A team of international observers monitoring Nigeria’s presidential and state elections has released a preliminary report after visiting polling sites in 14 states and tracking the process over the five weeks leading up to the vote. Speaking from Nigeria’s capital Abuja, Africa Regional Director Chris Fomunyoh of the US-based National Democratic Institute (NDI) says the team recognizes that the election process is still ongoing. He says it plans to wait and issue its conclusive report in late May or June after the resolution of electoral disputes and when a new government has been sworn into office.
“Although there has been a declared winner in the presidential race, not all of the opposition parties have yet accepted the outcome of the results and so we do anticipate some election-related repudiations. Also, this Thursday, some of the state elections will be re-run for governorships, and for state houses, and in senatorial races that were not completed last Saturday. And so we want to be able to continue to monitor this process through the swearing-in of a new government,” he said.
In its preliminary findings, the NDI monitors note they witnessed serious problems in the distribution of balloting materials, which caused long delays, and prevented polls from opening on time. Chris Fomunyoh says the team concluded that “election officials failed the Nigerian people.” Compared to the 2003 presidential elections, he says this year’s polls represented several steps backwards from procedures followed since the country emerged from its troubled history of military rule.
“NDI, in its statement, says that the Nigerian people have been let down by election authorities, and that when you look at the Nigerian people, by way of their turnout, by waiting patiently for the voting materials to arrive and for the polls to open, waiting even through the counting process, you cannot help but recognize that it’s a real craving for democratic governance and democratic elections, and that if anything – and that’s the sad part of the story – it’s that the electoral authorities have failed the Nigerian people in their aspirations,” he said.
Fomunyoh says that presidential runner-up Muhammadu Buhari’s rejection of pursuing an election court challenge and his determination to organize what he calls mass protests by the Nigerian people is not the direction that he says international monitoring groups would like to see electoral disputes proceed.
“NDI and other international observer delegations have all called on Nigerians to pursue peaceful means to redress any grievances they may have. When you look at the landscape of Nigeria’s democracy in the last eight years, the judiciary has become a credible institution, maintaining its independence, and so there shouldn’t be reason for aggrieved parties to seek redress other than through election tribunals and the respect of the rule of law,” he notes.
While pre-election violence decreased prior to the April 21 presidential polls, the observer delegation cited earlier incidents during the nomination process and threats posed by the use of youth to strengthen political parties in days leading up to the vote. To ensure a smooth civilian handover of power on May 29, the day President Olusegun Obasanjo’s second term expires, the NDI is calling for a spirit of reconciliation and understanding by the country’s leadership. Fomunyoh says the groundwork for this atmosphere is being fashioned already by Nigeria’s outgoing and incoming leadership.
“Nigerian political leaders across the board are going to have to work extremely hard to extricate violent actions from the political process because it’s not worth it if for every election hundreds of people have got to be killed. On Monday morning, current President Obasanjo asked everyone to use peaceful means to resolve their differences. And much to his credit, he also admitted that there were shortcomings in the electoral process. So I think that this calmed tensions down. And what we saw was also an appeal from (President-Elect) Yar’Adua, reaching out and extending an olive branch to other candidates and hoping that they will be able to reconcile their differences in the post-election,” he said.