Background Briefing

The Role of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)

The Lessons of 2003

There were many criticisms leveled at INEC after the 2003 elections, most importantly the charge that the voters register was so seriously flawed as to undermine the credibility of the entire election. The chief press secretary to the chairman of INEC, Andy Ezeani, admitted to HRW that the 2003 register was “25-30 percent fiction,” in that it was full of ghost voters and fake names.60

According to the European Observer Mission in Nigeria, in the run up to the general election of 2003, “[s]erious shortcomings were noted in relation to the voters lists and the transparency of the implementing bodies.”61 In its final report, the EUEOM made numerous recommendations for the overhaul of INEC to remedy many of the shortcomings of its performance in 2003 elections. In particular, it recommended that the 37 state-wide voters registers be merged into one public, challengeable document. It also recommended that INEC’s independence be strengthened so it is able to carry out its duties free from political influence.62

As Nigeria approaches its next general election, it appears that INEC has not learnt the lessons of its previous failures. The registration of voters and the transparency of the register are once more the subject of controversy and the independence of INEC is again in question in the run up to the April elections.

The Independence of INEC

The way in which INEC has carried out its duties has drawn criticism from all political parties, the Nigerian Bar Association and Nigerian civil society groups as well as Human Rights Watch.63 Controversy has surrounded INEC’s claim that it has the right to screen candidates and bar them from competing if it finds them ineligible to contest under the provisions of Nigeria’s constitution. On the basis of these powers INEC has said that, unless instructed otherwise by the courts, it will bar a number of prominent opposition candidates from appearing on the ballot in the general elections, including Vice President Atiku Abubakar and opposition candidates in several key gubernatorial races.

Despite a Court of Appeal ruling that Atiku should be allowed to contest, INEC has resisted implementing the judgment and is contesting it in the Supreme Court. At the same time, the chairman of INEC, Maurice Iwu, has indicated that INEC may conceivably decide not to comply with any eventual court ruling ordering it to reverse its actions. Iwu argues that by then there would be no time for the ballot papers to be re-printed before the polls.64 This controversy is discussed at length below.65

Poor Capacity

INEC has been hampered by the slow passage of the Electoral Act of 2006, which only entered into law on June 22, 2006.66 This delayed the preparations for registration and for the election itself.

INEC has received considerable support through a UNDP-coordinated donor basket fund which represents the combined efforts of several key donors to support the electoral process, with INEC as one of its primary beneficiaries.67 Other donors have offered to provide additional technical support and funding to INEC where the commission has indicated that it has needs. However, groups working with INEC to provide staff training and other technical assistance confirmed to Human Rights Watch that the training process is not progressing well and is behind schedule.68 Nonetheless, in 2007 INEC has indicated to several donor governments that it has not been in need of any further financial assistance to carry out its mandate to prepare for the elections.69

INEC intends to recruit roughly 500,000 ad hoc staff to assist in the conduct of the elections. The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) also offered to provide 20,000 registered lawyers to work as ad hoc staff on a pro bono basis.70 INEC told the NBA in response that lawyers could apply in an individual capacity to serve as ad hoc staff in their own states but not as representatives of the NBA. It refused an official relationship with the NBA. The NBA then requested observer status but was told that it had missed the deadline and could only participate as members of another accredited observer team. The NBA has therefore agreed to work with the Alliance for Credible Elections (ACE).71 The attitude of INEC to a constructive offer of assistance from qualified lawyers is disappointing and raises questions about its commitment to ensuring the highest quality process.

Registration Problems

Numerous problems beset the registration process, which got off to a very slow start owing to a host of logistical failures on the part of INEC. Human Rights Watch recorded complaints from some voters in Anambra state, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and Oyo state who said that they had difficulty registering because registration officials continuously moved registration teams around to different sites without informing members of the public.72 Other would-be voters in these areas also complained that they were not able to register because of what registration officials described to them as technical difficulties including inadequate ink and run-down batteries for the Direct Data Capture (DDC) machines procured especially for the exercise.73 In some cases, registration staff reportedly asked that would-be voters pay for the ink needed to print the voter ID cards or demanded outright bribes in return for simply doing their jobs.74

A further problem is that several citizens in Oyo and FCT told Human Rights Watch they were informed by INEC officers at polling stations that they could register anywhere and that they could still vote in their home polling station.75 This was also the message Human Rights Watch received from the chief press officer at INEC: “Registration is local government-based; you can register anywhere.”76 However, only several offices away, the director of registration at INEC said: “People were supposed to register at their known polling unit.”77

This lack of clarity could well be a barrier to people expressing their right to vote.78 Having registered somewhere else because they failed to find a registration unit open in their area, voters may show up to vote on polling day at their usual location and find that they are not on the list. If INEC’s own press secretary is apparently unaware of the procedure for registering and voting, INEC’s voter education efforts do not inspire confidence.

Under the terms of the Electoral Act, voters are allowed to change their place of registration by written application to INEC.79 However, INEC has not conducted any effective public awareness campaign to inform voters of this possibility or of the need to do so, and as of the end of February INEC’s director of registration told Human Rights Watch that they had “not yet received a single request for such a move.”80

One way to reduce the possible confusion that may erupt on polling day would be to publish the register in each polling station ahead of time, especially because there will not be freedom of movement on voting day itself.81 According to the Electoral Act, INEC is required to publish the voters register “no later than 60 days before a general election.”82

When asked whether the voters register would be published, INEC’s response was evasive. The director of registration said that the list would not be published due to funding constraints and issues of timing. Instead he maintained that the register is available for anyone that seeks a copy, and that INEC would be providing electronic copies of the final register to all political parties.83 

The Credibility of the Voters Register

Before the 2003 general elections, the Carter Center/National Democratic Institute monitoring team criticized INEC for not displaying the register adequately and warned that, “Unresolved problems with the voter register will result in increased tensions during the elections and may disenfranchise large numbers of eligible voters and allow others to vote fraudulently.”84 Despite those four years of advanced warning, similar concerns have emerged in the run-up to the 2007 polls.

In December, IDASA reported that in Oyo, Lagos, Ekiti, Delta and Cross River state in most areas the DDC machines failed and “a less than acceptable percentage of eligible voters has so far been registered in those states.”85 In January and February, the numbers of voters registered rose dramatically according to published INEC figures and the director of registration at INEC.

INEC maintains that “registration went on very well,”86 while at the same time acknowledging major failings in the registration process. Registration started with 1000 DDC machines instead of the 33,000 anticipated and required. Moreover, according to INEC’s director of registration, the machines had a short battery life so were very inefficient.87 He said that the pace of registration picked up dramatically with INEC’s eventual acquisition of adequate supplies of registration equipment, to such an extent that during the final three days of registration INEC claimed to have registered ten million voters.88

NGOs and diplomats alike expressed surprise at the dramatic increase in the pace of registration in the closing stages of the exercise. Expressing a skepticism widely shared among other observer groups, an official with one western organization that will monitor the April polls told Human Rights Watch that the registration of so many voters in the waning days of the exercise “might technically be possible, but it’s hard to imagine that it actually took place.”89

One civil society activist in Ibadan who requested anonymity told Human Rights Watch that he saw a bus unloading people to register who pushed to the head of the queue and who then, having registered, gave their cards to their leader, one by one.90

INEC eventually reported that 61 million voters were registered in total, which would constitute a very high percentage of the total voting-age population of Nigeria, estimated at around 70 million.91 This is seemingly at odds with anecdotal evidence suggesting that there were significant numbers of eligible voters who were unable or unwilling to register. Human Rights Watch heard numerous such accounts in Oyo, Anambra, Lagos and Delta States along with the FCT. INEC says that it has no estimate of the numbers of eligible voters who were unable to register.92

Inadequate Display of Voters Register

The Electoral Act of 2006 stipulates that the voters register should be publicly displayed so that voters can check whether their names have been included and to challenge the names of others that they feel may not have the right to be on the list.93 This is crucial because of the transparency that it could lend to the voters register and especially important since the integrity of the register has been questioned.

INEC announced that display would take place from February 5 to 10, the minimum number of days allowed under the Electoral Act.94 However, INEC itself admitted that, “Because of some of the delays at registration, we did not have such an elaborate display as we would have liked.”95 In fact, in many areas it appears that display did not take place at all. One western diplomatic source responded to INEC’s claims of having conducted a successful display by stating, “That’s just crazy. I have no doubt that in a few token places the list was posted but in most areas the list was not posted.”96

Uche Onyeaguocha, the gubernatorial candidate in Imo state for the opposition party Action Congress, claimed that in all of Imo state the list had not been displayed, in contravention of the law.97 Human Rights Watch heard complaints from many citizens in Ibadan, Abuja, Awka and Asaba who had been unable to find the list displayed in their Local Government Area.98

INEC’s failure to fully display the register only serves to fuel suspicions about the credibility of the list and to sow confusion among voters who should be able to find out if they are registered in the right place, or even registered at all.

Verification of the Register

One of the principle reasons for INEC’s use of DDC machines to register voters is that they provide INEC the opportunity to prevent multiple registrations and to remove ghost voters fairly simply by looking for duplicates of the fingerprints recorded as part of the registration process. The DDC machines were thus expected to eliminate the massive numbers of fraudulent voters that padded the voters roll in 2003.

However, in February INEC told Human Rights Watch that it was not clear “whether we will have time to remove all the duplicate names.”99  If true, INEC’s inability to organize the registration process on time will mean that one of the principle flaws of the last election could well be repeated. In addition, it would undermine one of the main reasons for spending so much money and effort on registering voters using the DDC machines.

60 Human Rights Watch interview, Abuja, February 22, 2007.

61 European Election Observation Mission to Nigeria (2003), Third Preliminary Statement, Abuja, May 5, 2003 also at

62 European Union Election Observation Mission to Nigeria (2003), Final Report, pp 55-57 also at:

63 See Human Rights Watch, “A Human Rights Agenda for Nigeria’s General Elections 2007 and beyond”, Briefing Paper Number 2, February 26, 2007, and also Davidson Iriekpen, “NBA Warns INEC on Candidates' Disqualification,” The Vanguard, March 12, 2007, Anayo Okoli, “INEC’s poll list, Obi, Ngige, CLO, others react” This Day March 10, 2007.

64 Luka Biluyat and Emmanuel Ulayi, “INEC clears 486 for Guber Polls,” The Vanguard, March 9, 2007.

65 See below, Abuse of State Power.

66 Federal Republic of Nigeria Official Gazette, No. 42 Vol. 93, Lagos, 22 June, 2006.

67 Human Rights Watch interviews with UNDP officials, Abuja, February 22, 2007. The Joint Basket’s contributors are DfID, the UNDP, the EU and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

68 Human Rights Watch interview with NGO officials, Abuja, February 21, 2007.

69 Human Rights Watch interviews with DfID and US government officials, Abuja, February 2007.

70 Human Rights Watch interview with Olisa Agbakoba, Lagos, February 5, 2007.

71 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with assistant to Olisa Agbakoba, president of the NBA, March 15, 2007.

72 Human Rights Watch interviews with residents Ibadan, February 8, 2007, Abuja, February 20, 2007 and Awka, February 16, 2007. According to INEC, the reason for rotating the Direct Data Capture (DDC) machines used in the registration process between different sites was that INEC did not have enough DDC machines to spread across all polling stations at the same time.

73 Ibid.

74 Ibid and Austin Ogwuda, “INEC’s staff demand money for registration in Delta,” The Vanguard, January 22, 2007.

75 Human Rights Watch interview with NGO representatives, Ibadan, February 8, 2007 and Human Rights Watch interview with NGO representatives, Abuja, February 20, 2007.

76 Human Rights Watch interview with Andy Ezeani, Lagos, February 22, 2007.

77 Human Rights Watch interview with Tunde Adesina, director of registration, INEC, Abuja, February 22, 2007.

78  General Comment No. 25 explains that "states must take effective measures to ensure that all persons entitled to vote are able to exercise that right. Where registration of voters is required, it should be facilitated and obstacles to such registration should not be imposed. …  Any abusive interference with registration or voting as well as intimidation or coercion of voters should be prohibited by penal laws and those laws should be strictly enforced. Voter education and registration campaigns are necessary to ensure the effective exercise of article 25 rights by an informed community.” Human Rights Committee, General Comment 25 (57), Adopted by the Committee at its 1510th meeting, July 12, 1996, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.7.

79 Electoral Act of Nigeria 2006, 14 (1) A person who before the election is resident in a constituency other than the one in which he was registered may apply to the resident electoral commissioner of the state where he is currently resident for his name to be entered on the Transferred Voters List for the constituency.

80 HRW interview with Tunde Adesina, director of registration, INEC, Abuja, February 22, 2007.

81 Vehicular traffic will be virtually eliminated on election day for reasons of security, in effect meaning that voters can only travel as far as they are willing to walk in order to vote. Human Rights Watch interviews with INEC officials, Abuja, February 2007.

82 Electoral Act of Nigeria, 2006, 21. No later than 60 days before a general election, the supplementary voters list shall be integrated with the voters register and published.

83 HRW interview with Tunde Adesina, director of registration, INEC, Abuja, February 22, 2007.

84 National Democratic Institute and Carter Center, Second Report by the National Democratic Institute and The Carter Center on the 2003 Nigerian Electoral Process, March 16-21, 2003 also at (accessed March 13, 2007).

85 IDASA “Conflict Tracking Dossier,” Issue 4, December 2006, p.6.

86 Human Rights Watch interview with Tunde Adesina, director of registration, INEC, Abuja, February 22, 2007.

87 Ibid.

88 Ibid.  Registration was originally slated to end on January 30 but the exercise was ultimately extended through February 2.

89 Human Rights Watch interview, Abuja, [Date Withheld], February 2007.

90 Human Rights Watch interview with resident, [name withheld], Ibadan, February 10, 2007.

91 The recently concluded national census was controversial and hotly disputed by state and municipal authorities but estimated Nigeria’s total population at 140 million. INEC has reportedly stated that it operates on the assumption that roughly 50 percent of the total population is eligible to vote. Forthcoming report from international organization, on file with Human Rights Watch. 

92 Ibid.

93 Electoral Act of Nigeria 2006, sec. 20.

94 Section 20 of the Electoral Act requires the display period to last between five and 14 days.

95 Human Rights Watch interview with Andy Ezeani, Abuja, February 22, 2007.

96 Human Rights Watch interview with western diplomatic official, Abuja, February 20, 2007.

97 Ifedayo Sayo and Charles Ogugbuaja, “AC decries non-display in Imo” The Guardian, Lagos, March 7, 2007.

98 Human Rights Watch interviews, Ibadan, Abuja, Asaba, Awka, February 9-February 22, 2007.

99 Human Rights Watch interview with Tunde Adesina, INEC, Abuja, February 22, 2007.