What they’re saying about the elections

Power transfers from soldiers to civilians, concession speeches, post-poll lawsuits, unprecedented violence - West Africa has seen mixed outcomes in recent elections, and the region’s most populous country and largest economy is up next: Nigerians are scheduled to vote for a president, legislators and state governors in the coming weeks.

Various think tanks and rights groups have been examining election-related violence, calling on candidates and new leaders to safeguard Nigerians' rights, suggesting measures for avoiding a repeat of the nearly universally condemned 2007 elections, and recommending what’s needed to seal much-needed reforms. Observers say with these polls Nigeria could either explode or blossom. Here is a selection of recent reports (in no particular order):

The International Crisis Group says the head of the Independent National Election Commission “carries the expectations of the nation” but has had just a few months in office to prepare for such a complex set of polls. “He inherited an organisation complicit in the 2007 fraud” whose rough start has been a reminder of challenges, the report says. 

Elections in Nigeria

2 April - Members of Parliament
9 April - President
16 April - State governors

Pointing to chaos in the region’s second-largest economy, Crisis Group says: "Laurent Gbagbo’s attempt to defy democracy in Côte d’Ivoire is casting a shadow throughout the continent; the [Nigerian] elections will resonate, for good or ill, well beyond national borders. Nigeria’s prestige and capacity to contribute to international peace and stability are at stake."

A US Institute of Peace paper from December 2010 says success would require robust enforcement of election law in the short- and long-term, with the judiciary stepping up to prosecute fraud and the eventual creation of a commission specializing in electoral crimes.

In an 18 March report titled Loss of life, insecurity and impunity in the run-up to Nigeria's elections, Amnesty International says violence has increased in the past six months, with few people held accountable for the “politically-motivated” killings and “increasing intimidation and harassment…of human rights defenders and journalists, who play a key role in monitoring” the elections.

A panel of Nigerian and international human rights experts on 8 March debated concerns over “logistical hurdles” and the challenges of “maintaining an open and secure environment for political contestation”. The Open Society Justice Initiative and Right to Know (R2K), a Nigerian open government group, on 18 March called on parliament to pass legislation that “genuinely enhances public access to official information”.

Photo: Aminu Abubakar/IRIN
"Nigeria’s prestige and capacity to contribute to international peace and stability are at stake," Crisis Group says

Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a “human rights agenda” released on 28 March sets out issues candidates and leaders should address in a country “with profound human rights challenges”. HRW makes recommendations on inter-communal violence, the conduct of security forces, government corruption, the Niger Delta and elections, saying the upcoming polls could either further entrench the conditions eroding Nigerians' human rights or mark a step towards improving governance and the people's lives.

The Nigerians Talk blog has a discussion on a number of election-related topics, including the electoral commission’s social networking efforts and why politicians and candidates can no longer ignore the country’s formidable youth constituency.

The youth "is finally awake", says Nigerian writer and analyst Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in a commentary for the Guardian (UK). She compares the Egyptian revolution with the political situation in Nigeria, where she says that despite years of military dictatorship the political climate is “not repressive - the press is relatively free, people are no longer under the spell of fear". Noting that an estimated 70 percent of Nigeria’s population is under 35, Adichie expresses hope that the “slow-burning but intense awakening” of young people in Nigeria could “yet be the making of a great revolution” akin to those under way across the Arab world.