UMass Boston’s Darren Kew in Nigeria as presidential election observer
Darren Kew, executive director of the Center for Peace, Democracy, and Development, is in Nigeria this week to monitor the March 28 presidential election.
Kew, who is also an associate professor and chair of UMass Boston’s Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance, has been invited by the National Democratic Institute to be a part of an international delegation observing the elections. The National Democratic Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, nongovernmental organization in the United States that has worked to safeguard elections since its founding in 1983. The delegation is funded by USAID. Two of Kew’s students, PhD student Modupe Oshikoya and post-doc Jim Shyne, will be accompanying him.
Initially set for last month, the Nigerian presidential election was rescheduled after the armed forces said they needed more time to secure the country. UMass Boston Today sat down with Kew, who has been monitoring elections in Nigeria since 1999, to hear his thoughts on what he anticipates will happen in what has shaped up to be a battle between incumbent Goodluck Jonathan and his chief opponent, Muhammadu Buhari.
Q: What is your sense of how this election is going to go?
A: This is probably the most important election in many, many years, and it’s also the one that I’m most nervous about, because ruling parties tend not to give up power easily in transitional democracies. Nigeria is still very much a transitional democracy. The ruling party has indicated it’s going to pull out all the stops. The opposition has also indicated that they’re going to do everything they can to win, and they are not going to go to the courts if they feel their election mandate has not been respected. They’re going to take it to the streets. So with my conflict resolution hat on, I’m particularly concerned with the levels of violence that we may see.
Q: What will you be doing on Election Day?
A: Election monitoring is very nuts and bolts, so we’ll be fanning out in teams of two all across the nation. We go to different states and we begin in the state capital, and we begin to first make sure that certain basic things are there, election materials, that election staff are ready, we talk to political party leaders and ask them if they are happy with preparations, are they concerned about anything, and find out what they expect to happen on Election Day. And then on Election Day itself, we get in the car and we drive from polling booth to polling booth, we hit as many as you can over the course of the day, simply to watch. In the role of the observer, we cannot intervene with anything we see on the ground; we’re supposed to just watch and record notes. We look for any sort of election infractions, any sort of election irregularities. In the past, this is often quite blatant. I’ve seen children waiting to vote with fraudulent voting cards, those sorts of things. So those are the things we look out for. And then at the end, we make a report to the world, essentially talking about what we’ve seen and saying whether we feel this was a credible election or not, and also making recommendations on what we think could improve.