It is election season in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation. This is the fifth election cycle in the country since democracy was restored in 1999 after many years of military rule. Elections conducted since then, particularly presidential elections, had been marred with various controversies, including violence and poll rigging. Nonetheless, the country has reportedly shown incremental improvements in every election cycle, with the last election cycle in 2011 being called its freest and fairest. However, in that year, eight-hundred people died and over 65 thousand people were displaced as the result of election-related violence.
As the Nigerians prepare to go to the polls this election cycle, individuals interested in the country’s politics may have some questions about aspects of the process and the challenges involved. Part of a new In Custodia Legis series, “Frequently Asked Legal Questions” (FALQs), this post seeks to address some of these questions.
1. When will the elections take place?
Originally, presidential and National Assembly elections were scheduled to take place on February 14, while elections for state house assemblies and most gubernatorial offices were slated to follow in two weeks, on February 28. However, citing security concerns, on February 7, 2015, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Nigeria’s election management body, moved the election dates to March 28 and April 11, 2015, respectively.
This decision was possible under Nigeria’s electoral laws. In 2010, Nigeria reformed its electoral legal framework in preparation for the 2011 elections. preparation for the 2011 elections (for more on the reforms, see a 2011 Law Library report). As part of this reform, INEC’s authority was expanded, including its powers to postpone elections.
Prior to the reform, INEC was constitutionally required to schedule presidential elections “not earlier than sixty days and no later than thirty days before the expiration of the term of office of the last holder of that office.” Given that the term of the incumbent president expires on May 28, 2015, elections under that rule would have had to take place between March 28 and April 27, 2015.
As part of the reform of the electoral legal framework the country’s relevant laws were amended in 2010 to give INEC a wider window for scheduling elections. Under the new rules, INEC is required to schedule an election “not earlier than one hundred and fifty days and not later than thirty days before the expiration of the term of office of the last holder of that office.” Significantly, INEC was also given the power to postpone elections. However, it may do so only for good reason: if “there is reason to believe that a serious breach of the peace is likely to occur if the election is proceeded with on that date or [if] it is impossible to conduct the elections as a result of natural disasters or other emergencies.”
INEC has the authority to postpone the presidential election again so long as it is within the constitutionally mandated date; at least a month before May 28.
2. How many positions will be filled as a result of the elections?
Home to over 177 million people, Nigeria is a federation of thirty-six states. As mandated by the 1999 Constitution, Nigeria conducts elections for various federal and state political offices every four years.
Nigeria has a bicameral legislative body composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives. There are three senatorial districts in each of the thirty-six states, and the federal capital, Abuja, is counted as one district, which brings the total number of senators to 109. For purposes of allocating seats in the House of Representatives, Nigeria is divided into 360 federal constituencies, each of which is represented by one member in the House. For the purpose of presidential elections, the federation is considered to be one constituency in which everyone who qualifies to vote for a member of a legislative house is eligible to vote.
Each state has a legislative body known as a House of Assembly, with the number of seats ranging from 24 to 40, representing in as far as it is possible an equally divided number of residents. For purposes of gubernatorial elections, each state is considered to be one constituency, in which everyone qualified to vote in state assembly elections is eligible to vote.
3. How many parties and candidates are competing for federal political offices?
Nigeria is a multiparty system and at present there are twenty-eight registered political parties. However, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressive Congress (APC) are by far the most prominent.
Founded in 1998, the PDP, which is represented by the incumbent president Goodluck Johnathan in the presidential poll, has ruled the country uninterrupted since 1999. In the 2011 elections, the party garnered close to 60% of the votes cast.
Formed in 2013, the APC is a coalition of four of the country’s biggest opposition parties with support both in the Muslim-north and Christian-south: the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), and a faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). Representing APC in the presidential poll is Muhammadu Buhari, a former general who once briefly led Nigeria after a coup. This is his fourth time running for president; in the 2011 elections he gained around 32% of the votes cast. Last year, many prominent members of the PDP, including 37 members of the House (giving APC a majority in the body) and 11 senators, have left the PDP to join the APC.
INEC makes available on its website lists of all the candidates for the presidency (fourteen in total, two of whom are women), the House of Representatives, the Senate; and state assemblies and governorships.
4. What is Nigeria doing to ensure the elections are free and fair?
There are currently 68.8 million registered voters in the country. Nigeria has around 120 thousand polling units around the country, each of which serves an average of 573 voters. A plan to create an additional 30 thousand polling units ahead of this election season was suspended after it proved controversial.
INEC is said to have taken a number of measures to ensure the credibility of the 2015 elections. Key among these is the distribution of smart card-based voter identification cards (Permanent Voter Cards or PVCs) intended to reduce voter fraud. However, close to 35% of those registered to vote have yet to be issued cards, without which they will not be able to vote. In an attempt to rectify this problem, INEC recently extended the deadline for collecting PVCs, initially set for February 8, by about one month.
INEC has also accredited 88 local and international election observer groups this election season. In addition, INEC is seeking to essentially crowd-source the task of monitoring elections by encouraging voters to bring their cameras to the polling units and record and report any irregularities.
5. What are some of the Challenges facing the 2015 elections?
The 2015 election is expected to be the closest the country has seen since the restoration of a democratic system. The elections are also likely to be tense for various other reasons, including the north-south, Christian-Muslim divides. There is fear that violence may occur regardless of the outcome. So much so that the presidential candidates felt compelled to sign a nonviolence pledge commonly known as the “Abuja Accord.”
Another major problem is of course that Boko Haram has destabilized large areas in the northeast of the country. The Boko Haram attacks are said to have displaced around 1.5 million people and the continuous attacks threaten the possibility of peaceful elections in the north. It also remains unclear how many of the displaced persons will be able to vote.
As noted above, this post is part of our new series, FALQs. We hope that posts like this will answer questions that our readers may have about current issues and events. Below are links to posts that have been published in this series so far: