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Postelection Statement on Nigeria Elections, Feb. 28, 1999

For Immediate Release: Feb. 28, 1999>

The Carter Center and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) offer this preliminary statement on the February 27 presidential election in Nigeria. A more detailed report will be made available at a 10 AM press conference tomorrow following further releases of election results, a more detailed analysis of the observations of our delegation, and of the information collected from the thousands of Nigerian election observers. Our 66-member delegation visited polling stations and collation centers in 20 states and the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja.

The Carter Center/NDI delegation included elected officials, political leaders, regional and election experts form ten countries in Africa, Asia, and North America. The delegation is led by former US President Jimmy Carter, former Niger President Mahamane Ousmane and retired US General Colin Powell. We were invited to participate as international observers by Head of State General Abdulsalami Abubakar and the independent National Election Commission (INEC). During the entire process we received complete cooperation and support from the government, INEC, Nigerian political parties and nongovernmental organizations that monitored the electoral process.

The Carter Center/NDI have made previous reports of their observations of local, state, and national assembly elections to INEC and to the major political parties, including expressions of concern about irregularities witnessed in the national assembly elections of February 20.

Based on our observation of the presidential election of February 27, the delegation noted a number of positive aspects of the process:

  • The delegation recognizes the commitment of the Head of State to move forward with the established transition program, including the transition of power to elected civilian authorities on May 29.
  • The delegation believes that the Chairman and members of INEC and most polling officials made efforts to ensure the integrity of the election.
  • Our delegation was also impressed by the efforts of political parties and civic groups to increase confidence in the election. In addition, the delegation was heartened by the generally peaceful nature of the campaign and voting process.

Finally, and most important, our delegation wants to acknowledge the Nigerian voters, regardless of whom they voted for, who gave voice to the people's overwhelming desire to bring about an end to military rule, and the restoration of civilian government, that can begin to build a democratic system at all levels based on accountability, transparency and the law of rule. These democratic aspirations are the real meaning of the election.

Nigerians must therefore now focus attention on the serious challenges that lie ahead, including the need for civilian oversight of the military, constitutional reform, and public integrity be elected officials and institutions at all levels of government. If these steps are not take, Nigerian citizens may quickly lose confidence in the transition process.

Despite positive developments in the election, our delegation members and others witnessed serious irregularities and/or overt electoral fraud in a number of states. These problems included ballot box stuffing, inflated vote tallies, and manipulation of results. It appeared that many of these electoral abuses were a result of collusion between polling officials and party agents and operatives.

At many polling sites in these places, the serious abnormalities that were observed made it impossible to ascertain the number of voters who actually participated or whether ballots were counted accurately. In some cases, after only a few voters were observed at polling stations, more than 80% were later alleged to have voted, and the votes counted were overwhelmingly in favor of one of the two candidates.

While at this time the delegation has no evidence indicating that the electoral abuses would have affected the overall outcome of the election, they, nevertheless, comprised the integrity of the process in the areas where they occurred. Regrettably, these electoral malpractices where similar to those observed by our delegation during the February 20 National Assembly election. INEC should investigate all documented reports submitted to it, and those responsible should be held accountable according to the law. Nigerians need to be assured of the country's continued progress toward a genuine democratic society in which their rights are respected.

As noted above, tomorrow the delegation will issue a more detailed assessment that will include a series of recommendations on ways to strengthen the election process and enhance confidence in the transition to democratic rule in Nigeria.

The delegation wishes to express its appreciation to all Nigerians who contributed to the delegation's work. NDI and the Carter Center reaffirm their commitment to assisting Nigerians seeking to build and consolidate democratic values, practices, and institutions in their country.

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