The report commissioned by Nigeria's President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua in August 2008 to improve the country's electoral system was released three months ago, but the public has not yet had full access to it. The Uwais report, so- called because the former Chief Justice Muhammadu Lawal Uwais led the 22-member Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) in charge of writing it, was followed by a White Paper that assessed the recommendations from the executive branch's perspective. It was compiled by a committee appointed by President Yar'Adua. The fact that, like the Uwais report, this White Paper has not yet been made public has become an issue of discontent in the country. Naturally prone to conspiracies, some Nigerians feel that antidemocratic forces have hijacked the electoral reform the people looked to with so much hope.
One of the largest obstacles to electoral reform occurred when the Council of State, the committee commissioned to write the White Paper on the Uwais report, was invited to partake in the reform process. The council is comprised of all 36 governors and all ministers in Nigeria-the political elite that has profited the most from incorrect electoral practices. Upon seeing the Uwais report, this group quickly removed the points that would lessen their power. It included the recommendation to dissolve all State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIEC), which implement the election at the local level, and replace them with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Underlying this move was the desire to retain power over the state through gubernatorial appointments of SIEC commissioners and their staff. They were able to justify it by arguing that the provision went against federalism.
Aside from the roadblocks created by interested parties, the Uwais report hampered its own progress by overloading the reform agenda. The report presented 30 items for consideration. From the perspective of election administrators, these are too many to implement within the two year window before the 2011 elections. Further, the committee did not include a tentative timeline or roadmap to implement the reforms, nor did it suggest a monetary budget.
Two examples of recommendations that are impossible to implement before the elections are, first, the establishment of two commissions-one to register and monitor political parties, and another to deal with electoral offenses. The two commissions would have to be established from the scratch. This entails finding buildings in the 36 states, hiring and training staff, and procuring work. Further, before the commissions could be established, their mandate would have to be clarified and approved by the national assembly in order to prevent executive interference. Aside from how difficult it would be to enact all this in the short time period, the means for this project were not allotted in the 2009 budget.
The second example of a recommendation that is impossible to establish within the two-year period is the acquisition of Electronic Voting Machines (EVM). The demand for EVMs is surprisingly strong in Nigeria given the fact that past experience with high-tech devices has been negative. To acquire these machines, Nigeria must go through a tedious specification process that would run longer than the time available before the next election. To begin, the stakeholders would have to come to a consensus as to what type of machine to utilize. This can take time as it requires compromises from all the parties involved. Once the decision is made, a few pilot machines would have to be built and field tested in Nigeria. Upon having tested a few, approximately 250, 000 people would have to be trained on how to work the machine and trouble shooting. The allotment to acquire the machines with this year's budget has also not been made.
Nigerians wish wholeheartedly to see election reform take place in their country. Above all, they would like a new INEC whose chairman and commissioners are appointed by a body independent from the executive branch. Yet for now, the old system, in which the commissioners and the chairman of INEC are appointed by the president and confirmed by the senate, remains. The nomination process is used by many countries, but there is growing discontent over it in Nigeria. Nigerians want to see more integrity in the way that citizens are nominated to higher office. They don't want the process to be a matter of self-interest or patronage. IFES will continue supporting electoral reform and will continue to work towards encouraging decision makers to adopt a feasible and satisfactory reform system for the Nigerian people.