Nigeria: Election timing generates heated debates

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Nigerian electoral commission has four months to prepare for presidential, parliamentary and state polls. The electoral commission must put together an entirely new voter list, and register an estimated 70 million voters. In previous years, the polls have been held in April, but this time it will be held in January. However, the timing of the elections has produced several reactions, claims and opinions.

As a statement from the Action Congress of Nigeria read: “The 2011 elections are critical to the survival of our [Nigeria] democracy. We cannot afford to fail,” the authorities indeed cannot afford to fail to ensure an improved democratic system to a nation notorious for election rigging and voter bullying.

The Action Congress of Nigeria which is the opposition party to the incumbent Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), described the timetable as “unrealistic and a recipe for failure.”

In previous years, the polls have been held in April, but this time it will be held in January. However, Lawmakers approved a constitutional amendment moving the polls forward [From April to January] with an intent to allow more time for disputes over results to be resolved before swearing-in ceremonies in May.

Human rights lawyer Festus Keyamo believes the timing is not a bad idea as more time would allow politicians “to perfect their rigging skills”.

The same sentiments have been echoed by Debo Adeniran of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, who described sped up campaign season as a probable blessing in disguise.

“It will give politicians limited time and space to plan how to rig and subvert the electoral process,” Adeniran of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders was quoted.

However, the other side of the argument insists that Nigerian politicians do not need time to implement their mastery of rigging, corruption and voter intimidation.


Voter registration is now scheduled to be held the first two weeks of November, with presidential polls set for January 22. And the election for parliament is slated for January 15 while governorship ballots are scheduled for January 29.

The initiative to overhaul voter register was introduced by Britain’s minister for Africa, Henry Bellingham who emphasized the important role of civil society.

“A system of parallel voting tabulation and transmission of results from the bottom up is needed so that they are not falsified,” Mr. Bellingham was quoted by reporters.

Newly appointed chairman of the electoral commission, Attahiru Jega, a celebrated academic, believes the overhaul is neccessary.

“It is noose tight, but the INEC boss enthuses passionate commitment,” said Olu Obafemi of the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies.

More time

But despite the necessity to overhaul, the timing has not provided enough enthusiasm. Nonetheless, experts say the electoral commission’s success will depend largely on whether they are provided proper funding and logistical help.

Ikeazor Akaraiwe, a past leader of one of the electoral commission’s monitoring teams said the forthcoming elections is a bit rushed. “(The electoral commission) should have given itself a little more time […] to plug the loopholes.”

President Goodluck Jonathan consistently pledged to organise free, fair and credible polls.

Meanwhile, observers argue that the shortened time frame could benefit President Jonathan since it gives opponents less time to mount a campaign.

But president Jonathan has not yet announced whether he will run, though he is widely expected to do so.

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