On Saturday, Nigeria held presidential elections. Incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan has won another term – his first full term, given that he came to power in 2010 following the death of his predecessor. The announcement of his impending victory has provoked serious rioting in Northern Nigeria.
As the country grapples with its regional and partisan tensions, international observers are weighing in on the content of the elections. Observers have generally reported improvement over Nigeria’s 2007 elections, but they have refrained from giving the elections an unqualified stamp of approval. It is, as Voice of America says, “mixed reviews” for Nigeria’s elections. I’ve compiled various reactions below.
Mariya Nedelcheva, head of the four-member strong delegation of the European Parliament, which joined the EU EOM before the presidential elections said: “Saturday’s elections are a convincing proof that the Nigerian authorities, institution and electorate are determined to remain owners of their destiny and to run even better elections in the future.”
Nigeria’s just-completed presidential and National Assembly elections “represent a step forward from seriously flawed elections of the past” and “hold the promise of setting a new standard for integrity in Nigeria’s electoral process,” NDI said in a statement (.pdf) from Abuja, Nigeria.
IRI found that the April 16, 2011 presidential election was a major step forward in advancing Nigeria’s democracy. Under the capable leadership of Attahiru Jega, chairman of the Independent National Election Commission (INEC), the election overall was transparent and orderly, allowing Nigerians the opportunity to exercise their right to vote. Chairman Jega and his team have made great strides in improving the quality of Nigerian elections and deserve credit for what has been achieved in the short eight months since they were appointed.
The African Union (AU) Observer Mission has hailed the conduct of Saturday’s presidential election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), concluding that the fair conduct has raised a hope for the rest of Africa on growth of democracy.
The AU, however, condemned the spate of violence across the Northern states of the country, just as it appealed to leaders of aggrieved political parties and other stakeholders to restrain their supporters from further acts of violence.
The head of AU Observer Mission, who is a former Ghanaian President, Mr John Agyekum Kufor, who addressed the media in Abuja, on Monday, noted that the presidential election would have elicited total confidence of observers had INEC taken care of glaring irregularities noted in many parts of the federation during the election.
Many readers will be noticing that the words “free and “fair” do not appear in these statements. Still, international observers are giving Nigeria a lot of credit for progress made since 2007.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also released a statement on the elections yesterday:
This historic event marks a dramatic shift from decades of failed elections and a substantial improvement over the 2007 presidential election.
While this election was a success for the people of Nigeria, it was far from perfect. We urge the Independent National Electoral Commission to transparently review and take appropriate and transparent action on all allegations of “under-age” voters, violence and intimidation, ballot stuffing, and inordinately high turnout in some areas of the country. The United States condemns the acts of violence related to elections and we call upon all candidates, political parties, and supporters to respect the results of the election and channel any grievances or challenges peacefully through established, administrative and legal redress.
Different commentators have parsed international reactions to Nigeria’s elections in different ways. All Africa casts the observers’ statements as basically positive. Christian Science Monitor‘s Drew Hinshaw writes that positive international perceptions of the elections are already boosting Nigeria’s image. Voice of America, as I mentioned earlier, gives a more mixed impression. Reporting from a roundtable in DC, VOA says that some panelists were decrying tampering and anticipating further problems. Finally, former Ambassador John Campbell contrasts international enthusiasm with domestic anger over alleged rigging. Campbell writes:
Even if the polling was credible, the ballot counting was not. With the country split in half on regional and religious lines, and with many of the losers convinced the elections were stolen, the result has enraged the North against the ruling party, (including northern elites who are associated with the ruling party such as the Sultan of Sokoto and the Emir of Kano) and also against Christians in many places. The issue is not whether Jonathan would have won the elections “anyway,” it is rather the sentiment among Northerners that the PDP yet again stole the elections. The immediate concern is that Northern violence against the ruling party and its perceived Christian supporters will result in an anti-Muslim backlash in the states that supported Jonathan. The longer term concern is the alienation of the North from the Federal Republic, a process already underway.
What do you think? Is the international reaction out of step with the realities on the ground? Or has Nigeria taken a major step forward, regardless of the flare-up in violence?