The past few weeks have been buzzing with activity as civil society actors across Nigeria dig deep into how best to address fundamental issues in the electoral process. As expected, the core of the wave of commitments focuses on how to ensure the strong turnout and vote supremacy of the electorate in the 2023 general election.
Nonetheless, civic actors have long accepted the reality that the electoral process is not an isolated system, which can be effective and efficient in isolation from other critical democratic system and governance structures.
Analysts, at the risk of sounding like broken records, have been at pains to point out that for the electoral process to produce the right results, the problems inherent in the process must be juxtaposed with other realities of the country’s governance system.
With such a refrain, analysts help stakeholders understand the election, not as a routine exercise in which voters periodically step out. In this general context, scholars have for example pointed out that it is not enough for the electoral management body to intend to provide credible polls. Other support systems such as security, infrastructure, a fully mobilized electorate and well-behaved political parties are essential to the smooth running of the electoral process. This mindset of reflection and the adoption of a holistic approach to the issues in the preparation of the 2023 elections has become common in the positions of the most influential civil society organizations. One such organization is the frontline pro-democracy think tank, the Center for Democracy and Development (CDD). The think tank is one of the very first organizations to embark on implementing its strategy for robust voter education and citizen observation of the 2023 electoral process.
Recently, in the space of a week, the CDD organized two high-level meetings of electoral experts. One of the meetings was a methodology workshop to provide a space for election experts to reflect on the exact methods to engage the electoral process in preparation for general elections. Reflecting on why stakeholders have closely observed the electoral process in the recent past, the director, Idayat Hassan, went back in time by referring to the work carried out by the CDD through its Analysis Center elections. She stressed that the think tank’s work around elections has always been grounded in reason and evidence. While noting that the dynamics shaping the upcoming 2023 elections are rapidly changing, the CDD helmsman spoke of the need to understand the shortcomings of previous interventions, while hoping for better results in the next general election.
The Methodology Conversation brought together heavyweight political scientists and electoral experts, such as the Chairman of the CDD International Board of Directors, Dr. Kole Ahmed Shettima, the Chairman of the CDD Electoral Analysis Center (EAC), Professor Adele Jinadu; as well as Professors Adebayo Olukoshi, Okey Ibeanu, Atonia Okoosi-Simbine and Jideofor Adibe. The thinking of these scholars and experts has generated a treasure trove of knowledge base, which would certainly enable the CDD to work on evidence-based elections. This came as political actors eagerly awaited the start of the campaign period for elections in the last week of September.
The second meeting, which CDD convened to share views with key electoral stakeholders, was the Expert Meeting on the Conduct of the 2023 General Elections in Nigeria in an Unstable Security Environment. This particular conversation, organized in collaboration with INEC, brought together actors from the security services, academics, community leaders and the international community. The essence of the expert meeting, held under Chatham House rules, was to share information on some of the most violence-prone areas before, during and after the election. Subsequently, the CDD plan for the expert meeting was to ensure synergy such that security agencies would be able to closely monitor these potential hotspots. CDD’s collaboration with the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO) also underscored the importance of partnering with the international community to deliver credible elections, which would reflect the democratic wishes and aspirations of the Nigerian people.
Along with expert conversations on how to ensure the 2023 polls are free, fair and credible, the pro-democracy think tank recently published a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis of the 2023 general election. 2023. The report titled “The Presidential Elections in Nigeria: A SWOT Analysis” raised concerns about the safety of election staff, voters and election materials, as well as obstacles posed by threats such as kidnapping, violence , banditry, insurgency and community clashes.
Noting that the 2023 general election is a major logistical operation, the CDD stressed that there will be significant logistical challenges in reaching all 176,846 polling stations with election materials. The CDD noted that for such a level of deployment to succeed, it would require the recruitment and training of nearly 1.5 million electoral and security agents. This, the pro-democracy think tank pointed out, requires the deployment of personnel, the number of which is about four times that of the entire Nigerian army.
On the other hand, the CDD pointed out that the negative influence of religion, ethnicity and monetary policy could also undermine the credibility and acceptability of the elections, if not properly addressed. The think tank observed that these divisive factors have already played a role in the emergence of the party’s four main candidates vying for next year’s presidential election. The candidates are Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Peter Obi of the Labor Party and Rabiu Musa Kwankwanso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP).
Although the report, which was signed by CDD director Idayat Hassan, described the legal framework in place for the elections as robust and commendable, the report however noted that the conduct of political actors would be critical if the benefits of such a framework should be appreciated at all levels. The report highlighted that the Elections Act 2022 has sparked insights that could redefine elections in Nigeria.
The report further notes that with political campaigns looming in the coming weeks, key governance issues, such as insecurity, would be a factor in the political calculations of leading candidates as they cross the country.
The report notes that in the northwest, the burning issue of safety of life and property would impact the performance of All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate Tinubu. Meanwhile, secessionist unrest in the southeast could reduce turnout, which may favor neither Labor Party flag bearer Peter Obi nor Peoples’ Democratic Party candidate Abubakar Atiku. The report said: “Religion is likely to figure prominently in the debates following the APC’s decision to contest the presidency with a Muslim-Muslim ticket. The renewed engagement of young people in politics, a feature of the voter registration period, could also be transformative and favor Obi.
“Money will continue to play a huge role in determining the winner if the presidential primaries and recent gubernatorial elections offer any lesson. Finally, online campaigns will be more fiercely fought than ever, with attacks aimed at boosting candidates, attacking opponents and undermining INEC that could be accentuated on social media before, during and even after the vote,” the report notes in part. CDD added that citizens’ access to Election infrastructure would remain constant throughout the campaign and during the voting period, particularly for those internally displaced by the conflict.
Regarding the character and composition of the INEC and the implications for the elections, the report recalls that the INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmud Yakubu, is the first Chairman of the Election Management Body to be appointed for a second term in the country’s history. The new report observes the backlash generated by the replacement of 19 Resident Election Commissioners on the Commission, noting that the perception that a number of replacements are partisan and lack integrity could impact the elections; however, the CDD pointed out that the 2022 electoral law may have introduced several changes that would continue to improve the credibility of the elections.
Therefore, the SWOT analysis noted that instances of inconclusive elections would be significantly reduced in 2023 as the new electoral law now defines overvoting in terms of accredited voters versus registered voters, adding that the INEC would be also able, under the new law, to review signed results under financial inducement or duress. The report enthuses that if INEC wisely applies technology, which it advocated and achieved through the new electoral law, the transparency of the election could be improved. The report also added that the credibility of the ballot would also depend on the extent to which citizens could vote freely and unhindered.
He noted, “Insecurity remains a critical issue, particularly in the northwest and southeast. The prevailing structural, infrastructural and cultural ecosystems in which the polls will take place pose an additional challenge to this operation.
“Rapidly releasing the full INEC budget could help alleviate some of them. Finally, the role played by security agencies, and subsequently by the judiciary, can be as crucial in determining the credibility of the election as that of the electoral management body.
“Nigeria is currently facing an epidemic of insecurity. Violence by bandits, terrorists and secessionists has been recorded in its six geopolitical zones, further dividing the country along ethnic, religious and political lines. Holding credible elections in this context that guarantees the security of voters and CENI staff will be a major challenge. INEC’s ability to carry out continuous voter registration has already been questioned as insecurity has prevented the Commission from deploying to all neighborhoods in all electoral districts,” the report states.