port of harlem snippets

July 18 - July 31, 2003


Voting in Nigeria:  An Observer's Point of View

For safety purposes, the government mandated a curfew on electionAlvin Willliams eve.  Local police stood armed at polling places.  The military was on alert in preparation for any major violent outbreaks while members of various political parties engaged in fiery verbal and physical exchanges regarding the election.
In the days preceding the elections, the manner in which a person anticipated the coming elections directly correlated with their party affiliation. Those associated with the People's Democratic Party (PDP), the party to which the President and most of the key legislators belong, eagerly anticipated the elections.

They thought that the results of the pending elections would follow the trend of the April 12th National Assembly elections, with the PDP maintaining control of the government. The opposition parties looked to the elections with more trepidation, punctuated by concerns of voter fraud and other instances of corruption.

Election Day in Cross River State

Dr. Ruth K. Oniang'o, a member of Kenya's Parliament and IRI delegate
, and I observed the elections in Cross River State.  Most of the polling places in Cross River State, like those in most of the country, were outdoors.  The voting process consisted of the voter placing his/her finger on an inkpad and making a "print" near the person's name and/or political party they were supporting.

We saw concerns of fraud and corruption first-hand on election eve when a local citizen showed us marked ballots and pre-marked election result forms for the next day's election. There were several other irregularities.  In several instances, the local police "aided" voters in casting ballots.  Many  polling locations that were open for the April 12th elections were not open for the April 19th elections. Another irregularity affected members of the opposition parties.  Though the Nigerian agency regulating the election process allowed them to have a representative at the polling places, local officials did not allow them this right in

many instances.

An Outlook on the Future of Nigeria's Democracy

While Cross River State is an example of some disheartening elements of the voting process, other states showed progress. In states such as Lagos and Bauchi, IRI observers noted that the government had made slight improvements since the April 12 election on voter privacy and logistical procedures at the polling places.

Great problems still exist in the Nigerian voting procedure. As a country that is a fledgling democracy, we expect such problems. Many concurred that the lack of a truly independent and objective monitoring system is the root of the problem.

As many expected, President Obasanjo won reelection overwhelmingly.  His party remained in control of many states. Overall, I was pleased to have witnessed some of the estimated 60 million voters who participated in the democratic process.

Editor's Note:  Black America's Political Action Committee (BAMPAC) President and CEO Alvin Williams served as an election observer for the April 19, 2003 Nigerian Presidential and Gubernatorial Elections.  The International Republican Institute (IRI), a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization dedicated to advancing democracy worldwide, chose the observers.

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