Will election security and executive impunity shape electoral outcomes in 2023?
The 2023 general elections in Nigeria will usher in the seventh uninterrupted electoral cycle in Nigeria since the transition to democratic rule in 1999. It marks a pivotal phase in Nigeria’s electoral democracy, especially in light of the new Electoral Act which was passed on 25th February 2022. The previous six general elections; 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 have demonstrated ongoing improvements to the electoral process. Each one of these elections was marked by particular challenges, and the most recent elections in 2019 faced widespread logistical issues which ultimately delayed elections. This ushered in a new phase of demands for a reviewed Electoral Act that captured citizens’ reform proposals. The successful signing of the Electoral Bill into law was a sign of hope for major stakeholders and citizens who engaged in the process as it provided a reviewed legal framework that enables transparent elections in Nigeria.
The Electoral Act 2022 will regulate the conduct of the 2023 elections and has the potential to revolutionize electoral conduct and outcomes in Nigeria if its prospects are maximized. Having gone through a litmus test in the 2022 governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun states, the Electoral Act 2022 is proving to be a potential way forward in strengthening Nigeria’s electoral democracy. The innovative provisions such as the legalization of the electronic accreditation of voters using the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and the transmission of the election results in the new act, if fully implemented, will no doubt reduce indiscretion in Nigeria’s elections and expand opportunities for transparency that will improve citizens’ participation in the electoral process. Ahead of the 2023 general elections, the provisions of the new Act are being tested as it has so far regulated the conduct of pre-election activities like the Political Party primaries process, political campaigns and INEC’s preparations for the elections.
Despite deliberate efforts by key stakeholders to ensure smooth processes, election periods are often not without foundational issues which tend to undermine its credibility. These include security of election personnel, materials and citizens and issues bordering on logistics especially for the deployment of poll officials and materials in hard to reach communities due to difficult and inaccessible terrain. The context ahead of the 2023 general elections widely differs from that of the 2019 elections. For instance, the 2023 general election will be conducted amidst a troubled security reality in Nigeria with every geo-political zone experiencing major security threats that are multi-dimensional and extensive in scope. Ranging from threats from Boko Haram, armed robbery, kidnapping, banditry, communal crisis, child abduction/trafficking, secessionist movements, and other pre-existing factors like the herder-farmer crisis. In addition, Nigeria witnessed a devastating rate of flood in 2022 which has left many communities displaced (this includes some INECs Local Government Area (LGA) offices) increasing the number of internally displaced persons beyond the numbers displaced by the insecurity. This is a reality amidst growing levels of poverty with recent data from the ‘2022 Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) Survey’, revealing that “63% of persons living within Nigeria (133 million people) are multidimensionally poor.” More worrisome is the growing attacks at INECs facilities and offices at the state level, with the most recent attacks of destroying INECs offices in Abeokuta South in Ogun, Edeh South LGA in Osun, Izzi LGA in Ebonyi and Oru West LGA in Imo states. Also, there are some concerns related to the neutrality and composition of INEC at both the National and Sub-National levels. These contexts create a more vulnerable system to electoral manipulation and electoral violence which are risk factors for the conduct of credible and acceptable elections.
For Yiaga Africa, the criticality of the 2023 elections requires a comprehensive and independent observation of the electoral process from the pre-election phase into the election day process and post-election. Accordingly, Yiaga Africa’s Watching the Vote deployed trained long-term citizen observers across the 774 LGAs to observe the pre-election environment and report findings bi-weekly. The Pre-Election Observation (PREO) report captures the activities of the key election stakeholders: INEC, Political parties, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), and the National Orientation Agency (NOA), as well as indicators of electoral violence. This report contains key findings of the first observation period (between November 12 and November 23, 2022). Yiaga Africa’s Watching the Vote will have its trained Long term observers (LTO) deployed in the 774 LGAs until February 24, 2022.