Local Government Election Observation in Nigeria: Challenges and Prospects
Feasibility Study of Lagos and Oyo States Conducted by Yiaga Africa Watching The Vote
Since the return to democratic rule in 1999, Nigeria's Local Government Area (LGA) elections have been conducted in a manner that leaves much to be desired. To put it mildly, Nigeria's experience with holding local government elections has been dismal. Furthermore, it has been observed that democratic elections at the LGA level have not significantly improved over the years, despite concerns and criticisms that have emanated from stakeholders. The elections, which are constitutionally within the jurisdiction of the state governments, have been marred by a number of electoral irregularities, including political violence, election fraud, and other malpractices that limit citizens’ ability to choose among the available political options - if the circumstances permit any option at all.
One of the biggest dangers to Nigeria's democracy continues to be the lack of periodic, genuine and transparent elections in the local government areas. Twenty-two (22) years after the country's return to democracy, local governments in Nigeria still suffer from bad governance, the absence of regular, credible elections, and the near absence of governance mechanisms that encourage citizen participation and accountability.
The overwhelming dominance of state governors and a small group of people (power brokers) who have mastered a system that both impoverishes the populace and denies them a voice when elections are manipulated continues to be the worst fate for local government areas in Nigeria. In reality, failure to address the escalating issues inherent in local governance, not the least of which is holding local elections, has had significant accompanying effects, including banditry, overburdened federal and state governments, farmers-herders disputes, ethnic rivalries, and a decline in the economic activities that are typically centred on agriculture. Even though democratic administration at the local level is all but nonexistent, elections nevertheless present a chance for participation, particularly in giving the people the power to select their own leaders.
In May 2021, Yiaga Africa conducted a feasibility study on the challenges and prospects of local government elections in Nigeria, taking Oyo and Lagos states as case studies. The study, which attempted to examine the quality of election administration in local government and the viability of independent election oversight, identified a number of difficulties, including the complexity of conducting local government elections in Nigeria; the state executives' suffocating influence; loopholes in the state’s electoral framework; capacity deficits in the administration of elections; the lack of electoral competition; the lack of information about how citizens should participate in the process; and poor communication and engagement with election stakeholders, amongst others.
Despite the challenges, the study further revealed that there are opportunities for election stakeholders to improve the process in order to ensure the integrity of ballots and boost citizen participation in the process. Indeed, on-the-ground interactions and observations suggest that many of the difficulties and issues encountered in the two states under study may serve as significant entry points in the observation of local council elections in Nigeria, providing a platform for substantive engagement by respective parties. The study also suggested pertinent strategies and potential areas for intervention that ensure a significant contribution to fostering local citizen involvement and removing much of the prevailing cynicism regarding the conduct of local council elections in Nigeria.