The excitement in the air is palpable. There is some tension, too. And a lot of frenzy – as the political gladiators jostle for advantage over one another. The epochal 2015 general elections, which start on February 14, will be on us in barely three weeks from now, just like that (JLT) – as the great Fela Anikulapo Kuti would say.
The Federal Government, under President Goodluck Jonathan, has, at various times, reaffirmed its commitment to ensure the conduct of free and fair polls in the 2015 general elections – just like it did in the 2011 general elections which have been widely assessed as the best elections ever carried out in Nigeria.
As I asserted in another report, the international community and Nigeria’s development partners played a key role in providing technical assistance and financial support across the board to enhance the conduct of the 2011 general elections. They are playing the same critical role again – to enhance the conduct of the 2015 general elections which come up barely 20 days from now.
The support of the development partners focuses on assisting Nigeria to achieve and sustain the conduct of free, fair and credible elections – as well as to cultivate, nurture and advance the processes that embed and deepen sustainable democratic values in Nigeria.
One regular method which the international community has adopted in this regard, in different countries including Nigeria, is through direct observation and monitoring of the conduct of the general elections in emerging democracies, in order to ensure that they conform to international standards and best practices.
Indeed, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) last week released the list of 88 institutions and organisations which have received the Federal Government’s approval to observe the 2015 general elections, having complied with the guidelines and requirements issued by the Commission for the accreditation of observers. Of this number, 16 are international organisations and agencies, while 72 are national bodies and institutions.
The International Observers
The international bodies accredited for observing the 2015 elections include the diplomatic missions of nine countries in Nigeria: the United States of America (USA), Australia, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, the Republic of Ireland, Japan and Switzerland.
Other major non-state international bodies accredited for the elections are the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES); the International Republican Institute (IRI); the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs; the United Nations Democratic Governance for Development Project (UNDP-DGD); UN Women; the European Union Delegation to Nigeria; the ECOWAS Commission; and the African Students Association of Ireland.
In line with their mandates, some of these international groups have already hit the ground running, in their efforts to assist in refining and deepening Nigeria’s democratic process. For instance, the delegations of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the IRI, led by former US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Mr. George Moose, have already concluded a five-day pre-election mission to Nigeria.
During the mission, the teams have visited different parts of the country and assessed the preparations for the general elections. They have also not been shy in bringing to the attention of the authorities any lapses they have noticed so far in the run-in to the elections.
One of such areas which, they noted, require urgent remediation is the tardy distribution of the Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) by INEC. The international observers urged INEC to complete, as a matter of urgency, the distribution of the permanent voters’ cards to all eligible voters. They also urged INEC to complete urgently the procurement of card readers and simultaneously communicate relevant information on these issues to the electorate as soon as possible.
The delegation also urged INEC to embark on an extensive voter education campaign to demonstrate to the public the use of new technology such as PVCs and card readers.
Given the fact that the elections are but a short period away, the group also advised INEC to accelerate the recruitment and training of polling officials and explore ways to increase voting by internally displaced persons (IDPs).
No doubt, INEC needs to address these challenges identified by the international observer missions and other well-meaning Nigerians, especially the challenge of urgent and efficient distribution of the permanent voters’ cards: in order to ensure that millions of voters are not disenfranchised.
These critical issues which require urgent attention cannot be over-emphasised, of course, given the independence, objectivity and non-partisanship of the international observer missions. They also urged the Federal Government to make all possible efforts to provide adequate security and the necessary support for the conduct of the general elections.
The group reportedly observed that unlike the three previous elections conducted in 1999, 2003 and 2007, the 2011 elections were successfully conducted, marking a “turning point in the country’s democratic trajectory.”
The EU Election Observation Mission (EUEOM)
Among these bodies and organisations, the positive role of the European Union in supporting the deepening of Nigeria’s democracy comes in also for special mention.
As it has done in several elections since Nigeria’s transition from military dictatorship to civil democratic governance in 1999, the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU-EOM) is fully set to observe the Nigerian general elections, starting with the Presidential and National Assembly elections on February 14, 2015 and the Governorship and House of Assembly polls on February 28.
Indeed, the EU has already deployed its Election Observation Mission to Nigeria, with its base in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, from where it will dispatch monitors to different parts of the country. The EU-EOM will, as usual, issue its independent reports at various stages during and after the period of the general elections.
The EU EOM’s team of 30 Long Term Observers (LTOs) arrived in Nigeria from January 13, one week after nine analysts of the Core Team arrived on January 6. An advance team was earlier deployed to Nigeria to observe the political party primaries in November and December 2014. A Spaniard and a Member of the European Parliament, Mr. Santiago Fisas Ayxela, is the Chief Observer and Leader of the EU Election Observation Mission for Nigeria’s 2015 general elections.
Like the other major international organisations and agencies, the EU was invited by the Nigerian authorities to deploy an observation mission for the general elections. Indeed, the EU was one of the first organisations to sign a Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) with the INEC and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Nigeria in respect of monitoring the elections – an indication of the EU’s commitment to the conduct of inclusive, transparent and credible elections in Nigeria.
The EU EOM will assess the Nigerian general elections against national law and international principles for elections contained in regional and international law and standards.
Areas to be covered in the EU-EOM’s comprehensive evaluation of the elections will include the following: assessment of the legal framework; the performance of the election administration; voter registration; candidates’ nomination and political parties primaries; campaign activities; respect for fundamental freedoms; access to and conduct of the media; voting and the counting; the announcement and acceptance of results; and complaints and appeals.
Although the EU Election Observation Mission is a creation of the European Union, the EU-EOM is fiercely independent of the institutions and organs which set it up – including the European Commission, the European Parliament, the EU Member States and the Council of Europe. The EU EOM is committed to remain neutral and abide by the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation and the Code of Conduct, as well as the laws of Nigeria.
Indeed, the EU-EOM usually asserts and maintains its independence in its reports and findings – and transition countries and emerging democracies usually do well to pay close attention to these reports as useful tools in refining their electoral processes.
In the last 15 years, while working as a staff of two major international organisations, the UN Development Programme and the European Union, I have been privileged to observe, at close range, and often supported, the work of international election observers.
I am aware also that sometimes, some Nigerians, who may not be fully aware of the critical and positive work of election monitors, largely regard international election observers with suspicion and disdain – as if they were interlopers and Nosey-Parkers. This attitude is, of course, most erroneous and certainly uncalled for.
Election observers are bound by a code of conduct which requires strict neutrality and no interference in the process. And election observers, domestic and foreign, play a crucial role in refining the democratic process, ensuring the integrity of elections and enhancing the nation’s overall socio-political development.
Indeed, one of the enduring legacies of the Jonathan administration is in the area of electoral reforms and political transformation. At the inception of his administration, President Jonathan promised to sanitize and restore integrity to the country’s electoral process by ensuring that votes are not only counted but truly count.
And he has done just that over the past few years. The International Community acknowledged that the 2011 elections were the freest and fairest in Nigerian history. Nigerians hope and pray that the 2015 general elections will be just as free and just as fair.