Table of Contents

  • After 15 years of military rule Nigeria’s 1999 National Assembly and Presidential elections constituted the culmination of the electoral phase of the democratic transition programme announced by the Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, in July 1998. This is the Report of the Commonwealth Observer Group which, in response to an invitation from General Abubakar and the Independent National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (INEC), was present for those elections.

  • Nigeria’s National Assembly and Presidential elections, held on 20 and 27 February 1999 respectively, represented the final two stages of the four-stage democratic transition programme announced by the Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, on 20 July 1998. The other two stages were the Local Government Councils elections which took place on 5 December 1998 and the State Assembly and Governorship elections held on 9 January 1999.

  • Nigeria is a federal republic, comprising 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), each with its own capital and state government; since 1991 the federal capital has been Abuja. Nigeria became a member of the Commonwealth at independence in 1960, but is currently suspended. With a population estimated at over 100 million it is the most populous country in Sub-Saharan Africa.

  • The Decree which constituted the legal framework for the establishment of the Independent National Electoral Commission to organise, conduct and supervise the elections specifically defined ‘Constitution’ to mean the “Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1979 as amended”. This was also the case for the relevant decree creating the legal framework for the National Assembly elections. The Court of Appeal (Lagos) ruled in a case1 reported in 1995 that the Constitution of 1979 was not entirely suspended by decrees issued by successive military regimes. This was also confirmed to the Commonwealth Observer Group by the Chairman of INEC, Justice Akpata.

  • The campaign for the 20 February 1999 National Assembly elections was overshadowed by the presidential election a week later. We were told that some people felt that the presidential campaign had started as early as August 1998 with General Obasanjo’s announcement that he was willing to stand for the post of President. From December 1998, when three parties – AD, APP and PDP – were given final registration by INEC, many other presidential hopefuls had also come forward. Political parties and the media alike thus began to concentrate on the internal mechanisms by which parties would choose a candidate to run for the presidency. The campaign for the National Assembly elections – and indeed the fact of the elections themselves – appeared to us to be submerged in this focus on the presidential election and the personalities vying for nomination.

  • On each of the election days we deployed 15 two-person teams – one for each of the 12 zones into which INEC had divided the country, with the remaining three teams deployed to Abuja, Ibadan and Kano. In the case of the National Assembly elections these teams were in place three days before election day, while for the presidential election they were present at least one full day before. Having observed the delivery of the ballot papers, boxes and other material to INEC offices and then distribution to ward centres prior to polling day, our teams were able to witness their arrival at the polling stations and the poll and counting process. The observations did not end there. Our teams also followed the used materials back to the ward collation centres after the count and then to INEC’s local offices for safe-keeping. They also tracked the results – transmitted through a network of collation centres from ward to local government area to state and, in the case of the presidential election, to national level. Our teams co-operated with and benefited from the assistance of UN staff in state capitals and co-ordinated arrangements both with them and with other international observers – from the OAU, the European Union, a number of individual governments, the Carter Center/National Democratic Institute, the International Foundation for Election Systems/Association of African Electoral Administrators and the International Republican Institute – to avoid duplication and ensure that the international observer presence had maximum impact.

  • The Commonwealth Observer Group considers itself especially privileged to have been present to witness an important turning point in Nigeria’s history – the conduct of elections which constitute a key stage in the peaceful transition from military rule to civilian government through democratic elections. We believe we have faithfully carried out the mandate entrusted to us by the Commonwealth Secretary-General to observe relevant aspects of the organisation and conduct of the National Assembly and Presidential elections in accordance with the laws of Nigeria and to act impartially and independently in forming a judgment on the credibility of the electoral process as a whole.