ABUJA, Nigeria – Despite widespread problems on election day, Nigerians showed perseverance, creativity and discipline as millions went to the polls peacefully to elect a president and legislature on March 28, according to a statement today by the National Democratic Institute (NDI), which fielded an international observation mission.
“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,” the delegation said in a preliminary statement. “The delegation recognizes that Nigerian voters conducted themselves in a peaceful and orderly manner on election day and urges politicians across the spectrum to recognize and respect this public manifestation of citizens’ commitment to the democratic process.”
NDI noted that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which oversees voting in Nigeria, adopted technological innovations aimed at curbing fraud and raising confidence in the integrity of the electoral process. These included electronic voting cards, card readers and fingerprint scanners designed to verify the identity of every voter.
“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.
Despite those challenges, voters were largely able to become accredited and vote. “No significant disenfranchisement was observed on election day,” the delegation said.
These polls are the most competitive since Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in 1999 and are being conducted against a backdrop of several challenges faced by the country, including corruption, past fraudulent and sometimes violent elections, the Boko Haram insurgency and falling economic indicators fueled by the drop in oil prices.
The Institute called on political parties and candidates to accept the election results and use the courts to settle election-related disputes, should they arise.
The co-leaders of the NDI delegation, which had members from seven countries, 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 Republic; Bill Ritter, former governor of Colorado (U.S.); and Christopher Fomunyoh, senior associate for Africa and regional director at NDI.
Delegation members submitted reports based on observations from more than 100 polling units in 25 local government areas in nine states in all six geopolitical zones and Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory.
The statement contains a number of long- and short-term recommendations, including some directed at Nigeria’s April 11 state elections. These included addressing opening delays, maintaining heightened security, disseminating guidelines on how to handle equipment failures, addressing overcrowding in some polling units, providing more voter information aimed at internally displaced persons, and pursuing efforts for violence-free elections.
For the longer term, NDI recommended the National Assembly focus on electoral reform early in its next term, and that INEC conduct a thorough review of the March 28 polls and make improvements, improve poll worker training, and embrace open data principles for election results. The Institute also urged Nigerian political parties to increase transparency in the candidate nominating process, embrace quotas to increase the representation and voice of women in political party leadership and strengthen citizen involvement in political process monitoring.
The NDI mission benefited from close cooperation with The Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), a coalition of about 400 civil society organizations in Nigeria. TMG conducted a nationwide observation of the electoral process using the quick count methodology that will allow it to verify the accuracy of the final results.
Over the past 25 years, NDI has conducted more than 150 election observation missions in 62 countries, including fielding international observation delegations for the 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011 elections in Nigeria.
The observation mission is funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.