Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Nigeria's Electoral Act became law on August 20th, 2010. Despite that months passed with no information on when the 2011 elections would take place. After much uncertainty however, Nigeria's Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) finally revealed the dates for the country's upcoming elections.

INEC announced that presidential elections will take place on April 9th, 2011. National Assembly elections will take place on April 2nd while state government elections will occur on April  16th. The elections were staggered to provide time to carry out the polls in an organized manner.

Voter registration will begin on January 15th and end two weeks later on the 29th. Voter registration locations were listed at the INEC website on November 3rd (though the link is now unavailable) and the Commission plans to register at least 70 million people. According to the schedule, party primaries will be concluded by January 25th. Election equipment should arrive from suppliers in early December 2010.

Nigeria's handover date is May 29th, 2011 and the elections, as planned, will end at least 6 weeks before the new President is sworn into power. However, one of the reasons the Electoral Act was amended this year was to change the voting schedule. The Uwais-led Electoral Reform Committee report originally recommended that elections hold at lest six months before the handover date to give time for challengers to handle any legal issues in a court of law. The Electoral Act eventually required that elections hold before April 29th to ensure some time for legal challenges.

Due to a number of complications, INEC chairman, Attahiru Jega, pled for a delay on when the elections would occur. In response, the national assembly pushed the elections to January. However, there remained delays that prompted INEC to choose April, which has been the traditional month for elections in the past. 

As such, Nigeria once again faces an immediate future where the election results will be in question and many leader's mandates will be doubted. This situation weakens democratic growth in the country and will prove problematic for leaders intent on getting work done. However, much of the controversies that typically arise post-election can be limited if all players adhere to electoral rules and abstain from 'playing dirty'. If that happens, there might be less concern over the validity of the results and Nigeria may avoid a repeat of the shameful and widely-criticized events of the 2007 elections.

With this new and hopefully final election schedule, the election season is finally in full swing. From this point on, an already aggressive landscape of politicians will kick things into overdrive. Already, former vice president Atiku Abubakar was named as the consensus candidate for the northern members of the leading PDP party. He will thus challenge current president Jonathan for the party ticket. There also is some wrangling in the legislative houses over how those primaries will take place - wrangling that appears undemocratic.

An additional element to the situation is the expected election-related violence. During the 2007 election season, there was an attempt to bomb INEC's Abuja offices and melees were frequent across the country. With the 2010 election schedule announced, there will undoubtedly be an uptake in violence. Already, there were bombings on October 1st, a weapons cache of 13 containers was discovered at the main Lagos port and as of November 24th, more weapons and military grade equipment and vehicles have also been discovered. Hopefully, any incidents of violence will not result in as much damage and destruction as the previous elections.

Nigerians now know exactly when 2011 elections will occur and can begin to make plans accordingly. For those planning to escape the mayhem that can ensue, they will likely fly out of the country. For others who cannot leave and those who choose to stay, April 2011 and the months leading up to it, will be interesting, to say the least.

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