The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has been heavily criticized by two United States diplomats, Ambassador Mark Green and Johnnie Carson over the conduct of last month’s election.
The diplomats said even Nigerian citizens who supported the winners of the February 25 presidential and National Assembly elections disappointed with the electoral process.
In a joint treatise, both envoys, who monitored the elections, insisted that critical lessons must be learnt very fast from the shortcomings of the last polls by Nigerians and Africans, with a view to forestalling such flaws in the future.
Writing for the Washington-based President Woodrow Wilson Centre, a United States non-partisan policy forum for tackling global issues through independent research, Green and Carson noted that, among other issues, many polling stations opened late while poll workers reported material shortages.
While Green was administrator of the US Agency for International Development, Executive Director of the McCain Institute, US ambassador to Tanzania and four-term House of Representatives member, Carson was ambassador to Nigeria and several other African countries.
The ambassadors recalled that on February 25, Nigeria held its presidential election with millions of Nigerians going to the polls for the opportunity to elect their new leader, but noted that the process was fraught with irregularities.
The diplomats wrote, “At a time when the world is experiencing a democratic decline, Nigerians stood in line – sometimes for hours – for the chance to have their voices heard.
“Unfortunately, the National Democratic Institute/International Republican Institute Election Observation Mission – for which we were both observers – declared that this election ‘fell short of Nigerian citizens’ reasonable expectations.’
“Citizens were disappointed with the electoral process, including those who supported the candidates who were declared winners. Among other issues, many polling stations opened late, and poll workers reported material shortages.
“Overall, as the IRI/NDI joint mission found, Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) failed to live up to the high expectations it had created for itself.”
They recalled that three days after Election Day, the candidate of ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu, was declared president-elect. They stressed that the main opposition parties had now gone to court to challenge the results.
According to the envoys, there is a lot of evidence that Africans prefer democratic systems of government to other forms. They explained that in addition, Africans also wanted accountable governance.
The diplomats contended that even with improvements over the last decade, governance overall had struggled, “flat lining” across the continent since 2019, a worrying development since it can affect African Union’s Agenda 2063 goals.
According to the duo, success for democracy in Nigeria – the biggest economy and largest democracy on the continent – has the potential to inspire democracy in neighbouring countries and across the continent, as Nigeria is one of the most influential countries in Africa – and the world.
While much of the world’s attention is “understandably” taken up by headline-grabbing events, such as the Russia/Ukraine conflict and earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, Green and Carson argued that the world could not afford to ignore happenings in Nigeria.
They stated, “However, the international community cannot afford to overlook elections – and importantly, democracy – across Africa this year. Case in point, Nigeria: Africa’s most populous country and one of the world’s largest democracies.
“With projections to become the world’s third most populous country by 2050, it is imperative that a solidified democratic system is established in order to effectively support the people’s needs and promote progress throughout the continent.
“US foreign policy toward Nigeria should focus on proactively strengthening democracy and governance. To help reach this goal, our direct engagement with African leaders and citizens is important – not because we have it perfectly figured out but because we know that democracies build better futures.”
The ambassadors noted that US policy toward Nigeria should consistently advocate strong civil society involvement, fortify political parties, implement checks and balances on government officials, and establish strong legislative systems.
The US and other international partners, the envoys stressed, must continue to support civil society and the institutions that support democratic principles, and in turn, strengthen democracy.
Although the logistical issues associated with the elections disappointed many Nigerians, the ambassadors argued that their continued hope for their country’s democratic system should inspire all.
While elections are an important benchmark in democratic development, they said the real work of building democratic institutions happens between elections.
According to the ambassadors, “What happens over the next weeks and months in Nigeria will be vital. It is important that the president-elect prioritises forming an inclusive government that considers the voices and concerns of all Nigerians.
“On March 18, Nigerians will go back to the polls to vote for their state governors and Houses of Assembly, and there will be several important elections on the continent this year.
“The world should continue to watch the process closely, and ensure that lessons from the Nigeria presidential election are not just recorded but used to strengthen every election that lies ahead.”
The envoys stated that there was no question about the enormous potential that existed in the country and Africa, stressing that the continent can only achieve its full potential if citizens have an opportunity to participate in a democratic process that allows their votes to be cast and their voices to be heard.