the May 29 date for swearing in the new administration, accommodating INEC’s proposal that the elections take place in April.

The constitutional amendment must be ratified by two thirds of Nigeria’s 36 states before being given final approval by parliament, a process expected to take at least a week.

All Africa has more.

VOA’s analysis underscores the competition Jonathan faces and the religious division between him and his challengers.

President Goodluck Jonathan is facing at least four challengers for the ruling party’s presidential nomination.

People’s Democratic Party members are debating whether to nominate a Christian like Mr. Jonathan or a Muslim.  The party has a custom of rotating the presidency between a northern Muslim and a southern Christian every two terms.

Mr. Jonathan’s predecessor Umaru Yar’Adua, a Muslim, died in May, just three years into what was expected to be an eight-year presidency.

All four declared challengers to Mr. Jonathan are Muslims.  The challengers include Nigeria’s former military ruler, Ibrahim Babangida.

Jonathan is no doubt under pressure. According to Nigerian blogger Loomnie, the PDP has not set a date for choosing a nominee. With opponents inside and outside of his party, Jonathan will have to maneuver skillfully to come out on top. But I believe he can do it, in large part because of the advantages of incumbency. More time could give his opponents a chance to build support, raise their profiles, and launch attacks on Jonathan, but it could also help the president – he patiently waited to declare his candidacy, after all, showing that he is comfortable letting uncertainty build and taking time to choose his moment. The PDP primary will be a decisive moment, but if he wins that then I think he will have the upper hand in the general election.

Momentum Grows for Delaying Nigerian Elections [Updated]

Last week Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) recommended delaying Nigeria’s presidential elections (currently scheduled for January 22nd). This week the proposal attracted some support from Nigeria’s lawmakers:

Changing the timetable means changing Nigeria’s constitution and this year’s electoral act.  So the power to make those changes rests with the National Assembly.  [INEC Chairman Attahiru] Jega thanked lawmakers for considering the commission’s request and assured them that it is not frivolous.  “There is no point spending so much money going through a process, which in the end may turn out not to be satisfactory in terms of its credibility,” he said.

Parliamentary changes to the electoral act require the approval of President Goodluck Jonathan.  Attorney General Mohammed Adoke says the Jonathan administration understands the need for delay.  “The fundamental objective of this government is to have a free, fair and credible election at the end of the day,” said Adoke.  “I have listened to the proposal and proposition of the INEC chairman.  Our position as the government is that we will do everything possible to support and ensure that we have a free, fair and credible election.”

Jega wants a three-month postponement. Delaying the election would allow greater time for planning and preparation, but would reduce time for solving problems between the election and the inauguration (Jega has said the date of the inauguration, currently scheduled for May, should not change). After the 2007 elections a number of defeated candidates launched lawsuits, and the same might happen this time. The idea of a delay also makes some elites uneasy:

Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives Bayero Nafada is the co-chairman of the National Assembly’s Constitutional Review Committee.  He said, “Nigerians are watching.  We pray that at the end of our deliberation, we will be able to come out with an acceptable procedure and timetable for the conduct of the general election come 2011.”

Nafada said lawmakers continue to support the electoral commission, but want to make sure that the timetable presented this time is one that will work.  “We pray that this time around, this will be the last request that will come from any quarters regarding this election because it will not continue that way.  If there is any further [delay], God forbid, I think it will become a crisis,” he said.

If the National Assembly moves on this, President Jonathan will have a big decision to make – and one that Nigerians and others will scrutinize, given that Jonathan is himself a candidate. Attorney General Adoke’s statement reads to me as noncommital, but I wonder if the administration could deny the recommendations of both INEC and the legislators without igniting strong outcry.

[UPDATE]: Guess it’s as good as done now:

An official with Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has welcomed President Goodluck Jonathan’s letter to lawmakers asking for a delay in scheduled January elections.

Nick Dazan, INEC’s assistant director of public affairs, told VOA the election postponement will enable the electoral body to organize an “excellent” election.


In the letter, President Jonathan is quoted as saying, “I shall propose an amendment of the relevant laws … which would enable (INEC) to conduct general elections between now and the end of April 2011. It is my hope that the distinguished Senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria will consider and pass the amendment in your usual expeditious manner.”