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2023 elections: Technology, religion, ‘third forces’, eager youths raise stakes

Adoption of technology, religious sentiments, the rise of third forces, increased polictical awarenes and participation among Nigerian youths drive other factors that tense up the political space ahead of general elections in 2023.

As the race to elect new Nigerian leaders — president, governors and lawmakers — in 2023 approaches, a delegation of international election observers from the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI), were in Nigeria from July 13 to 22, 2022.

The delegation met with representatives from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the National Assembly, political parties, civil society, the media, security forces, academia, and diplomatic missions to assess the current political and electoral environment in the run-up to the general elections in 2023, preparations for the general elections and offer recommendations to boost citizen confidence in the process and mitigate the risk of electoral violence; and demonstrate inter-party cooperation.

Following that, the delegates issued a statement outlining their observations.

The governorship elections in Osun and Ekiti states, according to the statement, demonstrated the positive impact of INEC initiatives implemented since 2019 to improve results transparency, such as the introduction of the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IReV) and the elimination of voting points.

The election observers held that the 2023 elections will depart from some of the political dynamics that defined previous elections in the country. For the first time since 2007, there will be no incumbent in the presidential election.

“The emergence of Peter Obi – former Anambra state governor and presidential candidate for the Labour Party (LP) – and Rabiu Kwankwaso – former Kano governor and presidential candidate for the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP) – as viable “Third Forces” has excited many young Nigerians. If a third party draws sufficient support, a runoff presidential election could be a real possibility for the first time since the transition to democracy, adding complexity to the 2023 elections,” the statement read in part.

Furthermore, improvements in Electoral Reform, Transparency of Election Results, Electoral Disputes, Continuous Voter Registration (CVR), Promoting Peaceful Elections, and party Primaries are notable among the summation of international election observers’ observations with Nigeria’s political structure, particularly on the part of INEC.

“Stakeholders noted to the delegation that the 2022 primaries were more transparent, inclusive, and peaceful than in the past. Despite persistent incidents of vote buying and interference by some governors, the use of ad hoc, as opposed to statutory delegates, reduced the influence of party leadership members on the selection of candidates, leading to more transparency in voting and less violence than in 2018,” the statement said.

On the other hand, the delegates surmised intra-party disputes, monetization of politics, insecurity, election violence, electoral offenses,

misinformation, disinformation, and hate speech, as some of the prevalent shortcomings that must be addressed ahead of the elections.

“Insecurity has deepened, spreading to many parts of the country. According to data from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED) project, Nigeria experienced more incidents of political violence, conflict, and protest in 2021 than in any other year since data collection began in 1997,” the observers said.

“With a dramatic increase in banditry, kidnapping, and criminality across the country, it is therefore likely that the 2023 elections will take place in an environment that is more insecure than in previous polls.”

However, the delegation’s work, which was funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), produced 24 recommendations for a successful election in 2023.

Read also: Osun, Ekiti elections boost public confidence in INEC – Report

On election administration

The group urged the electoral umpire, INEC to allocate its remaining funds to ensure that it can complete procurement processes, training, and the deployment of necessary personnel and materials.

The observers implored INEC to implement assistive voting cubicles for people living with disabilities, women, youth and Internally Displaced Persons.

“With this change, INEC should consider voting cubicle modifications that protect ballot secrecy,” the group said in it’s statement.

“The government should end the strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities. This is critical for security because young people who are unable to study are more likely to be recruited into cults, gangs, or other groups that contribute to electoral violence.”

Concerning security, the delegates urged INEC and security forces to anticipate and plan for situations in which violence may be used to suppress votes or change outcomes.

“The government should address formally the role that informal security outfits (such as Amotekun and Ebube Agu) may play in the run-up to and during elections,” the group said.

According to the results of the assessment of Nigeria’s electoral environment, if the 2023 elections failed to improve on previous elections, Nigerians may lose faith in the potential and dividends of democracy.

Since the transition from military to civilian democratic rule in 1999, both the NDI and the IRI have sent international election observers to all general elections in Nigeria.

Later this year, NDI and IRI will send a second pre-election assessment delegation, as well as a joint international delegation, to observe the presidential and National Assembly elections in 2023.

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