Can Nigeria deliver credible elections?

More than 72 million voters prepare to choose a new president in a vote delayed by a week over logistical problems.

A cyclist drives pasts a campaign poster for President Muhammadu Buhari in a street after the postponement of the presidential election in Kano
Millions of registered voters have not yet collected their voter cards [Luc Gnago/Reuters]

Abuja, Nigeria – Will Nigerians finally get to elect a new president in a free-and-fair election after a week delay?

That is the question on the lips of many as Nigeria‘s Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) tries to resolve logistics problems that forced the postponement of the polls for one week last Saturday.

As voters prepare to cast their ballot on Saturday in the rescheduled presidential and legislative elections, concerns about the credibility, or lack of it, of the polls still persist.

“I have my reservations concerning INEC and the conduct of a free-and-fair election. This is because of the level of interference we are seeing already from various arms of government and intimidation of candidates by thugs and agents of the government,” said Victor Okhai, presidential candidate of the Providence Peoples Congress.

“Although Nigerians are ready, INEC – which has had up to four years and a couple of elections in between to practise with – does not appear ready judging from the recent development,” Okhai told Al Jazeera. 

Victor Okhai, presidential candidate of the Providence Peoples Congress [Courtesy: Victor Okhai/Al Jazeera]
Victor Okhai, presidential candidate of the Providence Peoples Congress [Courtesy: Victor Okhai/Al Jazeera]

Logistics nightmare

The electoral commission pledged on Thursday there will not be further postponement of the elections.

The presidential and legislative votes were to take place on February 16 and the state governorship on March 2 before they were delayed five hours before the opening of polling stations. 

The two general elections in 2011 and 2015 were also delayed.

There are still fears among some Nigerians of a further postponement of Saturday’s elections over unresolved logistical issues.

Some election materials have been held up from reaching voting stations.

“In a close-run election, marred by discrepancies and irregularities, the winner ultimately may be decided by the courts rather than the voters,” Matthew Page, associate fellow at Chatham House, told Al Jazeera.

“Given the Nigerian judiciary’s lack of independence and well-earned reputation for corruption, it is possible that the Nigerian presidency could essentially be sold to the highest bidder,” he added.

INEC, however, said plans are in place for a hitch-free vote.

“We have always said we are going to be open and transparent. Yes, in the course of distribution, we may find parcels that belong to one state in another state. But once the discovery is made, the parcel is handed over to the Central Bank which then delivers the parcel to the right state,” said Mahmood Yakubu, INEC chairman.

‘Dead voters’

Millions of Nigerians that registered to vote in the elections have not collected their voter cards. A total of 72.7 million out of 84 million voters are eligible to vote on Saturday.

The distribution of the cards was not as smooth as planned and some voters spent grueling hours at INEC offices to collect theirs.

The main opposition PDP alleges there are more than one million dead voters on INEC’s list.

The party also raised concerns about the updated voter list, which they alleged could be used to manipulate the elections.

“There has been a coordinated approach to register foreigners, mainly from Niger and Cameroon, as voters. That is why INEC has established so many polling units along the borders with Cameroon and Niger,” said Uche Secondus, PDP chairman.

Images of policemen and soldiers using President Muhammadu Buhari‘s campaign sign, which indicates an endorsement, have gone viral.

Security forces are seen with their hands raised and showing what is known locally as “4 + 4”, which means a second term of four years for the incumbent.

Military authorities have promised to investigate the officers involved. But it has raised further doubts about the neutrality of security personnel deployed for elections.

“Thus far INEC has kept its own side of the bargain,” Abubakar Umar, a political scientist, told Al Jazeera.

“The electioneering process has been devoid of substance and full of meaningless shenanigans and jamborees at the expense of real marketing of candidates and what they stand for. The electioneering has equally been marred by hate speech, generous use of fake news and defamation,” Umar added.

Questionable outcome

The surprise postponement of last Saturday’s election and red flags over the credibility of the polls has thrown up a debate about the possible outcome.

“It is impossible to comprehensively assess the credibility of elections unless INEC publishes detailed and complete election results data in a timely and transparent manner,” Page said.

The ruling All Progressives Congress and the opposition have expressed anger over the delayed elections and the process leading up to the vote.

“I envisage that the results will be seriously contested and disputed. This is because the gladiators from the two biggest parties have sworn not to give in or concede victory in case they lose. This is not healthy for the polity,” Okhai said.

Source: Al Jazeera