Monitoring Nigeria's Election


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October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007



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Monitoring Nigeria’s Elections – The Carter Formula  




Mobolaji E. Aluko

Burtonsville, MD, USA


Saturday, April 5, 2003




The Art of Election Monitoring

The 1999 Experience

Before the Election Day – Voter Register

On Election Day – Voting, Counting, Announcing

The Heart of the Matter – What Should INEC’s Response Be?

Epilogue – Our Rickety Bridge to the Future



In exactly one week from today, a series of elections will begin in Nigeria – National Assembly on April 12; presidential and gubernatorial on April 19; possibility of run-off elections on April 26;  and State assemblies on May 3.   A handover to newly-mandated governments and legislatures is expected by May 29.  It now looks like come hail, storm or rain (no snow), despite legal breaches, and under the twin doctrines of Necessity and Substantial Compliance, INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission) and the powers-that-be have all decided to go ahead with it all, after thorough inspection of the alternative of NOT going ahead.  It has figured out that a serious constitutional crisis would arise about the extension of the electoral mandate of the present executive and legislative incumbents beyond the May 29, 2003 date.

Nigeria has a way of pulling back from the brink – so we shall see.

But in this essay, I write only about one issue:  election monitoring, particularly on the election days.


Monitoring of elections in Nigeria and other developing countries has become a well-accepted feature in attempting to put a stamp of credibility on the elections of such emerging and fragile democracies.   These monitors are in general both local and foreign. 

Typically, these observers fan across the nation before, during and after polling, observing the erection of polling stations, the accreditation of registered voters, the poll themselves and the count at polling station level, monitoring the collation of the results at ward and local government area centers, each using its own method.

For example, in the 1999 Nigerian elections, the electoral commission used 111,430 polling stations nationwide while the number of wards in the 774 local councils was 8,692.  These numbers are essentially the same this time around.  For those elections, there were over 12,000 such monitors in Nigeria, particularly in the presidential elections, with 2,000 of them being foreign. The main local one was the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), a coalition of about 70 human rights and civil liberty NGOs.   The foreign ones included the European Union, EU (100 observers), Commonwealth Observer Group, COG (23 observers); the Carter Center in collaboration with the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, NDI, based in Washington, D.C. had President Jimmy Carter and General Colin Powell in its large-size delegation; the International Republican Institute (IRI, also based in Washington DC), the Human Rights Watch HRW, as well as other observer groups from Canada, Norway, Japan and some African countries.


The monitors in 1999 were unanimous in their reports:  massive irregularities existed in all of the elections.  For example, while the international monitoring groups put the voter turnout to be in the order of 20%, the election results indicated one of about 30-40%.

The European Union's observer mission expressed "serious concern" over the fraud but said, "We judge that the result of the election . . . reflects the wishes of the Nigerian people"  - as if that is how they declare election results in the EU nations!

Carter refused to put his stamp of approval on the presidential vote that elected his friend Olusegun Obasanjo, writing that "There was a wide disparity between the number of voters observed at the polling stations and the final result that has been reported from several states.  Regrettably, therefore, it is not possible for us to make an accurate judgment about the outcome of the presidential election.”

Our own Transition Monitoring Group spread the blame around quite democratically:  fraud had been committed by both sides and "it is difficult to say the extent to which the efforts of the two parties canceled each other."

And yet the election results of 1999 were all upheld.

So what can or will be different this time?


With INEC officials, upward of 30 party operatives and independent election monitors crowding each polling station, one would be forgiven to wonder how it can happen that election will be rigged.

Of course, attempts at rigging start BEFORE the elections, when many may register, but only a few will find their names, with those names being party members of the favored party.  Now by displaying the voter register well ahead of time, various parties could have been able to ascertain whether various members of their parties who registered have been displayed.  

It appears that with the new computerization project of INEC, however, DUPLICATE names of those kinds of people have been purged, thereby reducing the effect of this particular kind of rigging.

At least that is what we are told.

The problem now is that with name purging, INEC can always claim that those who stated that they registered might have fraudulently registered more than once, hence their names were purged.  That is difficult to contest, and in any case, by the time their appeal is through, these particular elections would have been over, since the voters registers are only being displayed as we write, just days before the elections.

In this particular type of rigging, there is nothing election monitors can do about it.  They can simply note irregularities – and move on.

No dice there.


A necessary condition to vote is the tender of a voter’s registration card to identify the intending voter as having been previously registered.  Problem is that as we write, what the overwhelming number of registered voters have in Nigeria are a tear-away registration slip which should be exchanged for a card.  INEC states that those cards should be available by April 8 – within four days of the first set of elections. 

Without an amendment to the electoral law allowing slips to be legal tender to vote, one fails to see how many registered voters will not be disenfranchised.  Without picture identification cards, one wonders how one can ascertain that the tenderer of the registration card is the actual owner of the card.

But we should not let the perfect get in the way of the good enough……

Assuming pre-voting formalities on site have been completed, and notwithstanding the fact that there will be many disenfranchised people, I believe that from there on is where monitors will be most useful, if only they focused like laser beams on two issues:

(i)                 Counting the voters – the Carter Formula

In 1993, as part of IBB’s Option A-4, there were the options of lining up behind the ballot box of one’s candidate (the so-called open balloting) for all eyes to see clearly and count.  This was how Abiola’s June 12 presidential election was acknowledged to be “free and fair.”  However, now with the possibility of 30 candidates – actually it is more like 7 to 20 candidates per election; 20 for the presidential  – the option of lining up would have been ludicrous.  It violates the constitutional required of secret balloting anyway.  

Now, as it was then, INEC (federal) monitors, party monitors and accredited independent (both local and international) are expected to be at ALL polling booths. This time around, they will be joined by SIEC (State Independent Electoral Commission) monitors.

First one hopes that INEC and SIEC monitors will BOTH be available, so that they can check each other, in the event that their federal and state allegiances conflict – if you know what I mean.  If they don’t conflict, then their “independence” may be questionable. 

Secondly, when in previous elections there were only two or three parties, the independence of such few party monitors themselves was suspect:  a “formidable” party in a particular area could pay for ALL the party monitors, essentially making it a one-party monitoring! Such   monitors would then actively participate in “rigging” the votes for their party, while signing on behalf of the other contesting parties that all was kosher!  This informed Carter’s observation of overt electoral fraud: "It appeared that many of these electoral abuses were a result of collusion between polling officials and party agents and operatives.”

But with as many as 30 parties, buying up so many monitors may have become more difficult – but not impossible.

This is where the accredited unaffiliated independent monitors – both local   and international – come in.

All the independent monitors have a common problem – funds may not enable them to be in ALL of the 120,000 polling booths in the country, in all of the elections.  The local ones have another problem:  being Nigerians, they cannot claim COMPLETE independence, since it is likely that they will also have preferred parties or preferred candidates.    At least they can be so accused. Just a slight concern – but still a concern.

But one pleads that ALL of the independent monitors, particularly the INTERNATIONAL ones, do one thing, if they do nothing else:  distribute themselves in pairs IN AS MANY POLLING BOOTHS as possible, and stick with their polling booths FROM THE MOMENT IT IS OPEN TILL THE MOMENT IT IS CLOSED, and COUNT THE NUMBER OF VOTERS going in and out.  If one monitor goes to eat, let the other stick around; if one goes to the “latrine”, let the other stick around.  There is certainly no point going from polling station to polling station on election day for these monitors.

This is what I have called the Carter Formula.  It leads to a simple equation:  at the end of the day, the number of votes assigned to all of the candidates – including bad/cancelled votes - must sum up to the number of voters counted to be entering or leaving the polling booths.

Just as simple as that.  In the 1999 elections, Carter sat at one polling station throughout during the presidential elections and counted (I believe) 60 voters going in to cast their votes.  When the votes were finally counted, the total count was 600 “gegerege” (exactly).    Aha, when he asked how that could be so, the polling officer said that it was “When you were not looking sir!  Maybe you went to the latrine, sir!”  He just shook his head  (“Nigeria sha!”, he must have exclaimed) and later refused to sign any compliance letter!

Imagine if we could have JUST TWO INDEPENDENT monitors in 15% of the polling booths – that is a total of 36,000 independent monitors, three times the number of 1999; there could be many more not-so-independent and compromised monitors.  If they applied the Carter Formula and were ready to sign as Carter did if they saw egregious discrepancies, that would be wonderful.  Imagine if those 36,000 could turn out – that would  be distributed roughly 1,000 per state, 330 per senatorial district, 100 per federal constituency, 4 per ward.  That would be a wonderfully representative testament to the credibility of the elections.

(ii)                announcing the election results at the polling booth

In 1993, also as part of IBB’s “Option A-4,” announcing the election results on the spot was also a worthy feature.

The same feature must be preserved as one of the cardinal points in these elections if they are to begin to be credible.  After all, no polling booth is expected to have more than 500 voters – and such a low number of voters cannot take long to count, can it?

INEC, party officials and the monitors should insist on this.  Monitors should also base their signed certification on this step.


Security is always a concern at these polling stations, and immediately the Military and the Police come to mind.  One  hopes that the Military IN UNIFORM have NO ROLE at the polling stations, outside being permitted to vote themselves.  However, the POLICE should have a heavy presence, to dissuade adventurers who might want to forment trouble.

With respect to journalists, I would surmise that their best role would be in applying the Carter Formula at chosen polling stations IN THE CAPITAL CITIES in all the states


The issue dealt with above is that is while not all who wish to vote might get to vote, at least those who vote should have their votes properly recorded

Nevertheless, none of the above will mean much without all the political parties and other concerned entities settling the following questions: what happens TO A PARTICULAR POLLING BOOTH’S RESULTS when an egregious violation of the Carter Formula occurs?  And what is the limit of egregiousness?

I suggest some hard constraints: “Cancel the election results of that polling booth if the Carter Formula is breached from ABOVE (more votes counted than voters counted)  by more than 10%.  If breached from BELOW (fewer votes counted than voters counted) by more than 20% and from ABOVE by more than 1%, inspect ALL the ballots in that polling booth.  Results are announced for a particular polling booth only if there are no such violations.  Results from ANY BREACH (even if within the stated tolerable limits) should be withheld if they will affect the change the overall winner of the election in any way”


The proliferation of parties, the computerized sifting of multiple voters and the countervailing presence of INEC and SIEC monitors intrinsically favor better elections this time around.  However, I believe that by using the Carter Formula with sanctions, and announcing voting results at the polling sites, attested to by two righteous monitors per polling station, an even more credible set of elections can be achieved.  That will reduce the propensity for violence AFTER this set of elections, even with the fact that there is clearly going to be a lot of people who will be disenfranchised because of the late activities of INEC.

The upcoming elections make me feel like a student who has not fully prepared for an important examination, but who is just hoping the examination questions are easy – and darn easy too.  If they are not – even just a little above minimum competency level - he fails.

The only problem here is that our nation cannot afford to fail.  Perhaps the only legacy that president Obasanjo can add to his democratic feather – whatever that is, and apart from having given up military power to civilians in 1976 which made him world-famous – is to successfully run a civilian-to-civilian transition election, even if he loses the presidential election, OR to run the full course of a new four-year term without interruption, if he wins.

Let us watch and pray as we in Nigeria continue to cross what Prof. Wole Soyinka once called “our rickety (TRANSITION) bridge to our (TRULY DEMOCRATIC) future.”   One just hopes that the bridge does not fall down before crossing o’er.



The 2003 Nigerian Electoral Process: Second Report by the National Democratic Institute and The Carter Center

Compilation Of The Voters’ Register

Media Briefing by Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Abuja, 27th March 2003, Read by INEC Commissioner, Shehu Musa.

64m Registered for April Polls, Says Inec

THE Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced, yesterday that it registered 64 million Nigerians for the April/May elections. The figure was arrived at after expunging the names of those it identified as under-aged and those who engaged in multiple registration. INEC National Commission in charge of Political Parties, Alhaji Shehu Musa told reporters in Abuja. "Persons who have been identified as under-age or multiple registrants will have their names and other particulars published in all polling centres some days before the elections, and are well advised to stay away from all polling activities," he said.

Inec: 64m Voters for Release Next Week

This Day (Lagos), March 28, 2003

67 million Optical Mark Recognition (OMR) forms distributed over three million multiple registrants and under aged voters were detected during the registration of voters last year

He noted that this is the first time that 20 presidential candidates would be contesting in an election in the country.

He explained that there are 100 governorship candidates seeking elections in 36 states, 500 senatorial candidates contesting for 109 senatorial slots, while 3000 candidates are vying for the 369 seats in the House of Representatives. “


Statement by The Carter Center/NDI International Observer Delegation to the Nigerian Presidential Election


They Came, They Observed

NewsWatch, Nigeria; June, 1999

SUNDAY MUSINGS:  INEC Finally Passes Some Constitutional Tests

Mobolaji E. Aluko, December 29, 2002

The 2003 Presidential Elections - The Militicians vs the Civilians

Mobolaji E. Aluko, January 19, 2003

Sunday Musings: And Who Shall I Vote For Come April 2003?

Mobolaji E. Aluko, Sunday March 23, 2003

The coming political stalemate in Nigeria

Mobolaji E. Aluko, March 27, 2003



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