Nigeria considers shift to a proportional voting system

by Eve Robert // Published March 9, 2009
The Nigerian Federal Executive Council (FEC) is deliberating this week about potential electoral reform projects for Nigeria. Although it has not found any consensus on the matter so far, its review committees are working hard to set up quickly major conclusions, that will then be presented tob the National Council of State (which is expected to meet within the next two to three weeks).

The most populated country in Africa, Nigeria is seriously considering changing its voting system to proportional representation. There is a growing consensus that the American-style, winner-take-all electoral system is in need of dire electoral reform. Consequently, in 2008 President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, appointed a diverse 22-member Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) headed by Hon. Justice Muhammadu Lawal Uwais, former Chief Justice of Nigeria, to "examine the entire electoral process with a view to ensuring that we raise the quality and standard of our general elections and thereby deepen our democracy." During its proceedings (that lasted over one year and three months), the Electoral Reform Committee hyas heard from experts from a variety of countries (including Cameroon, Canada, France, Ghana, India, Mexico, South Africa and many others) as well as former Heads of State, State Governments, political parties, State and national independent electoral commissions, civil society groups, the media, and the general public through numerous public hearings and presentations.

After this extensive investigative process, the Committee submitted its report in December of last year. It recommended a shift to proportional representation in elections for the legislature and local government councils, as well as many other reforms aimed at enhancing the independence of the electoral commission, establishing a special status for women and other disadvantaged persons and re-introducing independent candidatures in all future elections.

The committee wrote that the idea of proportional representation was informed by the need to have all "inclusiveness, simplicity and accountability." "It promotes universal adult suffrage by ensuring that all voters are of equal value, that no valid vote cast is rendered useless, ineffective or wasted as all votes cast nationwide or state-wide or local government-wide, as the case may be, are taken into account. It also facilitates representation of women and other disadvantaged groups in the legislature and the local government councils.", the report says.

The ERC report has overall received good reviews from Nigeria's press and political elite, but more importantly, it has been endorsed by both the Action Congress (AC) and the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), who have requested President Umaru Yar'Adua to immediately implement the ERC recommendations, so as to ensure sufficient preparations for the 2011 ballot, spurning the 2015 date for the implementation of the reforms evoked by the government.