Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Nigeria's President Jonathan finally signed the amended Electoral Act into law on Friday, August 20th in the presence of several political figures and local dignitaries. During the signing ceremony, he said, 

"the process leading to the passage of the bill was a test of the nation's emerging democratic maturity. It is proof that this system can muster the capacity to correct itself while the nation moves on to a higher level of political development."
That description could be correct, but it ignores the numerous delays on the part of the Senate, the House of Representatives and even, President Jonathan, in formalizing the Electoral Act. Nevertheless, the finalization of the amended law is definitely a step in the right direction for the actualization of upcoming elections. This is particularly the case as monies necessary to conduct the polls have been deposited into the election commission's account. Despite this progress, other factors highlight the reality that a free, fair and credible 2011 election are still not guaranteed. In fact, given time constraints and other logistical challenges, Nigeria's upcoming elections could sadly be just as bad or worse than the controversial elections of 2007.

Review of the modifications to the Electoral Act occurred in both the Senate and House of Representatives. Additionally, all 36 state legislative bodies also reviewed the modified version of the law. States like Bauchi rejected several sections but nonetheless, the necessary majority of states assented to the law. 

Funding for the electoral body, the Independent National Election Commission (INEC), also faced delays. Although INEC's chairman announced that he needed budgetary approval by August 11th, vacation time for the Senate and House of Representatives delayed discussion. INEC's chairman, Attahiru Jega, noted that the funding was needed by the 11th in order to ensure enough time for the Commission to carry out it's mandate. Eventually, the Senate approved a budget of N87.7 billion on August 10th. A vote from the House came on August 12th.

However, INEC did not receive the funding until its electoral bill was formally signed by President Jonathan on August 20th. That was at least two days after Jega again went to the press to announce that INEC could not create a timetable because the bill and budget were yet to be finalized. The delay in Jonathan's signature was criticized with some accusing the President of seeking to delay the elections from January to April. These accusations were challenged by the Junior Minister of Information and communications, Labaran Maku, who explained, 
"[t]he president is not a rubber stamp. His duty is to go through this law and ensure that there is nothing in it that will cause problem during elections or that will be difficult to enforce."
And promptly after Jonathan signed the Electoral Act into existence, the Minister of Finance, Segun Aganga, released N87.7 billion to INEC's account.

Despite the fact that both the electoral law has been formalized and that INEC funds have been released, the road to credible elections is far from smooth. A constitutional dilemma has the ability to derail the push for January elections. Amendments to the national constitution face legal challenge because the final amended constitution was not signed by President Jonathan. That raises the question of whether the amended document needs presidential signature to become a legal document. If the matter is not decided quickly, INEC could be forced to prepare to conduct elections in either January or April, 2011. Elections can only occur in January if the amended constitution is deemed a valid legal document and such validation can only come from the court at this point. The need to wait out the legal suit means that INEC must prepare for the possibility of elections in either January or April. Such uncertainty will do very little to help make the election process smooth, and yet, for the preservation of Nigerian democracy, the legal adjudication must be allowed to run it's natural course.

In addition to the constitutional confusion is the fact that INEC is yet to hire and train the 360,000 workers it needs to conduct the elections. INEC
announced that members of the National Youth 
Service Corps (NYSC) will be hired to complete various election-related duties. However, parents are already expressing their concerns over such a strategy. Expectedly, they fear that drafting their children to work for INEC during election season will make them vulnerable to the election violence that typically takes place. Using NYSC members also means that many unemployed individuals that hoped for INEC employment during the election season might not find the jobs they desperately sought. And in an economy with high unemployment (anywhere between 19.7% and 28.57%), this predicament could create certain untenable tensions that could complicate matters in the short and long term.

Another matter involves choosing contractors to supply election materials such as direct capture machines which will be used to complete the voter registration process.
Controversy is brewing over who is qualified to complete the task with civic groups and even opposition parties complaining that certain contractors be excluded because they allegedly played a role in the last election which was decries by a majority for it's fraudulent practices. Nonetheless, companies such as Dimension Data, Zinox and Google are reportedly attempting to earn very lucrative election contracts.

In spite of these challenges, it is still possible to achieve the conduct of credible elections. To achieve this, however, the following will be required: a stroke of good fortune and a commitment by all involved parties to observe the rules as discharged by INEC and Nigerian law. Is such a feat possible in a country where politics can be death matches and competitors will do anything to win? Well time alone will tell, and Nigerians will undoubtedly hope for the best. But, those of a gambling inclination might be wise to consider Nigeria's past elections as a guide to what will likely take place come 2011.

From the Archives:
- INEC's Budget ApprovedNigeria's Legislators Aren't Serious About Elections
- Nigeria's New Electoral Act & Election Problems

- Could Nigeria Become a One-Party Regime?
The Nigerian Coup Nobody Saw Coming

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