Cablegate: Nigeria's Independent National Electoral

Published: Tue 16 Dec 2003 12:32 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
161232Z Dec 03
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. Summary: Nigeria's National Electoral Commission
(INEC) conducted a widely-publicized INEC-Civil Society
Forum on November 27-28, 2003, the first of its kind, to
elicit input on the direction of electoral reform leading
up to the country's next Presidential and National Assembly
elections, scheduled for early 2007. The President of the
Federal Republic of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo gave an
important keynote address on election reform issues
(septel), and other important members of the Government --
including many INEC Commissioners -- participated.
Nigerian civil society was rather less represented, 5 of 18
presenters, and 3 of those were lawyers commenting on the
judiciary. Three non-Nigerian consultants and INEC gave
presentations, and there were no scheduled presenters from
Nigeria's opposition parties in the opening session, even
though 22 parties were represented during a reserved
period, 8:30 pm - 10:30 pm, on the first day.
2. Participants at the seminar expressed concerns about
INEC's lack of independence from the Federal Government,
and recommended that steps be taken to ensure that INEC
functions with expected levels of integrity, competency,
and neutrality. The seminar observed that State
Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs) also needed to
break free from the political dictates of State
Governments, and recommended that provisions to ensure
financial and political independence be put in place. The
seminar noted that credible political competition between
and among political parties required the existence of
minimum operational standards, and recommended that INEC
and the political parties engage in constructive
discussions to specify their expectations of each other's
conduct and responsibilities. Finally, the seminar noted
that failure to conduct local government elections since
June 2002 impaired Nigerians' constitutional right to live
under democratically-elected governments at all levels, and
recommended that funds be allocated to conduct local
government elections on or before March 31, 2004. End
3. On November 27-28, 2003, Nigeria's Independent National
Electoral Commission (INEC) held "The INEC-Civil Society
Forum Seminar on Agenda for Electoral Reform" at its Media
Results Center in Abuja. The Seminar's opening session
drew a high-level and diverse audience from political
parties, State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs),
civil society, as well at the international diplomatic and
donor community, for presentations by INEC Chairman Sir
Abel Guobadia, Transitional Monitoring Group (TMG) Chairman
Festus Okoye, and Nigeria's President, Olusegun Obasanjo.
4. Reflecting upon the nation's recent electoral
experience (April/May 2003), INEC's Chairman noted that
reforms would be necessary for INEC to improve upon it
performance in 2003. First, the Chairman suggested that
there was need for a constitutional provision establishing
INEC's independence from the Executive branch. The Chairman
noted further that INEC's independence required that its
operational funding come from the Federation's Consolidated
Revenue fund, not the GON budget. The Chairman suggested
that voter education activities needed to be placed
directly under INEC's control, and that continuous voter
registration procedures needed to be put in place.
5. In response to earlier proposals (reftel), the Chairman
pointed to a need to regulate political parties, not only
at the point of registration, but also during the course of
election campaigns. There was a need to stagger elections,
so that all public offices were not being contested at the
same time every four years, and a further need to move away
from manual voting to mechanized procedures. Finally, the
Chairman argued that steps were needed to improve the
competence of returning officers, who were tasked with
declaring results to the electorate.
6. The Transition Monitoring Group's (TMG) Chairman,
Festus Okoye, speaking on behalf of the civil society
organizations at the seminar, remarked that for democracy
to survive in Nigeria until 2007, the problems seen in the
nation's 1999 and 2003 elections needed to be addressed.
Echoing the Chairman's earlier sentiments, Mr. Okoye noted
that INEC needed to be fully independent and unfettered in
its structure, operations and funding, and that voter
registration and identification procedures needed to be
improved to preclude under-age and "ghost" voting. Mr.
Okoye also highlighted the need to improve voter education,
ensure consistency and quality control over information, so
that voters understood what was expected from them.
7. President Obasanjo began his keynote address by
commending the spirit of constructive cooperation between
and among INEC, civil society and political parties in
working to achieve a higher level of quality in Nigeria's
electoral practices in the workshop. The President noted
that it was a national priority to address flaws in the
current system well before the 2007 elections, and that
such an important task needed the support and input of all
stakeholders, not just INEC or government alone.
8. President Obasanjo reflected critically upon Nigeria's
first-past-the-post electoral system, which to him,
" educes all political activity to the sole objective of
winning elections nd olarize(s) our people and
politicians around who wins and who loses". The President
looked critically at the cost of elections, noting that the
N50 billion (approx. USD 35 million) spent on the last
election was "unacceptably high", and asked rhetorically if
the will of the people could find expression in the face of
so much money. The President lauded the role that
political parties played in elections, but stressed that
they must "operate responsibly to aggregate, articulate and
represent citizens' concerns." President Obasanjo argued
further that "parties which exist only to collect grants
from government, or fail to submit to the basic demands for
accountability and transparence, or who fail to achieve an
acceptable minimum of impact during elections must be) e-
registered where necessary". The President noted his
support for greater INEC and SIEC independence, provided
they were able to operate with integrity and competence
within practical financial resource perimeters. The
President expressed concerns over the mushrooming number of
election disputes (note: 900 of 1,600 election results were
contested in 2003), as well as the length of time involved
in processing such disputes. In closing the President
noted that while Nigeria's elections needed to be open to
international scrutiny, it was necessary to encourage and
empower local observer groups, who, according to him, have
a higher stake in election outcomes, and are better
acquainted with Nigeria's history, its cultures, and the
practical realities of the current situation.
9. Subsequent Day One sessions addressed "Best Practices
in Legislating Electoral Reform", dealing with existing
electoral system models in operational around the world; "A
Critique of the Nigerian Electoral System and Analysis of
Options", examining the shortcomings of Nigeria's first-
past-the-post electoral system; and, "What Cost,
Democracy?", a session examining issues related to election
funding, campaign finance, and the relationship between
politics and corruption. The day closed with an open forum
where each of the participating political parties was given
an opportunity to comment on its recent elections
experiences and make suggestions for improving the process
in advance of the 2007 elections.
10. Day Two's presentations began with an examination of
electoral reform from the perspectives of civil society,
National and State Electoral Commissions, and covered
issues related to independence, Commission funding,
constituency delimitation, voter education and
registration, registration and management of political
parties, campaign finance, results management (tabulation
and reporting), and the adjudication of election disputes.
The follow-on session examined the roles played by the
executive and legislative branches in facilitating and
enacting key electoral reforms, and then the judiciary's
role in settling election disputes.
11. Following a presentation on improving electoral access
for citizens with disabilities, a limited plenary session
afforded all participants a final opportunity to express
opinions on the issues raised during the seminar, or those
not adequately covered during the seminar's formal
proceedings. Following this session, a statement, covering
the seminar's main observations and recommendations, was
distributed and discussed. The seminar concluded with a
call for further meetings of this type to be held in each
of the country's six geo-political zones.
12. Comment: The seminar was well-attended and the
presence of INEC Commissioners throughout ensured that key
stakeholder views were heard firsthand, unedited and
unabashed. While a formal summary of the seminar's
proceedings will be submitted to INEC in due course, the
tone of urgency reverberating in many participants'
interventions is unlikely to be captured therein. Clearly,
stakeholders recognized the shortcomings of the 2003
elections and many had positive and constructive
suggestions for improving the process in advance of the
2007 elections. The proceeding's comportment bespeaks a
broad-based and inclusive approach to policy reform in
Nigeria, as well as a willingness to work across regional,
ethic, gender and political party lines to achieve a common
objective. Above all, seminar participants uniformly
expressed enthusiastic commitment to democracy, eschewing
the country's historical preferences for predictable
authoritarian regimes. One of the seminar's presenters
asked if democracy should precede development, or vice
versa. The response from the floor, which received a loud
round of applause, was that development without democracy
could hardly be characterized as development, at all.
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