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By Elor Nkereuwem
March 24, 2010 02:04AM print email
While the debate on who chairs the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC) continues, an electoral assessment report has slammed the Commission for the current dearth of public confidence in Nigeria's voting process and urged the executive arm of the government to immediately change its leadership.

The report made 10 major recommendations to improve Nigeria's electoral processes, ahead of the 2011 elections. The recommendations, two which require legal reforms, include reconstitution of INEC chair and board, transparency on the part of INEC, and a call for support from the media and civil society groups to ensure accurate reportage of elections. The report also made recommendations for the police and the judiciary.

According to the report, commissioned by the United States and United Kingdom governments, Nigeria will only be able to conduct credible elections next year if some reforms were urgently carried out, while specifically decrying the 'profound and widespread lack of trust' in INEC.

'Most critically, the crisis of confidence in INEC must be addressed urgently for credible elections to be possible,' the report said, adding that the agency had failed to take 'critical reform initiatives to improve its own performance and public confidence in the process'.

The group which carried out the research, Independent Electoral Assessment Team, comprised five members and chaired by Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, the Chairman of the Ghana Electoral Commission, was convened by the US and UK diplomatic missions in Nigeria on the request of President Umaru Yar'Adua, late last year.

Between 9 January and 29 January, Mr. Afari-Gyan and his team carried out the research in Nigeria and a final draft of the report was obtained yesterday.

The other members of the team are Denis Kadima, executive director of the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa; Darren Kew, a professor of International Dispute Resolution at the University of Massachusetts; Hannah Roberts, an election consultant; and Margarita Aswani, a democracy and governance consultant.

The new and the old
While accepting that some legal reforms are necessary for a change in Nigeria's electoral process, especially as espoused in an earlier assessment in 2008 by the popular Electoral Reform Committee (ERC), led by Muhammadu Uwais, former Chief Justice, the team paid more attention to the poor administrative processes in INEC.

'Electoral reform is strengthened and secured through legal reform. While such legal reform is outstanding, key administrative actions under the current legal framework could provide for the possibility of credible elections in 2011,' the report said.

The group observed that Nigeria's electoral process has been further complicated by the sheer size of the electorate in comparison with available infrastructure.

'Holding elections in Nigeria presents many challenges, not least the large size of the electorate, the limited infrastructure, low literacy levels, and an environment that is characterised as violent and corrupt. There are also complex ethnic, religious and geographical divides,' the team said.

Commissioning an International Team
It is not clear why Mr. Yar'Adua decided to commission another team to carry out an assessment of electoral processes in Nigeria last year, especially as a previous report, which was submitted in December 2008, was yet to be implemented.

According to the report, the UK and US came in to help following the president's request.

'At the request of the President of Nigeria, the UK and US diplomatic missions arranged for an independent international electoral assessment team to make recommendations for holding credible elections in 2011,' the report said.