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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
The 1999 Experience
Before the Election Day –
On Election Day – Voting,
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.
THE ART OF ELECTION MONITORING
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
THE 1999 EXPERIENCE
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
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?
BEFORE THE ELECTION DAY – VOTER REGISTER
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
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
At least that is what we are
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.
ON ELECTION DAY – VOTING, COUNTING AND
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……
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
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
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.
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.
WHAT ROLE ARMY, POLICE AND JOURNALISTS
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
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 HEART OF THE MATTER – WHAT SHOULD INEC’S
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”
EPILOGUE – OUR RICKETY BRIDGE TO THE FUTURE
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
Compilation Of The Voters’
Electoral Commission (Abuja)
DOCUMENT March 27, 2003
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
March 28, 2003
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
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
Statement by The Carter Center/NDI International Observer Delegation to
the Nigerian Presidential Election
INTERIM REPORT OF THE TRANSITION MONITORING GROUP ON THE PRESIDENTIAL
ELECTIONS HELD ON SATURDAY, 27th FEBRUARY 1999
They Came, They Observed
NewsWatch, Nigeria; June,
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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