2023 elections, the watchdog and the liers in wait

27th January 2023

The passage of the Electoral Act 2022 into law in February 2022 is expected to be a game-changer for Nigeria’s elections, as the law did its best to address all the issues that have prevented the conduct of credible elections. The issues range from ensuring adequate and timely funding for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to legalising the use of technology in elections, creating regulations for election-related litigation, and preventing the declaration of election winners under duress. The Act also designed provisions to increase citizen participation in the process. It is quite a comprehensive piece of legislation. It is expected that the ultimate test for this law will be the 2023 elections, even though some of its aspects, notably the use of electronic transmission of results, have been tested in the off-cycle elections that took place in the Ekiti and Osun governorship elections.

However, despite the best efforts of the law to make the elections rigging-proof, it has not stopped political actors from trying. Despite being the biggest beneficiaries of Nigeria’s democracy, Nigerian politicians still remain its biggest threat as they continually try to subvert processes and laws. For example, the nomination of 19 new Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) for INEC included six persons who had been accused of corruption or were partisan, including a recent governorship aspirant. Although there were protests in numerous quarters, the National Assembly went ahead to confirm these nominees, and they are now running INEC’s operations in the states they have been posted to.

In some cases, political parties are exploiting INEC’s reliance on ad-hoc staff for the elections to mobilise their party members for these roles. This creates risks for the electoral process because it gives the political parties the opportunity to manipulate the process, whether on a state-wide basis or at the polling-unit level. Another way that politicians are making attempts to manipulate the process is through the delegitimisation of technology such as the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and the INEC Results Viewing Portal (IReV). In September, news emerged of a lawsuit that was filed before the Federal High Court, Owerri, Imo State seeking to restrain the use of BVAS in elections. The filing of the lawsuit itself has become enmeshed in controversy, but it is clear that there are political actors behind it. This is besides comments by some top politicians that attempt to cast aspersions on the use of BVAS.

Even if these do not impact the conduct of the elections, they can influence how the electorate perceive the results. Of course, politicians will continue to attempt to buy votes and suppress votes in opposition strongholds by purchasing the Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs) of gullible voters in the area, thus denying their opponents possible votes. Another huge risk to the elections is the persistent attacks on INEC facilities. In many parts of the South-East as well as Osun and Ogun States, there have been arson attacks on INEC offices in numerous local government areas. In many states in the North including Kano, Bauchi, Adamawa, Zamfara, Kebbi and Kaduna, some INEC offices have been vandalised. These have the potential to hinder INEC’s ability to conduct elections there.

Lastly, INEC itself is unwittingly constituting a risk to the process it is conducting by not making voters’ cards available to all those who have registered or transferred their PVCs. Although there is no official data on the number of PVCs that have been collected by voters within a week to the end of the collection, there is enough anecdotal evidence that shows that not all the cards have been printed yet. The unavailability of these PVCs will mean the disenfranchisement of voters, and this will severely impact voter turnout in a pivotal election. All these taken together mean that Nigerians should not take the successful conduct of the 2023 elections as a fait accompli, but be very aware that there are existing issues that could mar the process. Even more, election stakeholders should begin to consider mitigation measures to prevent negative outcomes.