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Cablegate: Nigeria: Electoral Reform Committee Takes Recommendations

VZCZCXRO0198
RR RUEHMA RUEHPA
DE RUEHOS #0235/01 1870912
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 050912Z JUL 08
FM AMCONSUL LAGOS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9977
INFO RUEHUJA/AMEMBASSY ABUJA 9675
RHMCSUU/DEPT OF ENERGY WASHINGTON DC
RUEHZK/ECOWAS COLLECTIVE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 LAGOS 000235

SIPDIS

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STATE PASS TDA FOR LFITTS, PMARIN
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E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM NI
SUBJECT: NIGERIA: ELECTORAL REFORM COMMITTEE TAKES RECOMMENDATIONS
IN SOUTHERN GEO-POLITICAL ZONES

1. (U) SUMMARY: Nine months after its inauguration, the Electoral
Reform Committee (ERC) held public hearings. Recommendations from
the three southern zones included: inclusion of civil society as
INEC members, funding of INEC from the Federation Account, staggered
elections, queue voting, issuance of voter ID cards, and reduction
in number of political parties. End Summary.

2. (U) Appointed by President Yar'Adua on August 28, 2007, the 22
member Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) held a series of public
hearings in the south-west cities of Lagos and Ibadan, in the
south-south cities of Calabar and Benin City, and in the South-east
cities of Enugu and Owerri. The hearings followed the same format at
each location: ERC listened to the general public on the first day;
the governments, political parties, electoral commissions, and
security agencies on the second day; and, civil society
organizations, women, media, and other interested groups on the
third day. Justice Muhammadu Lawal Uwais, Chairman of the ERC,
recalled in his opening remarks at each session the terms of
reference drawn up by President Yar'Adua to guide the ERC's work.
They include reviewing past elections and identifying factors that
impacted negatively on their performance; examining the role of
institutions and stakeholders as well as the current electoral act
to determine their impact on the quality of past elections;
prescribing mechanisms to reduce post election violence and
recommending an electoral process that conforms to acceptable
international standards. According to Uwais, the Committee had
received over 200 memoranda from stakeholders all over Nigeria.
Public hearings were held in recognition that some stakeholders were
unable to submit written memoranda, Uwais said. Below follows
recommendations that recurred at each hearing.

---------------------------------------
INEC Must Include Civil Society Members
---------------------------------------

3. (U) Participants criticized the existing manner of appointing
INEC principal officers. (Note: The existing electoral law empowers
the President to appoint the INEC chair and commissioners, subject
to ratification by the Senate of the National Assembly. End Note)
Former Oyo Sate Governor Lam Adesina and former Edo State Governor
John Odigie-Oyegun, among others, proposed that future INEC
officials be drawn from civil society organizations, labor unions,
professional bodies, women, students and religious groups. Other
participants, including Professor Adebayo Williams, Chairman of the
Lagos State Independent Electoral Commission (LASIEC), argued for
the appointment of the INEC chairman by the National Judicial
Council as a way to make INEC more autonomous and non-partisan.
Femi Aborishade, a civil society representative, echoing the
sentiment of many other NGO presenters, demanded that INEC need to
have a budget drawn from the Federation Account, which was not
subject to the discretion of the President, as is presently the
case.

--------------------------------------------- -
Stagger Elections for Efficiency, Transparency
--------------------------------------------- -

4. (U) Several participants criticized the INEC election timetable
that requires elections to be held simultaneously in all states. In
addition to overstretching resources, the arrangement aids election
fraud and other irregularities, they argued. Many presenters
recommended staggered elections to ensure proper coordination and
monitoring by INEC and civil society. Many participants suggested
that each geo-political zone should hold its elections on a
different date.

----------------------------------
Queue Voting, Voter ID Recommended
----------------------------------

5. (U) The majority of presenters who commented on voting procedures
called for modifications to the secret ballot system. Suggestions
included the adoption of queue voting rather than secret ballots and
the immediate display of written result sheets at each polling
station. Participants recognized the fact that this process resulted
in Nigeria's freest and fairest election in 1993, in which Chief
M.K.O Abiola of the now defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) was
elected. Former Lagos Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu called for the

LAGOS 00000235 002 OF 003


institution of a voter identification card, and for the
establishment of an Electoral Security Commission composed of the
police, army, civil society, civil defense, and legal community to
assist with conducting elections.

--------------------------------------------
INEC to Focus on Elections Not Admin Matters
--------------------------------------------

6. (U) Many groups suggested that aspects of INEC's current
responsibilities could be distributed to relevant government
agencies. Doing so will relieve INEC of certain administrative
duties and enable it to concentrate on conducting the elections.
Some examples included: allowing the National Civic Registration
Council to conduct voter registration; giving the National
Directorate of Employment, assisted by security agencies, the task
of handling recruitment and screening of INEC staff; and, assigning
the National Orientation Agency to conduct civic education and
sensitize people on election related matters.

--------------------------------------------- ---
Trim Parties To Avoid Confusion Among Electorate
--------------------------------------------- ---

7. (U) At all hearings, many organizations argued that the existence
of fifty-one registered political parties is inimical to credible
elections. Many presenters, including several political parties,
recommended a two-party system consisting of the two largest
political parties. They alleged that the current proliferation of
parties is responsible for the domination of the Peoples Democratic
Party (PDP) over the political scene. Another contributor wanted
more stringent conditions for party membership. He said politicians
who switch parties should be required to be members of the new party
for two years before being allowed to run for elected office. That,
he said, will discourage politicians who merely join a political
party for personal gain. (Note: Often individuals declare their
candidacies believing that they will be bought off by competitors.
End Note). Some participants argued for equitable media coverage of
and transparent donations to political parties.

--------------------------------------------- ------
No Assumption of Office Until Tribunal Process Ends
--------------------------------------------- ------

8. (U) Participants also suggested that candidates whose election is
disputed not be allowed to assume office until all the petitions
arising from that dispute are decided by the election tribunals.
Representatives of state governments and political parties were
among those who decried the present situation in which elected
officials are removed from office over election related cases
several months after they have been sworn into office. Presenters
proposed deadlines of between three to six months for the
adjudication of election petitions.

--------------------------------------------- ------
Proportional Representation Assures Ethnic Balance
--------------------------------------------- -----

9. (U) Many contributors frowned at the existing electoral
arrangement which, they alleged, denied some political parties and
ethnic groups participation in national and state legislatures.
They urged the ERC to propose an electoral process that will ensure
that legislative seats are allocated in proportion to the votes won
by each political party. Others urged the adoption of a proportional
arrangement that will ensure that many ethnic nationalities are duly
represented.

--------------------------
Punish Electoral Offenders
--------------------------

10. (U) Many participants decried the culture of impunity that
surrounds the electoral process. They testified that existing
electoral laws lack provisions for punishment, including jail terms,
for persons violating electoral laws. The absence of such punitive
measures encourages election fraud and irregularities, they said.
They recommended the establishment of an Election Offences Tribunal
to try electoral officers, party and security agents and others who

LAGOS 00000235 003 OF 003


tamper with the election process.

-------------
Gender Parity
-------------

11. (U) Women's groups at all hearings advanced the argument that
some political offices should be reserved for women, and called for
that policy to be enshrined not only in the electoral law but also
in the Nigerian constitution. The ERC noted that the demand exceeds
the panel's mandate.

12. (U) Comment: The impressive turn out and the well thought out
contributions show that there is no dearth of ideas about how to
conduct fair, credible elections; only political leadership can make
it happen. As many contributors confided privately, they feared
that, despite the hearings, the political leadership and commitment
to really change the electoral system may not be there. Others
expressed fears that, at best, ERC recommendations will be severely
weakened by national legislators whose judgment is influenced by
personal political considerations over national good. End Comment


13. (U) This cable was cleared with Embassy Abuja.

HUDSON

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