Polling Agents: The Men and Women on the Frontlines of Nigeria’s Elections

My most recent blog post to IRI’s DemocracySpeaks.org.

Nigerian elections have been wrought with ballot stuffing, fraudulent voter registration and vote buying. The 2007 elections were described as a “sham” by many domestic and international organizations. IRI said the elections fell “below the standard set by previous Nigerian elections and international standards witnessed by IRI around the globe.”  The European Union went so far as to say that its report “was the most damning it had ever issued anywhere in the world.”

Since then, Nigeria has made significant strides in its efforts to hold credible elections. Despite the post-election violence that marred the 2011 elections, it was deemed by many organizations as a step in the right direction towards free and fair elections. IRI said the elections were “a major step forward in advancing Nigeria’s democracy.

In an effort to ensure that elections are fair and honest, and to guard against ballot stuffing and other fraudulent practices, political parties participating in the 2015 elections are allowed to appoint one person as their polling agent for each polling unit. There are nearly 120,000 polling units in Nigeria serving 68 million registered voters. These agents have a vital role to play in the election process. The parties’ agents guard against mistakes and willful manipulation of the voting process and the notes that agents take on Election Day play a fundamental role during the election tribunals that often follow elections. Nigeria still faces many of the same issues that plagued the 2007 and 2011 elections; however, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has been working to develop techniques such as a permanent voters card (PVC) and an electronic card reader that they hope will end election violations and guarantee a smooth voting process. In addition, INEC, NGOs and other civil society organizations have been working to ensure that voters and political parties are well versed in the new election procedures.

Seeking to ensure Nigeria continues to consolidate its vibrate democracy, IRI has been training and briefing polling agents in order to make that process easier, fairer, and more transparent.  In 1998, IRI, in partnership with INEC, developed a Polling Agent Handbook that is distributed to thousands of polling agents trained each year. In 2014, IRI trained nearly 2,000 polling agents for two gubernatorial elections in Ekiti and Osun States. The handbook has been updated several times over the years as INEC and the National Assembly have made changes to the electoral process. The handbook provides the polling agent with an overview of the voting process and a checklist to use on Election Day.  In addition to using these manuals, since January 2015, IRI has been working with INEC and political parties to brief polling agents on the new voting procedures in order to guarantee that parties are ready for the coming elections.

The six week postponement of the elections, now expected to take place on March 28, has enabled IRI to expand its polling agent briefings and, to date, IRI has trained approximately 10,000 agents throughout Nigeria and has plans to train thousands more over the next two weeks. In addition, IRI has trained additional representatives for all of the 26 political parties in Nigeria, who will in turn train their fellow party members.  The two leading parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), are conducting cascading briefings for polling agents at the ward and local government levels.

Polling agents are no longer an afterthought for political parties. Parties now recognize how important it is to have credible and well informed men and women serving on the frontlines on Election Day. These men and women have the opportunity to propel Nigeria towards a free and honest election process.


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2 Comments on “Polling Agents: The Men and Women on the Frontlines of Nigeria’s Elections

  1. I hope the election is more democratic this time. It sounds like things have already improved. Take care and try yo get your needed rest.

  2. Agreed!! it takes a lot to contribute a lot to making an election like Nigeria run- 68,000,000 voters!! and we often forget how orchestrated these things need to be- everyone has to contribute….gosh, sometimes when I think about what it would take to organise Nigerian Elections….well it just baffles you. But organise them they do…

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