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2014-01-27 10.55.30

CSIS launched its Nigeria Election Forum, with support from the Ford Foundation, yesterday on the theme of ‘Preparing for Nigeria’s 2015 Elections: Key Challenges and Priorities.’  Attahiru Jega, the Chair of Nigeria’s Electoral Comission (INEC) was the keynote speaker and took up well over half of the allotted two hours.  A panel of Nigerian civil society activists followed, alas I had to return to work and was not able to hear their remarks.

Jega, who like President Jonathan is an academic (PhD in Political Science from Northwestern), gave the audience the assurance that the ‘2015 elections will be much, much better than 2011’ and that overall, the prospects for successful elections were ‘bright.’

I hold the CSIS Africa Program in very high regard and am quite pleased that they’ve launched their Forum over a year before the elections are scheduled, in February 2014 (if only DC had given such attention to Zimbabwe).  The Forum is sponsored by the Ford Foundation, who had a representative speak briefly at the beginning of the event.  She noted that the Forum’s goals are threefold:

  1. Have stakeholders (especially Nigerians) contribute to the Forum in advance of the elections
  2. Sensitize US policymakers to 2015 election issues
  3. Ensure that participants get a balanced view of Nigeria that moves beyond the usual ‘gloom and doom.’ [It would seem to me that this is dependent on what happens.  As I heard Amb. Campbell remark at Brookings recently, Nigeria is in a ‘hard place.’]

I found Jega’s remarks to be much less inspiring than another Nigerian functionary I recently heard speak around town, but he was quite thorough.  He began by referring to the success of the 2011 elections (which he also managed), the challenges that remain, and rather intriguingly, noted that ‘Nigeria is a country in transition to democracy.’  I must confess that at times, my mind wandered, which I don’t remember happening as much when I heard him speak at SAIS in 2011.  Fortunately, I don’t think I was the only one to succumb to that temptation.

He listed an array of actions that INEC is taking to increase the legitimacy of Nigerian elections.  These include the use of a biometric voter’s roll, a modified ballot system, serial numbers on ballots, and youth volunteers – recent student graduates participating in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).   Jega noted that these young volunteers ‘did their job with passion, commitment, and integrity’ in the last Presidential election.  I was surprised by the promotion of the role of the NYSC, particularly as the volunteers, who are posted far from their home regions, were the targets of violent acts following the 2011 elections.  He also noted the creation of a consultative committee on elections composed of government agencies with security responsibilities.

He noted some lessons that INEC has learned as a result of the 2011 election experience.  They struck me as coming across even flatter than some of the recent comments I’ve made during job interviews.  Illustrative examples –

Lesson 1:  ‘Good elections require adequate and timely planning.’

Lesson 2:  Elections should be ‘more open and more transparent.’

If this is the learning curve at which INEC is starting, I’m hesitant to embrace Jega’s optimism.

Jega noted three focal points of INEC for the 2015 elections – structure, policy, and planning.  He noted that funding is a challenge, that voters are apathetic, and called on civil society to play its role as well.  Although Jega says that Nigerians ‘have to be optimists’, I’m doubtful that optimism will translate into a concrete positive result.  If Goodluck Jonathan doesn’t run for another term, than I’d be more inclined to take those words back.

I met Johnnie Carson while leaving, that was pretty cool, and he was very personable.  That’s his back below.

2014-01-27 11.14.09