Celebrating Nigeria's Independence in Washington, DC USA, by Leslie Olabisi - October 5, 2015
This year's Nigerian Independence Day brings much cause for celebration. An election concluded peacefully that transferred power without strife, violence, court battles and recounts.
Allow me to re-introduce the man at the center of it all- Professor Attahiru Jega, former INEC Chairman, who received the Charles T. Manatt Democracy Award Tuesday, from the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) in Washington DC. Many came to celebrate this historic Democratic benchmark in Nigeria's political legacy, including UUS Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D), co-founder of the US Congressional Nigerian Caucus. After viewing an inspirational video (produced by Voices of America- Africa Division) where we watched Prof. Jega announce to the Nigerian public that there would be no news of the election results until the designated time, the Professor mounted the podium with a serene, regal-like presence. He acknowledged that the journey to ensure the unbiased, democratic elections held in Nigeria, despite the 6-week postponement of the initial election, were not without its difficulties. However, as he thanked the entire INEC team, through hard work and perseverance, the country accomplished a great feat. All in all, it was a pride-filled night, with the future-dial set squarely on 'Prosperity', marked for the path of holding free and open elections, continuously removing layers of oppression and fear in the political arena of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
IFES followed the awards ceremony with a panel on "Assessing Nigeria's Historical 2015 Elections." Mr. Negussie Menegesha, Africa Division Director for Voice of America, opened the discussion by stating his pleasure in covering the 2015 elections. With so many negative stories constantly reported from all over Africa, here emerged a wonderful story of successful Democratic process in Nigeria. "The political mood in Nigeria is extremely upbeat following the peaceful conduct of the general elections held in March 2015," says Rola Abdul-Latif, Senior Research Evaluation & Learning Manager for IFES, which has been present in Nigeria since 1998, working to strengthen the capacity of Nigerian election management bodies.
Following this year's election, they conducted post-election surveys to measure the exposure of the voter education campaign, examine perceptions, and measure awareness & trust of INEC. From a total 2616 respondents, 2003 said they voted. Of those, 1308 were female, and 73% of those polled believed the quality of the elections improved from 2011, with 61% believing the elections were free and fair. IFES implemented Permanent Voter Cards (PVC) which were required to vote this year. One comparison of Nigeria's to other African elections Ms. Abdul-Latif thought worth mentioning was the amount of voters unabashedly admitted to taking money for their vote whereas other nations are less inclined to be so forthcoming. Whereas, before, "the general consensus was that INEC was just an institution here to deliver elections to the highest bidder," says Jega. The 2015 elections only allowed 8 months of preparation for January voting to be ready, as stipulated by the constitution. But, after looking at the register of voters, it became clear that having an accurate representation of the voting public was of the utmost importance, and a decision had to be made. In the shortest time in history, the Constitution was amended. Jega continued to say that a key point must be made- 8 months is too short for strategy planning, which is the most important for such a complex election, so they focused on the basics: guidelines, transparency, mobilizing voters, and most importantly- a more credible register of voters. During the extra time they created a strategic plan, and restructured the organization to make it trim, effective and efficient; they managed to clean a 73.5 million voter register, with 4 million repeats, down to 69 million people.
After much hard work and hurdles abound, Nigeria's 2015 elections were successfully concluded, and the Nigerians in DC acknowledge and appreciate the continued progress of our mother country.