Will lack of security and conflicts in some parts of Nigeria allow for free and democratic elections on February 14? Central authorities in Abuja say they will spare no effort to reach this goal.
There are fears in Nigeria that not every citizen will get a chance to exercise his or her right to vote. The Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram is a threat in the northeast and there is also the problem of how to reach the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons. DW spoke to the country’s Director of Publicity and Information at the Electoral Commission (INEC), Nick Pazang, to find out what exactly are the plans.
DW: How prepared is the country to hold elections with the ongoing insurgency in the north?
Nick Pazang: As you’re aware, there is an insurgency in some parts, the northeast specifically in the states you mentioned, namely Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. But we are putting in modalities to make sure voters in these states are not disenfranchised. A lot of the civilians of these three states are internally displaced. Most of them are in camps like in Borno, for example. They are in eleven camps. These camps are represented by the local governments in which each internally displaced person is. What the commission intends to do is to make it possible for eligible voters in these camps to vote for candidates of their choice.
But hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced. Are you saying that more or less all of them will be able to vote?
Yes, our intention and our plan is to make sure that all internally displaced persons who have their permanent voter cards can vote in the elections to be conducted next month.
How many voters will not be able to vote, because they live in areas occupied by Boko Haram?
Well, we cannot say exactly because even now as we speak there are citizens of these three states, who might not even be residents in Nigeria. They are refugees in Nigeria’s neighbor countries, such as Cameroon, Chad and the Republic of Niger. By law, the commission cannot conduct any election outside the boundary of Nigeria. But our plan is to make sure that those who are internally displaced are given the opportunity to vote.
Is there a risk that whoever loses this election could turn round after the event and say: "Well, we lost because people weren’t able to vote in areas occupied by Boko Haram?"
That is why we intend to meet with stakeholders on Tuesday next week, so as to carry them along. And so that these accusations do not arise at the end of the day.
How can you persuade Nigerians that it will be safe for them to go out and vote on February 14?
We are working with the security agencies to make sure that men and material are secured, and that voters also vote in an environment that is secure and devoid of violence. We are working very hard with the security agencies to do that. The tendency is that we are likely to concentrate security agencies in areas that we think are of high risk. So we are going to grade them according to low, medium and high risk. And the deployment of security agencies will depend on our assessment of the risk factors.
Nick Pazang is the Director of Publicity and Information at Nigeria's Electoral Commission (INEC).
Interview: Mark Caldwell