The elections in Nigeria that have brought retired general and former head of state Olusegun Obasanjo to the presidency were conducted under a transition program established by Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, who became head of state on the death in June 1998 of Gen. Sani Abacha. General Abubakar aborted General Abacha's transition program, which seemed intended to install General Abacha himself as a "civilian" president,61 and set a new nine-month timetable for installation of an elected civilian government under conditions of greater openness than had been the case. Abacha's National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON) was dissolved (together with other transitional bodies) and an Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), headed by retired Justice Ephraim Akpata, established in its place to oversee local government elections held on December 5, 1998, state assembly and governorship elections on January 9, 1999, National Assembly elections on February 20, 1999, and presidential elections on February 27, 1999.62 INEC released guidelines for the conduct of each set of elections, and the government also promulgated decrees on the "basic constitutional and transition provisions" relating to the holding of each set of elections; in many cases these decrees were only published days before the election in fact took place.
INEC registered nine parties to contest the local government elections. Of these, three parties, the Peoples' Democratic Party (PDP), the All Peoples' Party (APP), and the Alliance for Democracy (AD), qualified to contest state and national elections.63 For the presidential election, the APP and the AD formed an alliance and presented a joint candidate, Olu Falae of the AD, in order to have a more realistic chance of challenging the PDP's candidate, Olusegun Obasanjo. Both these selections were made less than two weeks before the presidential election.
National and international observers noted widespread irregularities in the conduct of the elections at all stages, including inflated vote returns, ballot box stuffing, altered results, and disenfranchisement of voters, as well as administrative problems such as late delivery of voting materials at a large number of polling stations. Although, in the case of the presidential election, the Carter Center and National Democratic Institute, for example, noted "no systematic evidence indicating that these abuses would have affected the overall outcome of the election," they did conclude that "these abuses may have substantially compromised the integrity of the process in the areas where they occurred."64 The Transition Monitoring Group, a coalition of sixty-three Nigerian human rights and civil society organizations, noted after the presidential elections that a "trend of awarding high votes, or votes in excess of the number of accredited voters, which had been observed during the National Assembly Election assumed much greater proportions during the Presidential Elections," and that "both parties were heavily involved in election malpractices, although it is difficult to say the extent to which the efforts of the two parties canceled each other out."65
Most observers agreed that election malpractices were particularly widespread in the "South-South" zone of the country, the minority areas of the Niger Delta and its environs. Human Rights Watch spoke to many of those deployed in the region, who all reported serious problems on the ground. In many places no elections in fact took place, butwinners were announced nonetheless; in others, bribery and/or intimidation of voters and electoral officers were the norm. Few if any INEC officials have faced disciplinary action as a result of their involvement in such activities. Turnout everywhere was very low.
Within the political parties contesting the elections there were serious problems with lack of internal democracy and respect for party constitutions. In numerous cases, candidates selected at local level for local government positions were replaced at the instance of those more senior in the party; at all levels there was widespread use of bribery and of intimidation of party members by candidates and others to ensure that particular individuals were selected. Because of the short period of time within which the elections were organized, candidates were approved at the last minute, and many voters did not know who the candidates standing for local government or state assembly positions were.
In the riverine areas of Bayelsa and Delta States, there were transportation problems for electoral materials; in at least one case, boats were provided by one of the political parties, allowing a veto on who could travel with the electoral materials.66 In Bayelsa State, local government, state assembly and governorship elections held elsewhere on December 5, 1998 and January 9, 1999 were all held on January 30, having been postponed for logistical reasons and as a result of the New Year disturbances. In Delta State, national assembly elections took place in circumstances of complete disarray in several districts, as INEC and the military administrator issued and countermanded instructions for the polls to be postponed, amid allegations that national PDP party leaders were imposing their choices on the local membership.67
Reported turnout figures for the elections were not plausible in many states across Nigeria, but were particularly incredible in the delta area, where observers present throughout the day at different polling stations noted that very few voters had presented themselves. Most estimated turnout of a maximum of around 20 percent (one hundred people, for the standard minimum 500 registered voters at each polling station), and in the majority of locations 5 percent or less. Yet Rivers, Bayelsa, and Delta States reported 71.08, 69.88 and 45.5 percent turnout, respectively, for the presidential elections, and 64.56, 59.74 and 17.29 percent turnout for the gubernatorial and state assembly elections, based on a voters' register that was already regarded as being of dubious integrity. In areas around Warri, Delta State, for example, many Ijaws refused to register because the government had not created a specifically Ijaw local government area to represent their interests.68
The Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) concluded that in Rivers State "the presidential election witnessed the worst level of malpractice in the state since the commencement of the transition elections."69 Anyakwee Nsirimovu, the coordinator for the TMG in Rivers State noted that there were serious defects throughout the series of elections. During local government elections:
The result sheets were not there in 80 percent of cases—the returning officers just disappeared with them. In Port Harcourt, Obia/Akpor and in Ikwerre local government areas I confronted electoral officers at collation centers who were filling in the results right there, when they should have just been adding them up. Some of those filling in the results were party politicians. There was heavy security, lots of MoPo andarmy. Returning officers bringing in an AD [Alliance for Democracy] result were taken to the police station a number of times: one guy, Akamey Worlu, the returning officer for Elelenwo community in Obia/Akpor local government area, was locked up for one week in Obia/Akpor police station, then moved to the SIIB [State Intelligence and Investigation Bureau] cells in Port Harcourt. He was eventually taken to court and released on bail. He had been offered _15,000 ($167) by the PDP [Peoples' Democratic Party] to change the result and he had refused, so they said it was electoral malpractice. It was the same story for the state assembly and governorship elections. On January 9, my wife was monitoring and at one place found the papers were missing. She traced them, and found PDP party agents stamping the ballot papers and filling the ballot box in someone's living room. She was threatened, but eventually allowed to go—but was not allowed into the collation center. At Obia/Akpor I myself approached a policeman at the collation center, who said the order was that no observer was allowed, and threatened me with his gun.70
Other observers in the area noted similar results. Uche Okwukwu, a lawyer who handles many civil rights cases who was elected to the Rivers State state assembly on the APP ticket for the Ikwerre constituency, commented to Human Rights Watch:
There was no election. It was all rubbish. ... Most electoral officers, from polling clerks and party agents to returning officers and presiding officers are poor, illiterate and biased. To a large extent they favor the candidates that they have been bribed to favor. For example, in Ubima ward, where my opponent comes from, I had thirty-nine votes, because my supporters were not allowed to vote, and he had six thousand or more. In my ward in Elele, he had 170 votes, and I had 7,118. In some wards there was no election at all, and votes were just allocated. ... On election day, very few people came out to vote; the results that are published are not the actual results, for all parties concerned. Everybody used some level of intimidation and bribery. Mostly it was not thumbprinting ballot boxes, but just a question of arresting the returning officers and bribing them to write the results. There was nothing like free and fair here.71
Human Rights Watch itself was present during the presidential elections in Rivers State. Turnout appeared to be very low, with virtually nobody visibly voting, yet at the great majority of polling stations the officially reported results indicated 100 percent turnout, often all voting for the PDP. At Ibaa-Omuikea community, there were 569 votes for the PDP and none for the APP/AD at one polling station; at another there were 499 votes for the PDP and one for the APP/AD. At the majority of polling stations, there was no APP/AD party agent present at the polling station, but only a representative of the PDP. In most cases, the ballot boxes were not locked, or, if they were, the key was in the lock. At several polling stations, including the girls' secondary school in Rumueme community on the edge of Port Harcourt, ballot boxes were filled with neatly and uniformly folded papers, all marked for the PDP. At the school, only 129 people had been accredited to vote, yet 231 votes were recorded for the PDP, and twelve for the APP/AD.72
The defects in the electoral process in the delta region in particular may have serious consequences. If the representatives of the delta region in local, state, and national democratic institutions are not in fact representative, then the chances of their responding to the grievances of the peoples living in their constituencies are substantially reduced.
61 See, "Permanent Transition: Current Violations of Human Rights in Nigeria," A Human Rights Watch Short Report, September 1996, and "Transition or Travesty? Nigeria's Endless Process of Return to Civilian Rule," A Human Rights Watch Short Report, October 1997.
62 INEC was established under the Independent National Electoral Commission (Establishment, etc.) Decree No. 17 of 1998, and the Independent National Electoral Commission (Establishment, etc.) (Amendment) Decree, No. 33 of 1998. The timetable for the transition was set out in the Transition to Civil Rule (Political Programme) Decree, No.34 of 1998, and in a Transitional Time Table released by INEC on August 21, 1998. See also Simon Clarke and Susan L. Palmer, Report of the AAEA/IFES Observation of the Transitional Elections in Nigeria, December 1998—February 1999 (Washington DC: Association of African Election Authorities and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, March 29, 1999) for a discussion of the background to the elections.
63 As in previous transitions, the Political Parties (Registration and Activities) Decree, No. 35 of 1998, and regulations made by INEC under the decree, set out rules providing for political parties to have a national support base. The AD, whose support is primarily in the south west of the country, was registered (although it did not fulfil the requirement to have 5 percent support in local government elections in at least twenty-four (of thirty-six) states), under an amendment to the guidelines which provided (essentially to accommodate the AD) that where only two parties provisionally registered for the local government elections achieved this threshold the next most successful party should also be registered.
64 Statement of the Carter Center/NDI International Observer Delegation to the Nigerian Presidential Election, March 1, 1999. See also Statement of the NDI/Carter Center January 1999 Election Assessment Delegation to Nigeria, January 12, 1999; Statement of the NDI/Carter Center Election Assessment Delegation to Nigeria, December 8, 1998; Simon Clarke, Trefor Owen and Susan L. Palmer, Local Government Elections in Nigeria: December 5, 1999; The Report of the AAEA/IFES Joint International Observer Mission (Washington DC: Association of African Election Authorities and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, January 1, 1999).
65 Interim Report of the Transition Monitoring Group on the Presidential Elections Held on Saturday 27th February 1999 (Lagos, March 1, 1999).
66 Interim Report of the Transition Monitoring Group on the National Assembly Elections Held on Saturday 20th February 1999 (Lagos, February 22, 1999).
67 Christian Ita, "Crisis of Delta PDP," This Day (Lagos), February 24, 1999; Ehichioya Esomon, "In Delta, vested interests at work," Guardian (Lagos), February 26, 1999.
68 Figures for turnout taken from INEC statistics published in Clarke and Palmer, Report of the AAEA/IFES Observation of the Transitional Elections in Nigeria. The turnout figure for Bayelsa State was initially reported as 119 percent in the gubernatorial elections and 123 percent in the presidential elections. These figures were, apparently, based on incorrect figures for voter registration and were corrected when INEC adjusted its registration figures to 873,000 for Bayelsa State. Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Simon Clarke, International Foundation for Electoral Systems, April 14, 1999.
69 Report of the Transition Monitoring Group on the Presidential Election, March 1, 1999.
70 Human Rights Watch interview, February 12, 1999.
71 Human Rights Watch interview, February 15, 1999.
72 In order to prevent multiple voting, the required procedure on the day of the poll was for voters to come to the polling station to be "accredited" by having their name checked off against the voters' register, and to remain there until voting began, when they would mark the ballot paper and actually vote. In practice, accreditation and voting either took place together, or, if at different times, voters were not kept at the polling booth.
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