Washington DC, USA:
On April 15, 2010, the then acting president of Nigeria Goodluck Jonathan spoke at the launch of the Atlantic Council's Ansari Africa Center, outlining his vision for "good governance and accountability, youth and hope, peace and security " in Nigeria. Noting the tragedy of violent outbreaks in Jos, Jonathan spoke about the urgency of economic development and wider distribution of opportunity in order to ensure peace throughout Nigeria. When asked about the upcoming 2011 elections his emphatic response was "Clean!" - stressing his commitment to credible elections.
One year later, the Washington DC-based Ansari Center hosted an international panel to assess Nigeria's 2011 elections. The panel's scholars and statesmen joined many international observers in calling these the most free and fair elections in Nigeria's recent democratic history. Dr Peter Pham, director of the Ansari Center, described the elections as "remarkably credible," while Robin Sanders, former US Ambassador to Nigeria from 2003-2007, celebrated the resilience and resolve of the Nigerian people, who played a prominent role in monitoring the conduct of elections. However, Muhammadu Buhari supporter Nasir El-Rufai, a former member of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) and minister of Abuja, challenged the credibility of last week's election, stressing the irregularities between polling station counts and official election results.
Nigeria is not immune to the ever-increasing role of social media and youth activism in political processes across the globe. In recognition of this powerful ally, the Independent National Election Commission (INEC) employed the Youth Corps as adhoc staff to monitor local polling stations. The EnoughisEnough (EiE) coalition, whose goal is to mobilize 10 million young people to be actively engaged in the electoral process by 2015, designed the ReVoDa application for mobile phones to enable voters to report as independent citizen observers from their respective polling units across Nigeria.
Reno Omokri , a Nigerian activist and founder of Build Up Nigeria, spoke about the decisive role of the youth in the successful conduct of last week's elections. "We [the youth] are going to make this election free and fair," he said. "We are not going to depend on the government, we are not going to depend on INEC." His organization, along with other civil society groups, established citizen reporting portals to enable voters to report on the conduct of elections using their mobile phones. Omokri's platform, iwitness-nigeria.com, received over 10,000 texts, tweets, emails and pictures during the elections, which broadly support the international consensus that Nigeria was able to conduct free and fair polling.
The celebratory tone of the meeting was interrupted by Nasir El-Rufai's presentation, which began: "I am going to disappoint. I see a tendency on the part of the donor community to create success where I see that there are little more than marginal failures." El-Rufai's comments highlighted deficiencies in Nigeria's electoral process, wherein votes counted and collected at polling stations were subsequently transported to collation centers that were outside the purview of election monitors. In El-Rufai's view this process left room for "human agency" to change voting results which had previously been recorded at the district level.
According to El-Rufai, the technology of rigging elections is still framed in the perspective of the 1960s when electoral fraud was overt - ballot box snatching, ballot stuffing and chasing away voters to have officials vote on their behalf. Very little of these things happened during last week's election, marking a major improvement on Nigeria's previous elections and explaining the positive appraisals by international election observer.
The irregularities noted in the 2011 election indicate a more sophisticated style of vote rigging, according to El-Rufai. He asserts that the ruling party has employed covert techniques, which include changing the numbers on results sheets and arranging for ballot paper to be thumb-printed to "match" the declared results. "The problem with this election started after voting, during collation," he claimed. These sentiments are echoed by John Campbell of the Council on Foreign Relations who states, "even if the polling was credible, the ballot counting was not."
As a result, Congress for Progressive Change candidate Muhammadu Buhari rejected the election results as fraudulent and called them to be annulled. Post-election violence erupted in Northern Nigeria shortly afterwards. Yesterday - Wednesday - the Red Cross reported that 35,000 people have been displaced in six states where post-election violence was targeted at PDP supporters, and there is growing fear of reprisal attacks in the South where Northeners are seeking refuge in police barracks.
Nigerian voters who have witnessed fraud, violence, and ballot stealing in past elections placed their trust in INEC's chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, who is widely seen as a credible figure. This goes some way to explaining the high level of participation in last Saturday's presidential race, when an estimated 38 million Nigerians cast their vote. The frustration of some Northerners who believe that their votes have not counted is all the more acute in the face of the high hopes voiced before the 2011 elections. Moreover, it can be seen as indicative of a broader trend in the marginalization of Northern Nigerians who feel increasingly isolated from the political processes taking place in the rest of the country.
The current state of unrest in Northern Nigeria threatens to derail the peaceful election process experienced so far and undermine the legitimacy of gubernatorial elections scheduled to take place next week. Hardliners in the CPC threatened to boycott further elections, but more moderate members of the CPC are intent on challenging the results of the presidential election through legal means.