As Nigeria prepares to hold its seventh consecutive general election since the country returned to democracy in 1999, there are key issues that can shape the quality and credibility of the polls, a think tank has reported.
The much-awaited election will coincide with 24 years of uninterrupted democracy, the longest in the country’s history.
The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) said the 2023 elections will be the most challenging to conduct in Nigeria, saying the raging insecurity, preparedness of the electoral body, INEC, and conduct of presidential candidates will shape the outcome of the polls.
“But, the credibility of the 2023 general election will also depend on the degree to which citizens can vote freely and unencumbered,” CDD said in its report titled, ‘Nigeria’s presidential polls: A SWOT analysis.’
“Insecurity remains a critical issue, particularly in the northwest and southeast. Further challenging this operation are the prevailing structural, infrastructural, and cultural ecosystems in which the polls will take place.”
Prompt release of the full INEC budget could help in mitigating some of these, CDD said, noting that adequate and timely funding is at the heart of quality elections.
The think-tank said the role played by the security agencies, and subsequently by the judiciary, may be as important in determining the credibility of the election as that of the election management body.
Against this background, CDD advised the security agencies to act professionally and impartially in dealing with insecurity and conflict. “Insecurity should not be used as a tool to serve political interests such as voter suppression in some parts of the country,” it stated in the report.
It also urged the government to invest more in peacebuilding efforts in communities experiencing conflicts, such as conflicts between farmers and herders, to ensure that such conflicts do not undermine the election.
Notwithstanding, CDD noted that it is not “ignoring” the issues that are likely to come up in the campaign. It mentioned that issues of religion, misinformation, money politics, and online campaigns are likely going to be equally critical in shaping electoral outcomes.
The 2023 elections will be conducted under a new electoral framework, the Electoral Act 2022, a law that provides a more robust legal framework for the conduct of the polls. The law gives the legislative backing for more transparent voting, collation and announcement of results.
However, CDD said it is concerned about INEC’s logistical operation. The electoral body is set to deploy its staff in 176,846 polling units, a 56,872 increase from 2019.
“This will require the recruitment and training of close to 1.5 million poll and security officials, about four times the size of the Nigerian military,” CDD said. “Road vehicles are the predominant mode of transportation and account for 80 per cent of goods traffic in Nigeria, but only 20 per cent of the road network in the country is paved. Improvements have been made regarding internet access, but electricity is still largely absent for the majority of Nigerians. If roads are impassable, electricity epileptic, and communication infrastructure rudimentary, this will affect the quality of election administration.”
These are obstacles that INEC must overcome as it conducts elections across the country, the report added.
In the past few years, insecurity has intensified and spread, affecting virtually all parts of Nigeria. Incidents have been notably higher in the north-west and south-east where banditry, terrorist activities, herder-farmer conflicts, and secessionist agitations are exerting huge human and economic impacts.
In the north-east, the Islamic State in the West Africa Province (ISWAP) and Boko Haram have continued their insurgency, while north-central Nigeria continues to witness conflicts over land and grazing rights as well as terrorism.
“There is a strong chance these groups will be instrumentalised to perpetrate political violence, a familiar feature of elections in Nigeria,” CDD said. “Rather than showing signs of waning, the insecurity is taking a new, and even more perilous, direction as a result of growing to a splinter of bandit groups, their expansion into states outside of the northwest, increased access to resources and arms and numerous examples of bandit-terrorist cooperation.”
In the south-east, the activities of separatist groups have affected the registration of voters in many local governments and are likely to also affect the election proper, CDD said.
“These conflicts will have implications for the elections, especially if politicians utilise them to stoke tensions to garner votes, a tendency which has already been observed in Benue and Plateau states where politicians have peddled divisive rhetoric and demonised members of particular groups to boost electoral support.”
“Holding credible polls in an environment that guarantees the security of voters and INEC personnel will be a major challenge,” it said.
Unlike the 2019 election which had 73 presidential candidates, the 2023 general election will feature just 18 candidates, with four main contenders: Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Bola Tinubu of the APC, Peter Obi of Labour Party (LP) and Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP).
These politicians have in the recent past, worked together and against each other in a bid to get the presidential seat. For instance, in 2019, Mr Kwankwaso and Atiku decamped to PDP, joining Mr Obi, who later emerged as Atiku’s running mate.
Before then, the trio of Atiku, Tinubu and Kwankwaso were all part of the then newly created APC, where they backed the now outgoing president Buhari to defeat the then ruling PDP.
“Nigerian presidential elections are a numbers game with the successful candidate looking for a majority of the total vote, plus at least 25 per cent of the vote in two-thirds of the states,” CDD said. “Presidential tickets are developed with these national and regional calculations in mind and alliances, even between some of the four leading parties, remain possible as the campaign period unfolds.”
The civic group projected that key issues that dominated the 2015 and 2019 elections – economy, security, and corruption – will remain on the front burner in the 2023 polls.
CDD concluded that “politicians will be using money that will play a huge role in determining who emerges the winner if the presidential primaries and recent gubernatorial elections are to offer any indication.”
“Following the party primaries the country experienced one of its worst foreign exchange crises in recent memory as demand for US dollars overshot supply,” it added.
“The commodification of votes is a permanent feature of Nigerian elections. Instead of concentrating on issue-based politics, vote buying will be prioritised with cash, food, clothing, and other commodities given out in exchange for votes. During the off-cycle gubernatorial elections in Osun and Ekiti candidates boasted about matching dollar for dollar and Naira for Naira to prospective voters with a vote trading for as much as N20,000 (approximately $47).”
The 2023 election will not be any different, CDD said.
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