Additionally, INEC in its drive for transparency and accountability also “redefined” its mode of engagement with key stakeholders, such as the political parties, civil society organisations, media, security operatives, the government as well as traditional and religious leaders.
According to Jega, INEC like other EMBs in Africa “strove for impartiality, non-partisanship and integrity and “struggled with corruption within and outside,” and “with ethno-religious mobilisation.”
The Jega-led INEC is widely acknowledged to have delivered a credible election in Nigeria, with abiding lessons for Africa to move forward.
In his modest unassuming style, Jega is not unmindful that a lot still needs to be done on the difficult route to electoral integrity in Nigeria and the rest of Africa.
For instance, he lists “outstanding challenges” to include: voter education for increased participation; updating and clean-up of the Voter’s Register; change management training for staff; ethno-religious mobilisation, checking the influence of money in politics; technology adaptation and the “do-or-die mind-set of politicians.”
“The key challenge now is how to ensure sustainability, and incremental value addition of electoral integrity, not to allow reversal of the gains made,” Jega counselled.
Another presidential election is due in Nigeria in 2019 and the world is certainly watching with a keen interest.
But the lessons from Nigeria cannot be lost on the rest of Africa, especially the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which places a very high premium on electoral integrity and Electoral Assistance to its 15 member States.
Conscious of the nexus between peace and security, democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and development, the ECOWAS Commission has continued to work with development partners such as the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) towards improving the integrity of its election observation missions as a tool for conflict prevention and deepening of democracy in West Africa.
In line with the recommendations of regional election experts who met recently in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, and given that elections are an integral part of the democratic process, ECOWAS member States must pay serious attention to elections and their observation.
In addition to the implementation of the recommendations of ECOWAS Election Observation Missions by the member States and other stakeholders, the capacity of regional election observers must be strengthened, with an increase in the number of observers and extension of the duration of each Long-term Election Observation Mission (LTEOM).
This is to ensure a more comprehensive coverage of countries holding elections and a thorough observation of major phases of the electoral processes before, during and in the post-election period.
Also, to demonstrate their strong commitment to electoral integrity and democracy, member States should support the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions (ECONEC), and assume ownership and responsibility in ensuring that Electoral Assistance through the deployment of election observers is sustainable.
Delivering electoral integrity in Africa is a collective responsibility. It involves the active participation of multiple stakeholders — governments, EMBs, civil society organisations, the electorate, media, the security apparatus and election observers and monitors, local and international.
This is a delicate team work and any flaw or irregularity has the potential to trigger avoidable conflagration that could undermine peace and security and also derail democracy.
*Paul Ejime is an International Media and Communications Specialist; Paul.firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @Paulejime5