Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tick, Tick…The Clock is Running On Nigeria’s 2011 Elections

This blogspot is part of the series “The Road to Nigeria’s 2011 Elections”

Tick, Tick… What is that sound? Nigeria’s election clock ticking toward a January 2011 election, but much work still needs to be done so that everyone, particularly friends of Nigeria, can begin to exhale that things are on the right track, and moving in the right direction. There has been a mixture of news that shows some progress, but the loudest sound coming from the election clock is the need for a date certain to be set for the election itself by the country’s Independent National Election Commission – more commonly known as INEC. From that point - from that election date - everything else will be determined: how long voter registration can go on, and when the voter registry must be finished.

The last week has had a lot of interesting aspects that are worth noting. First, INEC got most of the money that it requested to conduct the elections, nearly $480 million, which will be used for direct capture machines of voter information in the registration process, voter education, setting up the nearly 120,000-140,000 or more polling places, and deploying both people and resources. Reportedly 360,000 staff are needed to conduct the elections.

Secondly, President Jonathan signed the new 2010 Nigerian Electoral Act on August 20, 2010, ending a fair amount of uncertainty on whether the election will be in January 2011 or April 2011, and finally setting the stage for INEC to decide when in the next 150 days there will be a turning point election for Nigeria. I have been calling this a "Must-Do" election because of the rallying cry of the nation to hold credible and transparent polls. If you are counting both fingers and toes that means the election date should be set before the end of August – only a few days away. There is still a debate out there (and a few legal suits) as to whether President Jonathan has to assent to the constitutional amendment (see blog-itrrs: The Africa Post on constitutional debate) passed in late July 2010, before they are enforce. Despite these suits things appear to be progressing in the direction that the amendments are in force, which call for an election to be held no later than 150 days from Nigeria Democracy Day – May 29, 2011. So this mean, January 2011. INEC’s new Chairman, who all agree is a committed and dedicated Nigerian with integrity and skills, has a lot on his plate, most notably the eyes of the nation and the international community.

However, we must not forget the politics of the day as political parties decide on their next moves. The ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) seems to have figured out how it is going to handle it north-south zoning issues; there is the new Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) - a merger of two parties; and, other political groups are holding meetings to build coalitions.

We all look forward to an election date being announced in the coming days and we continue to encourage the new INEC Chairman as he puts in motion people, resources, manages the politics, and determines the next election steps for this dynamic country of 150 million people as the clock looks like it is ticking toward a January 2011 election. The U.S.-Nigerian Binational Commission will meet this week to have informational meetings on the U.S. Government-UK funded election technical assistance.