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Panel at the Nigeria 2023 Elections Conference

A successful 2023 Elections Will Restore Political Stability in West Africa - INEC, Civil Society Leaders

The 2023 general elections have been identified as an opportunity for Nigeria to reinforce her leadership position as a bastion of hope for democracy in West Africa, and its successful conduct will restore political stability in Africa, particularly in the West African sub-region that has seen a spate of coups and political instability in recent years.

This was one of the points made at a conference titled ‘Nigeria 2023: Ensuring Credible, Peaceful and Inclusive Elections’ which was hosted by Yiaga Africa, in collaboration with its partners, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED),  the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the International Republican Institute (IRI), and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) in Washington; D.C., the United States of America on 11th October.

The conference had in attendance the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu, and civil society representatives from the governance, humanitarian, and media sectors with discussions held on preparations for the elections, and the significant challenges and opportunities ahead.

The audience at the Conference
The audience at the Conference

In his opening remarks, the Executive Director of Yiaga Africa, Samson Itodo stated that the 2023 elections are a crucial one, and an opportunity for citizens to reclaim the state as well as to restore hope in democracy in Africa. This means that it is imperative for Nigeria to get the elections right.

“While recent reforms such as the new Electoral Act are yielding results, we also see reforms by INEC around electoral technology that we believe provide an opportunity for citizens to rebuild their trust in democracy. But we also note that while there is this wave of enthusiasm among citizens for the electoral process, this enthusiasm can be undermined if the electoral commission is not independent. This is a concern for civil society and we want to see what level of support can be provided to the INEC leadership who are committed to credible elections,” he said.

Samson Itodo, Executive Director of Yiaga Africa
Samson Itodo, Executive Director of Yiaga Africa speaking at the Conference

He further explained that the conference is informed by the need to ensure that the increased expectations placed on the coming elections are met, including how to demonstrate trust that will inspire high voter turnout and that electoral technology that has made elections harder to rig perform as expected. 

The INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu who delivered the keynote address emphasized the magnitude of the 2023 elections, noting that the total number of registered voters for the elections at 95 million is more than the total number of voters in the other 14 West African countries by 22 million. 

“Each time Nigerians go to the polls, it’s like the whole of West Africa voting. And these 95 million citizens will vote in 176, 846 polling units,” he said.

He also noted the improvements that INEC has made over the past years in elections management in Nigeria through learning from past mistakes and identifying opportunities for improvement.

“We learnt a lot of lessons from the general election conducted in 2015 and 2019 as well as the 103 off-cycle elections and bye-elections since the 2019 general elections. We have introduced innovations to increase transparency and ensure the credibility of the electoral process. The new Electoral Act with its many progressive provisions has provided legal backing to the innovations.”

The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof Mahmood Yakubu speaking at the Conference
The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof Mahmood Yakubu speaking at the Conference

He listed the specific areas of improvement by INEC, including the introduction of electoral technology such as the introduction of a voter registration portal which made it easier for voters to register and manage their registration status; the Biometric Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) to accredit voters; and the INEC Results Viewing portal (iREV) to transmit polling unit-level results in real time on election day.

He also highlighted the efforts of the Commission to promote inclusivity for persons with disabilities through the introduction of Assistive Devices such as the Braille Ballot Guide and Magnifying Glasses for the vision impaired and those living with Albinism. 

“Are there concerns about the 2023 general election? I’ll be the last to say there are no concerns. The first concern is the perennial issue of insecurity in different parts of the country, compounded by the traditional issues of thuggery during elections organized by some of the political actors. I say it is a perennial issue because, at the end of the day, it is nothing new. However, the dimension of the insecurity is concerning in the sense that in the past, it was localized or confined to a particular part of the country, the northeast. But now it is more widespread and we are keeping our eyes, particularly on the northwest and the southeastern parts of the country.

Elections are conducted by human beings. We worry about the security of our officials, voters and the materials to be deployed. Without them, we cannot conduct elections. We have spoken to the security agencies, and they have assured us that the situation will improve before the elections. So, fingers crossed. Those who are supposed to secure the environment have assured us that they will secure the environment for us to conduct elections. Our responsibility is to conduct elections.”

He concluded by commending civil society organisations and other stakeholders for the intense advocacy leading to the passage of the new Electoral Act as well as advocacy towards mobilising young people to register as voters and to promote inclusion for Persons with Disabilities.

Read the full text of the speech by the INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu

The keynote address was the prelude to a panel conversation on electoral preparations which had the INEC chairman; Ene Obi, Country Director, ActionAid Nigeria; Chris Fomunyoh, Senior Associate and Regional Director, Central and West Africa, National Democratic Institute; and Hussaini Abdu, Country Director, CARE-Nigeria and Board Chair, Yiaga Africa as discussants and was moderated by Jenai Cox, Regional Deputy Director, Africa, International Republican Institute. 

Ene Obi, who is also the Convener of the Civil Society Situation Room acknowledged the progress made by the Commission in technology and inclusivity and challenged it to maintain the transparency and accountability that has inspired millions of people to register as new voters.

"There is renewed hope in Nigeria's election with the new Electoral Act and growing interest of young people to participate as voters. But there must be accountability and transparency in the process to sustain this hope,” she said.

“In less than 30 years, Nigeria will be the third highest populated country in the world. Democrats around the world should be talking about Nigeria and its elections,” said Chris Famunyoh in highlighting the importance of the 2023 general elections.

“Nigeria is a country that is too big to fail. It's important that we remember the strategic role that Nigeria plays within the region. This particular election is not only important to Nigeria, but it's very important for the rest of the world,” said Hussaini Abdu.

L-R: Jenai Cox, Regional Director, International Republican Institute; Ene Obi, Country Manager, ActionAid Nigeria; Prof Mahmood Yakubu; Chris Famunyoh, Senior Associate and Regional Director, Central and West Africa, National Democratic Institute and Hussaini Abdu, Country Director, CARE-Nigeria and Board Chair, Yiaga Africa
L-R: Jenai Cox, Regional Director, International Republican Institute; Ene Obi, Country Manager, ActionAid Nigeria; Prof Mahmood Yakubu; Chris Famunyoh, Senior Associate and Regional Director, Central and West Africa, National Democratic Institute and Hussaini Abdu, Country Director, CARE-Nigeria and Board Chair, Yiaga Africa

This was followed by a panel conversation that offered a civil society perspective on the elections, with Cynthia Mbamalu, Director of Programs, Yiaga Africa; Abosede George-Ogan, Founder, Women in Leadership Advancement Network Global; Bukola Idowu, Executive Director, Kimpact Development Initiative and Seun Okinbaloye, Politics Editor, Channels TV as the discussants. This was moderated by Damon Wilson; President and CEO of the National Endowment for Democracy.

The panel explored the roles of different sections of society in the election process, including the media, and how far the elections go in increasing the inclusivity of women and young people.

“There is a growing interest among the youth population to participate in the political process and demand accountability,” said Cynthia Mbamalu as she shared that 43.2% of the youth candidates running in the elections are between 25-30 years old.

“We need to be more intentional about how we support women,” said Abosede George-Egan as she cited the media and security as two major factors leading few women to successfully run and reach political office in Nigeria.

“The 2023 Nigerian elections will take place in an atmosphere of insecurity”, warned Bukola Idowu as he spoke about the need for proactive measures to check electoral security before it happens.

“There is now a medium that's faster than traditional media and that's social media. Social media is an assumption medium,” said Seun Okinbaloye as he shared some of the challenges faced by those tasked with accurately reporting the news, especially around election results.

L-R: Damon Wilson; President and CEO of the National Endowment for Democracy; Cynthia Mbamalu, Director of Programs, Yiaga Africa; Abosede George-Egan, Founder, Women in Leadership Advancement Network Global; Bukola Idowu, Executive Director, Kimpact Development Initiative and Seun Okinbaloye, Politics Editor, Channels TV
L-R: Damon Wilson; President and CEO of the National Endowment for Democracy; Cynthia Mbamalu, Director of Programs, Yiaga Africa; Abosede George-Egan, Founder, Women in Leadership Advancement Network Global; Bukola Idowu, Executive Director, Kimpact Development Initiative and Seun Okinbaloye, Politics Editor, Channels TV

The conference is among a lineup of events that are co-organised by Yiaga Africa to mobilise international support geared towards ensuring the success of the 2023 elections that are peaceful, credible, and inclusive.

Watch the full recording of the conference here

 

About

Yiaga Africa is a non-profit civic hub of change makers committed to the promotion of democratic governance, human rights and civic engagement. With its operational base in Abuja, Nigeria, Yiaga Africa focuses on in-depth research, providing critical analysis on key democratic and governance issues, crafting practical solutions, training and empowering citizens to lead change in their community. Yiaga Africa implements several innovative programs aimed at stimulating active citizenship, protecting human rights and deepening democratic governance. We invest in building networks and social movements to drive social change and transformation. Yiaga Africa has leadership structures and members in all 36 states and 774 Local Government Areas (LGA) of Nigeria.