This paper is about the role of foreign election observers in democratic elections in Nigeria: a case study of the 2015 presidential elections. The conduct of the 2015 Presidential election in Nigeria recorded mixed outcomes. Although fears that Election Day would be marred by serious violence were allayed to a large extent, some instances of technical hitches, vote buying and other forms of electoral manipulations were recorded in some parts. However, these electoral hitches were not sufficient to alter the expected outcome of the election. For the first time in Nigeria’s political history, an incumbent president lost power in a general election. Has Nigeria’s democracy consolidated satisfactorily? The burden of this paper is to examine the trajectories of the 2015 presidential election relying on both qualitative and quantitative methods of research. The paper concludes that much has to be done if Nigeria’s democracy is to scale the second turn-over test Huntington establishes as the bench mark which if a new democracy survives two turnovers of power, then it has consolidated satisfactorily. By all indices, the election was adjudged free and fair, this much was attested to by international election monitoring teams that monitored the exercised and confirmed that despite few glitches, the exercise met with international best practice.
Nigeria’s politics right from the 90s are usually characterized by violence. It has always been a case that if a candidate loses, he and his party members will take to violence to alleviate their dissatisfaction over the election results. The past (military) and present governments have contributed in encouraging this unnecessary means of reacting to election results (Babatunde, 2007:54). From that time still date, elections in Nigeria are usually known for many irregularities and violence which have affected the economic, social and political stability of the country.
Elections globally are very important practice for both developed and developing country, as it serves as one of the means for sustainable development of a countries(Attahiru, 2011:5). It encourages the practice of democracy, giving the citizens chance to participate in the governance of their country.
Nigeria’s 2015 general election was an election that can never be forgotten in the history of Nigeria. It was an election that left Nigerians in fear of what might be its possible outcome, as the environment was really tensed. The absence of war after the 2015 general elections was a good sign that Nigeria will forever stand united, as there were many speculations from international observers and even from Nigerians that the outcome of the election might possibly lead to war. These fears were very obvious bearing some reasons in mind: first being that there was a strong opposition party that had bounced back stronger to take over from the ruling party of which they succeeded, second being that the economy of the country was under serious attack from the Boko Haram insecurity in the northern part of the country which could discourage voters and finally, it was crystal clear that the electoral body (INEC) was really unprepared as there were noticeable lapses in their conducts; coupled with the postponement of the election from 14th February to 28th March (Onapajo, 2015). Bearing the above points in mind, it was difficult for anyone to expect peaceful elections across the country that was why there were comments from international observers about the 2015 election. The 2015 general election was characterized with the opposition party taking over power from the incumbent president, which has never happened in the history of Nigeria.
Over some decades now, international observers have been witnessing elections in Africa and reporting to the global community on how it went in their host community (Obi and Abutudu, 1999:22). Election monitoring in Africa has gradually been adopted by almost all African countries as a way of strengthening their political processes(Geisla, 1993:56-57). International observers are usually seen as being objective and non-partisan, and this is why their presence is highly needed in the assessment of the performance of the activities of a country during her election.
International observers are not only seen in Africa during elections, but also other western countries of the world (Stack, 1993:22-23). International observers include governmental and non-governmental institutions like Economic Communities of West African States (ECOWAS), United Nations, etc.
The presence of international observers has been witnessed during elections in Nigeria, and the last election which was held in 2015 was not an exemption. According to INEC, 107 election observers were accredited to monitor the 2015 elections. Examples of the group includeInternational Republican Institute (IRI),theEuropean Union Election Observation Mission and National Democratic Institute (NDI). The leader of one of the groups, NDI to be precise commented on how participatory Nigerians were in enfranchising their rights; directly upholding the tenets of democracy. He pointed some of the challenges faced during the election and urged the necessary bodies saddled with fixing such challenges to look into it. One of such challenges was the one tied to the card reader machine, as it was able to read some people’s card and in most cases the reverse was the case. This group equally pointed out the lapses caused by INEC in the delivery of election materials to polling units on time (Andreassen 1993).
Another report from a different international group observer,theEuropean Union Election Observation Mission reported that the 2015 elections were peaceful and the security personnel were at their best in ensuring that it was peaceful.
Nigeria, like most post independent African states is mired in the crisis of under development. The crisis manifested itself in economic, social and political terms. The nation’s politics has become characterized by a winner takes all attitude resulting in violence, corruption, and the entertainment of what is known or called antidevelopment politics. Agreed that military and successive civilian administrations have contributed to this parlous state of affairs, yet the behaviour of Nigerian politicians leaves much to be desired (Babatunde, 2007:53). Indeed, it can be emphatically asserted that between1999-2015, there has been an absence of the politics of relevance in Nigeria. That is, politics geared towards the development of the nation and improvement in the material well-being of the generality of the people. This led to a clarion call for change instead of continuity of the Peoples’ Democracy Party that ruled the country for sixteen years. The change can only come about through free and fair election under the watchful eyes of local and international observers. The 2015 presidential election was very important because of the global ramification. It is interesting to know that elections which normally is a scheduled routine event in which citizens select those who take decisions on their behalf, have become almost the defining events in the Nigeria national life. That Is, elections in Nigeria today are defined in terms such as “do or die”, the “capture” of offices by all means. Yet, this is not unique to Nigeria. Globally, elections have acquired an iconic character and elections have become one of the most visible occupations across the global village (Attahru 2011:4) International election observer’s criss-cross the world today and increasingly intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations are actively engaging in election activities.
The need to study the 2015 presidential election in Nigeria is important because of the position the country occupies in Africa and the interest and respect which the international community have for the state. Also, the need to ascertain whether the independent national electoral commission has improved on the lapses that occurred during the last 2011 general elections. The 2011 election provoked massive anger, condemnations and allegation of electoral fraud of the polls. The study of 2015 the presidential election is very vital in the sense that, it is proper to know whether the measures like card readers machines, permanent voters card, and computerized voters registered list (updated) actually reduced the incidence of electoral fraud in Nigeria. Also, to what extend the election was free and fair as well as conform to the international standard as adjudged by the international observers. Above all, the role, action and assistances which the international observers rendered toward the success or failure of the election (Stack 1993).
This is why this study is carried out to find out the role of foreign electoral observers on election credibility in Nigeria; with a closer look at the recent 2015 elections.