The National Democratic Institute has praised Nigerian voters for their “perseverance, creativity and discipline” when they went to the polls this past weekend to choose a president.
The Washington-based NDI fielded a team of international observers. In a preliminary statement it said, “The elections highlighted the strong and enthusiastic commitment of Nigerians to democratic processes and the possibility of determining the leadership of the country through peaceful, transparent and credible elections.”
Christopher Fomunyoh is one of the international election observers in Nigeria and NDI Regional Director for Central and West Africa. He said, “NDI understands that this is probably the most competitive election that Nigeria has experienced since the transition from military to civilian rule. So, there was bound to be some tension in the lead-up to Election Day and just a level of competitivity (sic) in the candidates and their supporters.” But he said that on Election Day itself the process was “very peaceful.
“Nigerians turned out in huge numbers,” he said, “They were also very patient even in the polling units where materials did not arrive on time. The ordinary citizens were organizing themselves to be orderly and peaceful and that is something remarkable, especially in a country that has known a lot of election-related violence in the past.”
The NDI delegation had members from seven countries. The co-leaders of the observer mission were Johnnie Carson, a member of the NDI board of directors, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and senior advisor at the U.S. Institute of Peace; Mahamadou Danda, former prime minister of Niger; Bill Ritter, former governor of the state of Colorado; and Fomunyoh.
Fomunyoh said he attributed the positive reports to “a sense of pride among Nigerians. They want to have an electoral process they could be proud of. That their country, despite its…challenges, has made tremendous strides since 1999.” He said the message had gone out that the elections should be a peaceful event.
The National Democratic Institute praised Nigeria for its technical advances, such as “electronic voting cards, card readers and fingerprint scanners designed to verify the identity of every voter.” However it added that “while these innovations were effective in many of the polling stations observed by NDI, in other places equipment malfunctioned and led to significant delays.” The statement said, “Numerous polling stations opened two or more hours after the appointed 8 a.m. start time because of the late arrival of personnel, equipment and ballots.”
Fomunyoh said the election process is ongoing, so the NDI only released a preliminary statement. It has not yet determined whether or not it considers the elections “free and fair.”
“But it is fair to say that as of now, given what we’ve seen thus far, there is no reason to believe that the Nigerians who wanted to vote didn’t have an opportunity to vote. There’s also no reason to believe that the process isn’t following its normal course right now in which Nigerians should, indeed, be very proud of what they’ve done thus far. And my sense is that they are waiting patiently to hear the results…to determine that their voices have actually been heard by the political leaders and the appropriate authorities,” he said.
The NDI worked closely with The Transition Monitoring Group, a coalition of 400 Nigerian civil society organizations.