International Observers Comment on Nigeria’s Elections

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?

8 thoughts on “International Observers Comment on Nigeria’s Elections

  1. Well we can at least say that it hasn’t led to civil unrest and that other political parties have some chance for change through elections which is far better than a good deal of Africa at the moment. Obviously there are questions over the INEC’s fairness, the violence by northerners and what continued power of the southerners will mean in the long run but I’m at least willing to say that I have more hope for this country than most (which is very rare indeed for me).

  2. The real story in the presidential outcome is that none of the PDP governors in the North seem to have gotten out the vote (something I most definitely did not expect–perhaps the fact that some of the PDP governors in the North weren’t facing re-election as a result of a high court ruling mattered)–Buhari dominated in places like Sokoto, Kaduna, and Zamfara, and the PDP took heavier than expected losses in the legislative rounds, as well. While Goodluck did get his requisite 25% (to win, a candidate needs a majority of votes, plus at lease 25% of the vote in 2/3 of the states) in the PDP-governed Northern states, they took a big beat.

    To win, the PDP really had to run the table in the South, and with the weakness of the ACN in Yorubaland combined with some sketchy numbers in the Southeast (there’s no way I believe that the PDP was pulling in north of 97% of votes in those states), that still gets them over the threshold. The failed CPC/ACN coalition (they couldn’t come to an agreement at the last minute) meant that the PDP faced a fragmented opposition everywhere except in the core North, where they were trounced (and it’s becoming increasingly clear, as John Campbell writes and you cite, that post-balloting fraud in counting and compiling votes in the Southeast helped to give the PDP its margin).

    I think the PDP is in trouble–the Northern party elite seem to have distanced themselves from this campaign, and the violence suggests that many Northerners, even those who have supported the PDP in the past, are inclined to see these results in regional terms. Goodluck wins, but he has to govern with a lot less than either of his immediate predecessors. At both the elite and mass levels, I see signs of a growing rift between the North and South than, up until now, the PDP’s unofficial zoning policies had kept reasonably contained. If the zoning agreement collapses further, I’d predict greater violence.

  3. Can anyone draw the attention of Pastor Tunde Bakare to this?
    It is true that at this stage of our national politics, it is wrong for anyone to think of voting just on tribal or religious line. Believe it or not, Nigerians have not understood this. I am not sure Gen. Buhari denies his Muslim fanaticism, but he knew that would hunt him in the presidential election. I think, (except Gen. Buhari and Pastor Bakare prove me wrong), that Gen. Buhari did not choose Pastor Bakare because he wants to prove to Nigerians that he is not a fanatic but because he wants to use him to gain cheap votes from Christians. If not, why was it an option to keep Pastor Bakare as Gen. Buhari’s vice until June 1, after which Pastor Bakare would surrender the position to someone else (although Pastor Bakare claimed he refused) ( May be, knowing that many Nigerian Christians hold Pastor Bakare to a good high reputation, Gen. Buhari saw him as a suitable bait to attract votes from Christians. Thus, Christians were expected to vote Pastor Bakare, believing that with him, there will be no Muslim fanaticism against the Christians. That is, Pastor Bakare should defend the course of Christians in Gen. Buhari’s government. Here is what I think; it is either that Pastor Bakare was deceived or that he has deceived the Nigerian Christians. If not;

    1. What effort has Pastor Bakare made to stop the post-election violence in northern Nigeria?

    2. Most of those killed in the post-election violence were Christians; those whose course Pastor Bakare should have defended, had CPC won the election. Let Pastor Bakare prove to Nigerian Christians that he would have been able to defend them from any violence by stepping in now.

    3. Pastor Bakare’s acceptance and promotion of CPC’s election strategies is a compromise not worth making. Pastor Bakare stated that “compromise always brings about captivity”, where does this compromise leave him? (

    4. Did Pastor Bakare not know that this post-election violence would erupt? He should have known. Before the election, CPC promised a post-election violence. A spokesman to the CPC (Yinka Odumakin) said that if CPC does not win the election, its supporters would pay Nigerians back with a combination of the violence in “Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen”. ( Although, Yinka was trying to warn the PDP against election misconducts, the spirit of violence was manifest in his words and expressions. This should have blown the whistle in Pastor Bakare’s mind to reconsider his steps.

    In Pastor Bakare’s prayers, what would he say about the lives lost by the supporters of a course he represents? I wish to let Pastor Bakare know that I strongly believe that he has made a great mistake in his choice, and should accept it. The Nigerian Christian community, the Pastors and members of those churches destroyed in the violence, the family and friends of those who either lost their lives or were maimed and those who voted him because he is PASTOR Bakare need his apology. Pastor Bakare should let them know if he was deceived into his decision or if things got out of hand without his knowledge. Obviously, God can still forgive him with appropriate repentance, but as a minister, the strife to maintain a heart void of offence towards God and men, should be paramount (Acts. 24:16).

    • Hello there, bros Ikenna,
      Odimma!!! Granted that Buhari may have some religious inclinations that probably turned against him. How do you explain the nature of results from the south- east and the south -south. I guess that is regional secular manifestation. Thank you for hastening the awakening of the regional/reigious politics. At least some northern elites showed their loyalty to Goodluck. What is shown by your result is that everybody in your region is not for any muslim be him Buhari or Shekarau or Ribadu.

  4. The truth is that while the northerners took Jega on his words and trusted him he has failed them. There where several reports of election misconduct that were adequate for him not declare anybody winner of the elections, as he earlier promised. Observers comment on peaceful election was mostly coming from those that were sent to the north. In the south it was a different story. There appeared to be a coordinated effort to rig the elections by the ruling party in the whole country later manifested in different forms.
    In the north where CPC is clearly dominant they struggled to give PDP the required 25% or above. This came to notice when the results were later added up by other computers different from INEC’s-tempered computer.
    In the south-south and south east. were PDP is dominant the prevented observers and the CPC agents any access to collation centers and some times from polling units when the votes were to be counted. This gave them free chance to inflate figures that gave PDP millions of votes it got from there.
    This accumulated injustice was tolerated by Jega . This is a crime against the whole country not against Buhari or against the northern part of the country.
    The God of gravitational force will bring down this flying balloon of injustice and falsehood. Make no mistake about it. It is a matter of time.

  5. Pingback: FALQs: Nigeria’s 2015 Election | In Custodia Legis: Law Librarians of Congress

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s