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Managing polls in a country as populous as Nigeria needs divine intervention, writes Pansy Tlakula

By unknown | Apr 25, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

ABUJA - I had the privilege of being invited by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) of Nigeria for the weekend of elections.

ABUJA - I had the privilege of being invited by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) of Nigeria for the weekend of elections.

Other election experts invited came from Kenya, Ghana, India and Canada.

This year's Nigerian elections were the third since the military handed over power to civilians in 1999 after 16 years of misrule.

What makes these elections significant in Nigeria's political history is that they mark the first transfer of power from one civilian rule to another.

Managing elections in a developing country as populous as Nigeria needs divine intervention.

Nigeria has a population of more than 140million people. The voters roll consists of more than 60million voters. Lagos alone has about 19million people. There were 120000 voting stations spread across 36 states.

Five days before the presidential elections on Saturday, the supreme court of Nigeria ruled that the INEC had to include vice-president Atiku Abubakar, whom it had earlier disqualified. At the time of the ruling, the ballot papers had already been printed.

This meant a reprint of more than 60million ballot papers and their distribution 72 hours before the elections.

Nigeria has the capacity to print ballot papers. But because of high levels of mistrust and suspicion among Nigerians, reprints were done in South Africa.

South African companies rose to the occasion. They printed and packaged the ballots in less than 72 hours and, with our government's assistance, these ballot papers reached Nigeria in time.

Given this context, it is understandable why ballot papers reached some voting stations as late as 1pm on election day. In fact, it is miraculous that the elections took place. Though local and international observers bemoaned the late arrival of ballot papers, ordinary Nigerians waited patiently in the scorching sun to cast their votes.

Some Nigerians had condemned the election even before it started, alleging the result was predetermined.

The main opposition parties also dismissed the elections as a sham, claiming unprecedented fraud. Some are even threatening to challenge the validity of these elections in the courts.

Local and foreign observers have added their voices and have rejected the elections as "lacking democratic credibility". One of the largest domestic observer groups, the Transitional Monitoring Group, said the elections were so flawed they should be run again.

The American-based National Democratic Institute observer group led by Madeleine Albright, the former US secretary of state, which also included Justice Yvonne Mokgoro of South Africa in its delegation, released an interim report in which, among others, it said "the electoral process failed the Nigerian people".

"The cumulative effect of the serious problems the delegation witnessed substantially compromised the integrity of the electoral process.

"As a result, at this stage, it is unclear whether the April 21 elections reflect the will of the Nigerian people."

Most of the observer groups identified delays and failure to distribute ballot papers, late opening of voting stations, compromised secrecy of the vote, under-age voting and stuffing of ballot boxes as some of the flaws.

The Nigerian senate president Ken Nnamani called for the Upper House to reconvene yesterday to discuss "urgent national matters", fuelling speculation that this might lead to the annulment of the elections and the extension of the present government's term, which expires on May 29, by three months.

The INEC on the other hand had been under siege. All sorts of insults were hurled at it, especially at Professor Maurice Iwu, the INEC's chairman. For his part, Iwu congratulated the INEC for conducting the elections fairly well under very difficult conditions.

In almost all parts of the world, election management bodies are blamed for everything that goes wrong. However, in my opinion, the accusations levelled against the INEC went well beyond a reasonable limit.

On Monday the INEC released the results of the presidential elections and have declared Umaru Yar' Adua, President Olusegun Obasanjo's chosen successor, the winner by more than 20million votes.

Despite the flaws and challenges of these elections, they were on the whole peaceful. Nigerians went out to perform their civic responsibility under difficult conditions.

While there were lapses in how they were conducted, we should guard against their wholesale condemnation. The scale and proportion of the problems must be taken into consideration before discrediting the whole process.

The future of Nigeria lies with the Nigerians.

l Pansy Tlakula is head of the Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa. She writes in her personal capacity.


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