Yiaga Africa launches project to improve the quality of local government elections in Nigeria

In Nigeria’s federal system, the local government is designed to be the tier of government that operates closest to the grassroots, and make it easy for citizens to participate in governance to shape good governance at that level. By virtue of the Constitution of Nigeria, elections into local government councils are under the purview of state governments. However, these elections often fall far short of being free, fair and credible. 

Elections at this level are marred by several barriers including weak and ineffectual electoral laws, lack of independence of state institutions, diminishing interest by political parties, and voter apathy. All these have combined to negatively impact the quality of local government elections in Nigeria and diminish the rights of citizens to choose their representatives.

This is why Yiaga Africa in partnership with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) has launched a project aimed at increasing public confidence in subnational elections by promoting institutional independence, resilience, and capacity among state independent electoral commissions (SIECs).

The roundtable meeting in progress

A key aspect of the project includes working with three SIECs – Akwa Ibom, Kaduna and Lagos – to be model SIECs for improving the quality of local government elections in their domains.

The project started with a roundtable discussion convened by Yiaga Africa that brought together election stakeholders including election management experts at the federal level and from the three target model SIECs, civil society practitioners, academia to have a roundtable discussion on the factors preventing the conduct of credible, free and fair elections at the local government level and how to enhance the quality of those elections.

In her opening remarks, Yiaga Africa’s Director of Programmes Cynthia Mbamalu said that the essence of this roundtable meeting is to have an open discussion about the challenges of organising credible elections at the local government level, and finding ways to improve them.

“There needs to be more attention given to local government elections in Nigeria to increase citizen participation and to produce the kinds of governments that will deliver good governance at the grassroots level,” she said.

Cynthia Mbamalu, Director of Programmes, Yiaga Africa

She added that as part of the project, a comprehensive tool will be developed to assess the quality of local government elections and identify challenges with local government elections, using the three model SIECs as a test case. 

She also called on the National Assembly to amend the Constitution to give more independence and financial support to SIECs as this will enable them to be more proactive in discharging their constitutional duties.

In his own remarks, the IFES Nigeria Country Director Seray Jah described local government elections as an important election that brings the people closer to the government and that  the people can also hold their leader accountable for providing good governance.

He also calls for more voter education that will enhance people’s participation in local elections.

Seray Jah, IFES Nigeria Country Director

A highlight of the roundtable discussion was the presentation of a paper on the state of local government elections in Nigeria by Prof. Victor Adetula of the University of Jos. In his paper, Prof. Adetula pointed out that Local government elections in Nigeria are a critical part of the democratic process that ensures representation and decision making at the community level. He also described lack of funds to conduct elections as a major constraint affecting the effectiveness of SIECs in the state to conduct elections.

The roundtable discussion was followed by a methodology workshop where election stakeholders discussed the elements that should form part of the comprehensive index tool for assessing the quality of local government elections in Nigeria as it aids in monitoring the progression towards achieving integrity in the electoral process over time.

Safiya Bichi, Head of Knowledge Management & Learning, Yiaga Africa explaining the concept of the index tool

By generating insights into the electoral challenges faced, this tool will facilitate the development of targeted measures to tackle these issues, prevent electoral misconduct, and preserve the credibility of local government elections in Nigeria. 

Prof Victor Adetula of the University of Jos at the methodology workshop

It is expected that this tool will be first deployed in collaboration with the three model SIECs which shall all be organising local government elections in 2024.

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