Nigeria's 2011 General Elections: International Dimensions and Challenges

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I thank the Governing Council, the Director-General and entire staff of the Institute for this opportunity to reconnect with what I will always consider as my primary calling and constituency, namely the research community. I am glad that in spite of the many harsh  years that research institutes and universities in Nigeria have gone through, the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs has maintained that outstanding pedigree of excellence in research and knowledge dissemination on international affairs. I particularly thank the Director-General, Professor Bola Akinterinwa, for organizing this event and creating this wonderful opportunity for exchange of ideas and perspectives on this very important topic.  

  Some may wonder what business an institute of international affairs has organizing a lecture on Nigeria's 2011 elections. The answer is threefold. First, the complex interaction between domestic politics and foreign policy is one that has been long recognized. There is no doubt that elections loom large in our domestic politics and therefore have implications for Nigeria's foreign policy. Second, developments in the global environment impact on the conduct of domestic elections, sometimes with far reaching consequences. A quick illustration of this was the disappointment we had with the postponement of the National Assembly elections on April 2 nd 2011. One of the contractors that printed result sheets claimed that because of humanitarian flights to Japan, following the earthquake there, it was difficult to get suitable aircrafts to bring in the election materials. The rest of course is now history. Third, and perhaps the most important, reason why I think that a reflection on the international dimensions of Nigeria's 2011 elections is very important is that elections and election management have become truly global in many ramifications, as I will show shortly.  

  It is interesting how elections, which normally should be routine events in which citizens select those who take decisions on their behalf, have become almost defining events in our national life. That, elections in Nigeria today are defined in terms such as 'do-or-die' and 'capture' of offices, reflects how they have become so dominating of our lives. Yet, this is not unique to Nigeria. Globally, elections have acquired an iconic character and election work has become one of the most visible occupations. International election Observers criss-cross the world today and increasingly inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations are adding election work to the repertoire of activities they engage in. But why have elections acquired this international character?  

Internationalization of elections
  Thirty years ago, very few people around the world would have known that an election took place in Cote d'Ivoire or who the winner was. Apart from diplomats and area studies experts, few would have even heard of the crisis that followed. In the past, elections were essentially national events, quadrennial rituals in which countries select their leaders. Today, however, every election is closely followed on air and online. We know the candidates, the parties and even the head of the election management body. Some organizations regularly publish full calendars of elections across the globe. For example, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems' (IFES) website already shows elections scheduled across the world until 2016.  

  Now, a starting point in understanding the internationalization of elections is the burgeoning of research interest in democratization and democratic transitions since the 1990s. There are at least three dominant perspectives on this to be found in academic discourses namely, the modernization, globalization and class struggle perspectives.  

  From the perspective of what, for want of a better taxonomy, we may call the modernization perspective, elections express a diffusion of democratic norms from the West to the rest of the world. The present 'third wave of democracy' (Huntington, 1991) or the third democratic transformation (Dahl, 1989) is a 'process by which democracy spreads across the world' as a bundle of innovations (Modelski, 1992). Democracy, including elections, has become the current alter ego of modernization, a process in which non-Western societies across the world are sucked in by this 'irresistible and universal' movement (Ibeanu, 2000: 47).  

  The second dominant perspective, which is slightly related to the first, explains the international character of elections today as part of globalization. Globalization is seen, in the final analysis, as an integrative process in which some problems are becoming common globally, thereby necessitating the search for and application of common solutions. The forces of globalization inevitably universalize those solutions, when found. For example, political authoritarianism is one such common problem and a very important one at that. Political authoritarianism is widely considered to be the precursor of corruption, economic backwardness, human right violations and everything that is bad in governance. Elections have come to be perceived as the common universal solution for political authoritarianism. In other words, for this perspective, the forces of globalization are universalizing elections, especially through the media, notably satellite television, the Internet and other new forms of social media.  

  The third dominant perspective suggests that elections are concessions that ruling classes that are embattled by the popular struggles of working peoples are making around the world. Elections have become the ideological mask used everywhere by the bourgeoisie to mollify workers and conceal their continued exploitation, by giving them a false sense of participation in the choice of those who govern their affairs. Having discovered how well this ideological mask has worked in Western countries, capitalist classes across the world are reproducing and using it. Elections are able to serve this masking purpose by creating an illusion among working people that they are part of the decision making, even sometimes taking responsibility for policies that have gone wrong. In short, the globalization of elections is a true reflection of the global character of capital and capitalist class rule.  

International solidarity
  Now, as much as these three dominant perspectives have helped us to understand and explain the international dimensions and challenges of elections, there is in my view a new burgeoning perspective, which provides an even clearer focus and explanation of what catalyzes positive democratic transitions and elections, in the contemporary world. For want of a better taxonomy, I call this the international solidarity perspective.  

  The present global system, which can be termed as the post-Westphalia world for want of a better characterization, has remained largely resilient. It is principally a world thought of in terms of (nation) states and conflicts. It is a world that by and large is perceived by both scholars and policy makers in terms of states pursuing their (national) interests contradictory to one another. This states-in-struggle worldview has logically led students of international relations to focus on states, how they articulate their interests and how they pursue them, which is presumed to be essentially conflict-ridden. This worldview is clearly evident in how they have studied power among nations, foreign policy decision-making, and national interest. From Morgenthau's classic on politics among nations to the neo-structuralism of Waltz; from Nye and Keohane's asymmetrical interdependence to Fukuyama's end of history and Huntington's clash of civilizations, liberal students of international relations have perceived a world of competition and conflicts.  

  Students of international relations from the Left have also perceived a world of competition and conflict. For example, our own Claude Ake argues that revolutionary pressures in Africa are to be situated in a global struggle between bourgeois and proletarian (nation) states. This, of course, is in line with a longstanding Marxian tradition of perceiving an internationalization of the class struggle and therefore the need for an international coalition of the working peoples of the world.  

  While these dominant perspectives are not necessarily wrong insofar as they reflect some realities of the global environment, what they often overlook is that the post-Westphalia world has evolved into a more complex world than just one in which States and classes are in conflict. While neither (nation) states nor classes are about to disappear, I argue that international solidarity is today as important as struggles among States and classes in understanding the global environment. My point is that international solidarity among peoples and their organizations has become as important in understanding the contemporary world as the competition for power and domination among states and classes. This is one plank on which I seek to understand the international dimensions and challenges of Nigeria's 2011 elections.  

  It can be argued that what we are seeing everywhere contemporarily is an emerging global system different from what is left of the post-Westphalia world. First, while the post-Westphalia world was essentially a world of (nation) states, the emerging world is fast becoming essentially a world of peoples and their organizations (civil society) and, what some students of international politics are beginning to see as emergent global citizens. This is not to suggest that the (nation) state is about to go into atrophy. In fact, (nation) states will continue to be major players in the international system in the foreseeable future. However, people's movements and organizations now present 'pertinent effects' (Poulantzas, 1978) on the international system and their presence and impact are so fundamental that they give a specific, defining, character to the system.  

  Second, while the post-Westphalia world was characterized by states and ruling classes preoccupied with controlling people's labour (economy) and minds (ideology), the emerging world is characterized by people claiming freedom and rights from ruling classes and states. Indeed, in the old system people's labour power and their minds were considered essential to state and ruling class survival. Through ideologies that masked oppression, people were divided both nationally and internationally into economic systems that by and large exploited them. Authoritarianism of all sorts was justified on ideological grounds. People became East or West, North or South and conflicts among them were assumed to be inevitable - the logical consequence of a clash of civilizations (Huntington, 1996). Contrary to this perception, people are everywhere claiming rights and freedoms from the state and ruling classes. The so-called 'Arab Spring' remains an eye opener. In an unbelievably short time span, countries that were for years presumed to be the bastions of political stability built on dynastic considerations and undergirded by religion, tradition and coercion, lay supine to barehanded people demanding freedom and rights in the face of well equipped police and armies, in a show of unleashed peoples' power.  

  Third, in this ferment of people's power, the conventional notion of  national security has taken a major knock. In place of the traditional emphasis on national security (read: security of those in power), the security of nationals has taken centre stage. National security over the years developed into state demands on the citizens for their loyalty, labour power and their minds and very little in return. In this regard, the pursuit of national security became fundamentally contradictory to the security of nationals. In response, nationals kicked against their nations in Yugoslavia, Ethiopia, Russia and Sudan demanding a new framework of security built not just on securing the state, but on protecting people.  

  Finally, out of these demands and struggles of peoples and their organizations has emerged solidarity among them across the world. An outpouring of solidarity is everywhere visible - from Sunami in South-East Asia, to earthquake in China or Japan, through famine in Somalia to elections in Cote D'Ivoire and Nigeria. In most cases, it is ordinary people and their organizations that drive these interventions rather than states per se.

Table 1: Post-Westphalia and the emerging international systems

Post-Westphalia International System Emerging International System

·     World of (nation) states ·        World of peoples and their organizations

·     States and ruling classes preoccupied with controlling people's labour (economy) and minds (ideology) ·        People claiming freedom and rights from ruling classes and states

·     Making and re-making of (nation) states ·        Unleashing of people's will and power

·     National security ·        Security of nationals

·     Securing the state ·        Protecting the people

·     Rampant conflicts among and within States ·        Growing solidarity among peoples  

  The transformative changes described in the preceding paragraphs are in part the cumulative consequences of popular disillusionment with politics. In the post-Westphalia world, politics and politicians repeatedly failed the people. In Africa for instance, struggle for independence finally resulted in the replacement of the colonial exploiters by local politicians who excluded their people from power and ignored their wellbeing, while retaining the privileges of the colonial masters for themselves. In response, the people revolted everywhere. Writing on the movement for a 'second independence' in DRC, Nzongola-Ntalaja aptly observes that:  

  For the people, independence was meaningless without a better standard of living, greater civil liberties, and the promise of a better life for their children. Instead of making these promised benefits available to the masses, the politicians who inherited state power from the Belgians lived in much greater luxury than most of their European predecessors and used violence and arbitrary force against the people. For the latter the first or nominal independence had failed. Their discontent with the neo-colonial state served as a basis for an aspiration towards a new and genuine independence, one that the 1964 insurrections were to incarnate (1987: 113).  

  Surely, this disillusionment with politics was not limited to the Third world, where both autocrats and elected officials repeatedly oppress their peoples. It was also the case with both liberal democracy in the West and democratic centralism of the East. In the former, elected governments became less and less imaginative, repeatedly breaking election promises, while in the latter, promises of the proletarian revolution soon turned into rule by family members and a few friends in the party. Preoccupied essentially with controlling people's minds rather than their genuine wellbeing, states and ruling classes became increasingly out of touch with the people. In response, people began to search for new communities and in this context a new global solidarity was born.  

  It is not being suggested that international solidarity is a new phenomenon unrecognized previously by statesmen and students of international relations. To be sure, for long Marxian tradition recognized the importance of international working people's solidarity as expressed in the call for workers of all nations to unite. The United Nations system is built on fostering international peace and solidarity. However, even when extant knowledge recognizes the importance of international solidarity, notions of struggles, conflicts, power and domination inform it. Thus, the call for working people of all nations to unite is part of their global struggle against the bourgeoisie. In the United Nations, the central principle of uniting for peace is meant to respond to recalcitrant States that threaten world peace.  

  In a nutshell, it is being argued that, there is now a rapidly maturing international solidarity led, not by states, but by civil society and popular organizations in favour of democratic rights at the heart of which are free, fair and credible elections. Indeed, the state has been a latecomer to this international solidarity. When the US government was busy propping Mobutu, Moi and Doe, ordinary Africans were demanding a right to participate in decisions concerning their countries. They were demanding free elections long before the so-called political conditionalities of the Bretton Woods institutions. Surely, the demand for second independence in Africa culminating in a series of sovereign national conferences, the explosion of liberation theology in Latin America and the revolt against excesses of the leadership of Communist parties, which culminated in the collapse of Communist party rule in Eastern Europe, were not driven by the state but by civil society building solidarity across national boundaries.  

Elections: global principles and local realities
In the Nigerian case, this global solidarity has contributed immensely to improvement in the electoral process. The 2007 elections were widely considered as the nadir of election management in Nigeria. Domestically, the vast majority of Nigerians demanded electoral reforms. But the rounded condemnation of the elections by virtually all international observers may have served as the final catalyst for change. There is no doubt that persistent pressure by external partners of Nigeria, both in multilateral and bilateral contexts was a fillip to the reforms that followed the 2007 elections. Late President Yar'Adua, arguably the key beneficiary of the 2007 electoral process, immediately acceded to the strident calls for electoral reforms and on the day of his inauguration, committed himself to reforming the electoral process. He subsequently initiated the reform process, with the setting up of the Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) headed by Hon. Justice Mohammed Lawal Uwais. Since then, President Goodluck Jonathan has contributed to the reform process, in cooperation with the leadership and members of the National Assembly, by accepting and legislating upon some of the recommendations of the ERC. The President was also consistent in promising the international community to deliver free, fair and credible elections.  

  One major contribution of this global solidarity to election management has been the development of best practices and principles. These global principles have become useful standards on which local performance is judged. Today, several best practices have emerged around compilation of register of voters, balloting, election observation, vote counting and announcement of results, and electoral justice [The Accra Principles for Electoral Justice are scheduled for launching on September 15, 2011, on the International Day of Democracy].  

  However, these global principles are usually shaped by local realities. For example, in the just concluded elections in Nigeria, we saw how the absence of electricity adversely affected the collation of results in some Centres. This is something that many other countries would have taken for granted. Again, in many countries a few officials supported by numerous volunteers, whose neutrality is taken for granted, conduct elections. In our case, however, we neither take the neutrality of election staff for granted nor entrust elections to volunteers. As a result, the cost of hiring, training, securing and remunerating ad hoc staff runs into billions of Naira. During the voter registration exercise alone, INEC recruited about 300,000 ad hoc staff, which is more than the armed forces of all West African countries put together. The point here is that global best practices should always be adapted to local realities whenever possible. In other words, global principles must not be a fetter to, but an impetus to local innovations.  

  At INEC, we introduced a number of innovations drawing from global principles and best practices. The one that stands out is the Re-modified Open Ballot System, which entailed completion of accreditation before voting. Although many at the time feared that it could lead to disruptions, it is today acknowledged that the method contributed not only to the speedy completion of the elections, but in making them more transparent and credible.  

From scepticism to cautious optimism: the role of development partners We may describe the attitude of Nigeria's development partners to the present INEC between its inauguration and the elections as having moved from scepticism to cautious optimism. The decision of the Commission to compile a fresh register of voters was greeted by palpable concerns by many international observers. I should say that their concerns were not unreasonable. For instance, many of them doubted that we had the time to embark upon a compilation of a new register of voters for such a large population distributed over very complex terrains. It took Bangladesh, a country of comparable population and circumstance, 8 months to accomplish what we were trying to do in three weeks. Others wondered if we had the technical backbone and skills to compile an electronic register in such a short time. Yet others feared the so-called Nigerian factor and the inherence of Murphy's Law in it namely, that 'anything that can go wrong will go wrong'.  

  But the Commission was resolute. One of the first things that the new Commission did was a comprehensive review of the Register of Voters, which it inherited and which was compiled by the former Commission in 2006. Given the inadequacies identified with that register (e.g., missing names, missing photographs, multiple registrants, under-aged registrants, fake names, photos from Almanac and portraits, etc.), compiling a new Register of Voters became absolutely necessary. A credible Register of voters is a necessary requirement for credible elections, hence, the decision to do significant expenditure of time, energy and resources in the production of a new much more credible Register of Voters prior to, and as a precondition for, the elections. In approximately three (3) weeks, in spite of formidable challenges, the Commission successfully registered 73.5 million eligible voters who are 18 years and above and issued each with a temporary (cold-laminated) bar-coded voter's card, with unique identification numbers. A huge national asset of databases, in each State and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), and at the national level in Abuja, has been established with equally secure disaster recovery Centers. From this, INEC has the largest electronic database on Nigerians, with valuable biometric information (names, photos, addresses, fingerprints and telephone numbers). The customized registration software used was developed for INEC by a group of brilliant Nigerian software engineers and the Advanced Fingerprint Identification Software (AFIS) used enabled quick and easy detection and elimination of multiple registrants.  

  In spite of their scepticism, the development partners respected the resoluteness and commitment of the Commission to its work. Gradually, scepticism yielded to cautious optimism. INEC must acknowledge the tremendous support received from development partners as shown in Table 2 below, which is by no means exhaustive. The range of assistance included very useful technical advice, support with training, research, voter education and result management. What has been most useful is the willingness of these partners to allow INEC to establish its own agenda, rather than pursue the agenda of others. The establishment of the Joint Donor Basket Fund (JDBF) managed by the UNDP has tremendously reduced the transaction costs of having to deal with development partners individually and provided targeted and timely support, with remarkable results.

Table 2: Assistance to INEC by selected development partners

Category Organization Assistance
Intergovernmental Joint Donor Basket Fund supported by the EU, DFID, UNDP, South Korea ·   Technical advice ·   Training ·   Election observation ·   Result tracking ·   Voter education

The Commonwealth Secretariat ·   Code of conduct for political parties ·   Election observation

United States Governmental Supported IFES ·   Media centre ·   Technical advice ·   Election review ·   Training manuals

US Embassy ·   Exchange visits ·   Technical advice

IRI ·   Interactions and Dialogues with political parties

Foundations Ford Foundation ·   Technical advice ·   Media work ·   Electoral Institute/Virtual Library ·   Voter education

MacArthur Foundation ·   Technical advice ·   Voter education ·   Civil society relations ·   Research

Open Society ·   Workshops ·   Exchange visits ·   Civil society relations ·   Election review

Friedrich Ebert Foundation ·   Workshops ·   Exchange visits    

Role of international election observers I have already mentioned the catalyst role played by international election observers in electoral reforms. In recognition of the positive role that observers could play, INEC during the 2011 elections made adequate provision to enhance the work of both domestic and international observers. INEC issued comprehensive guidelines on election observation, including procedures for application and approval of observers. The early issuance of the guidelines made it possible for many observers to apply and get the necessary accreditation from the Commission.  

  In February, 2011 INEC signed an MOU with the European Union to facilitate the arrival of a long-term observer mission in Nigeria. In addition, we received countless bilateral and multilateral, governmental and non-governmental observer missions including from the Commonwealth, European Union, African Union, ECOWAS and International Crisis Groups. These were led by very distinguished personalities including the former Presidents of Slovia, Botswana, Liberia and Ghana; a former Prime Minister of Canada, a former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the head of the Kenyan interim electoral commission. In addition as many country missions and embassies as applied to serve as observers were accredited, briefed and provided with kits and identification materials. In return, INEC has been rewarded with very insightful reports from the observers. For instance, the reports of the Commonwealth and EU observer missions are very detailed and comprehensive. They will no doubt assist the Commission in further improving the electoral process in future.  

  Apart from governmental and inter-governmental observers, INEC also encouraged many non-governmental international bodies to observe the elections. The Commission reasoned that the more observers it is able to put in the field, the more dependable information about goings-on it would acquire and therefore the better positioned it would be to correct errors and malpractices. Thus, although the Commission withheld its official endorsement, it gave free access to the parallel vote counting mechanism (Swift Count), which a coalition of domestic CSOs and the US National Democratic Institute (NDI) undertook. The Commission is satisfied by the high degree of agreement between the projections of the Swift Count and the official results of the Commission.  

Postscript: international reactions to the elections, outstanding challenges and the way forward The response of the international community to the 2011 elections has been generally positive. The Commission has received direct commendations from the US Secretary of State, EU and UK Ministers and the UN Secretary General, among others. However, we realize that the gains are still modest and we are not unmindful of the challenges that were confronted, which are many and wide-ranging, especially those associated with the following:

  ·Recruitment and training of Ad hoc staff; at least 300,000 were recruited and trained for the registration of voters and over 400,000 were recruited and trained for the elections. Conducting these was a logistical nightmare, requiring immense resources

  ·Voter education and public enlightenment; required the utilization of a multiplicity of traditional, conventional and new media and appropriate methodologies, which consumed a lot of resources

  ·Distribution, retrieval and storage of sensitive election materials

  ·Deployment of election officials, especially electoral officers, returning officers, collation officers, supervisory officers, etc.; the logistical requirements of doing these were enormous

  ·Deployment of security personnel and securing personnel and materials

  ·Handling of nomination of candidates by political parties; hampered by lack of internal party democracy, abuse of court processes and self-serving utilization of section 31 of the Electoral Act as amended

  ·Operating and maintenance of DDCMs during the registration of voters

  In charting the way forward, it is noteworthy that, the new Commission literally 'hit the ground running' after it was inaugurated in June 2010. The phase of work was frenetic; without respite, with no time for careful strategic thinking and long term planning, as it plunged into preparations and procurement for and conduct of registration of voters and the elections. Now that all these are relatively successfully over, we move into the next phase of careful, strategic contemplative planning and preparations for future elections. An outline of the post-election programme of activities of INEC can be surmised as follows:

  i)Assessment and Evaluation        
  -     Retreats
  -     Independent Study  
  ii)Continuous refinement and improvement of the electoral process

  -     Learn the lessons of 2011 elections and factor them into future plans

  -     Especially pay attention to matters arising, such as :

  •      Complaints and accompanying litigation
  •      Results collation and transmission procedures

  •      Sustainable, continuous registration of voters

  •      Sustainable, continuous civic and voters' education  

  iii)              Institution-building -     Making INEC a much more effective and efficient EMB through: •      Re-organization and re-structuring •      Increased professionalism, through training and recruitment •      Enhanced competency in and utilization of ICT •      Strengthening state and local government offices and insulating them from local political pressures  

  iv)              Strengthening the capacity of the Electoral Institute -     By enhancing its capacity for training and research to serve national and sub-regional requirements  

  v)                Continuous improvement of electoral security -     Strengthening relations and coordination of activities with security agencies -     Addressing causes and consequences of post-election violence  

  vi)              Prosecuting Electoral Offenders -     Improve the capacity of the legal department -     Strengthen partnership with NBA  

  vii)           Pursue additional Legal reforms -     Necessary additional amendment to the Electoral Act  

  viii)         Constituency Delineation -     Review of constituencies and polling units in view of demographic changes, etc.

  ix) Improve relations between INEC and -     Executive and Legislative Arms of government -     State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs) -     Civil Society Organizations -     Development Partners -     Other Election Management Bodies (EMBs)  

The international dimensions and challenges of the 2011 elections in Nigeria are indeed noteworthy. And they can be better perceived and explained from the perspective of international solidarity, an increasingly defining characteristic of the contemporary global world system, than from the three dominant perspectives of modernization, globalization and class struggles. From this context, the international dimensions and challenges of the struggle of Nigerians for reformed politics via electoral reforms to bring about free, fair peaceful and credible elections, which culminated into the 2011 general elections, come into sharper and clearer focus. Tired of the bastardization of elections to perpetuate authoritarian rule and bad governance by those who used the ritual of elections to 'legitimize' their control of power and state resources, and fed up with the poor image and rating of the country in the international system as a consequence of these, Nigerians strove hard for electoral reforms and received tremendous international solidarity to bring these to fruition. In other words, domestic pressures combined with international factors and influences, to facilitate the conduct of relatively free and fair elections in Nigeria in April 2011. The formidable challenge remaining to be addressed is how to continue to bring further improvements to the electoral process and prevent a reversal to the old order of chaotic, undemocratic and violent elections, with the attendant negative consequences of authoritarian bad governance, instead of desirable good, democratic governance.

  By Prof. Attahiru Jega.