Elections are due to take place in Nigeria in early 2011, marking a critical turning point for the country following a tumultuous few years. The 2007 elections were generally regarded as lacking credibility, and the country was plunged into near crisis in 2009 when President Umaru Yar’Adua fell ill and left the country for several months. The vice president, Goodluck Jonathan, took over in the presidency after Yar’Adua’s death, and despite many fears, the country has not devolved into chaos during the political transition. However the country is facing many challenges leading up to next year’s elections, and for Nigeria to get back on track toward democracy and accountable governance, the elections must be free, fair, and credible.
I asked Salihu Lukman, an economist and CEO of Good Governance Group in Nigeria, about the challenges that lie ahead for Nigeria.
What is the political climate right now in Nigeria?
Election fever is gradually catching the nation. Although the Independent National Electoral Commission in Nigeria (INEC) is yet to make public confirmation that the elections will hold in January, the 2010 Electoral Act passed by the president mandates INEC to conduct the elections in January. It is expected that in the coming week, INEC will release timetable leading to the elections. Parties are all gearing up for primaries to hold between September and October. Work by INEC on the compilation of new voters register is expected to take place in October.
From all indications, the contest for the presidential election will be a three-way fight between the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate Goodluck Jonathan, Congress for Progress Change (CPC) candidate Muhammadu Buhari, and the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) candidate Nuhu Ribadu.
What needs to happen in order for the next Nigerian elections to be free, fair, and credible?
There is the need to organize awareness campaigns with the primary objective of mobilizing Nigerians to register as voters. The second challenge is the need to have credible candidates for the 2011 elections that are distinctly different from the traditional Nigerian politicians. Thirdly, community organizations, civil society groups, trade unions, faith-based groups, et cetera should be mobilized to begin to develop mandate strategies in order to ensure that incidences of ballot box snatching and rigging are minimized.
What are the biggest challenges facing Nigeria ahead of the 2011 elections?
The biggest challenge ahead of Nigeria’s 2011 elections is completing a new voters’ register organized in October. A second challenge will be to ensure that the new INEC management carries out their much needed internal re-organisation. Also of critical importance is ensuring that officials indicted by judicial tribunals during the last elections are sanctioned and to that extent, therefore are not allowed to be part of the officials for the 2011 elections.
You’ve mentioned the need not only for electoral reform, but also political reform. Can you talk a bit about what this means?
Electoral reform is limited to ensuring that votes count and winners of the election are those that are validly and truly elected by the people. Political reform goes beyond that. It is about ensuring that those elected are responsive to the needs and yearnings of the people. This requires some institutional adjustments. For instance, a situation where legislatures manage issues around constituency structures with recklessness and often selfish dispositions should be redressed. Related to this is the issue of the quality legislative bureaucracy. There is the need for reform in this area to guarantee capacity, competence and eventually service delivery.
What can the United States government, as well as other governments and institutions, do in advance of the elections to help the Nigerian government and INEC secure a free and fair election?
The international community must actively engage with the electoral commission – INEC – as well as with civil society organizations and, of course, the Nigerian government to ensure fair elections.