Author: IRI and NDI
Site of publication: NDI
Type of publication: Report
Date of publication: June 2019
Nigeria’s 2019 elections were an opportunity to consolidate democratic gains made since the end of military rule in 1999. In 2015, Nigeria experienced the first peaceful transfer of power since independence in 1960 from one ruling party, the PDP, to a former opposition party, the APC. “The 2015 polls were a marked improvement in election administration and transparency over previous elections. Although there were shortcomings, the overall success of the elections underscored for Nigerians that credible elections matter.”
This sentiment was captured in an Afrobarometer survey in 2017 that showed that 72 percent of Nigerians agreed that democratic elections are the best means of choosing the country’s leaders. For the 2019 contest, INEC registered an unprecedented 91 political parties of which 73 fielded presidential candidates. Some party coalitions, such as the Coalition of United Political Parties were created in an attempt to change the traditional two-horse race. In the months before the Feb. 23 vote, however, most minor parties and coalitions endorsed one of the leading candidates, the PDP’s Abubakar or Buhari of the APC. Since the 2015 elections, both the PDP and APC have faced internal divisions. The PDP was paralyzed for two years by a struggle between the National Working Committee and the National Caretaker Committee, both simultaneously assuming the role of the party’s leadership.
The dispute escalated to the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the National Caretaker Committee in July 2017. In August 2018, the APC suffered high-level defections that threatened its chances of maintaining power in the 2019 elections. The defections resulted in the APC losing control of the National Assembly, as Senate President Bukola Saraki and Speaker of the House Yakubu Dogara joined the PDP. The success of the Not Too Young to Run campaign prompted a growing interest among youth in the 2019 elections. The campaign resulted in the passage of the Age Reduction Bill, which amended the constitution to lower the age requirement for presidential and gubernatorial candidates to 35 years, and to 25 years for federal and state representative candidates. In the end, overall youth candidacy increased from 21 percent in 2015 to 35.2 percent in the 2019 elections.
On Jan. 25, Buhari suspended Supreme Court Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen over his failure to declare assets before taking office in 2017, a legal requirement for public officials. The suspension drew criticism from the international community and local civil society, which questioned the president’s constitutional authority to remove a sitting chief justice without approval from the National Assembly. Some saw the move as politically motivated, considering the chief justice plays a vital role in resolving post-election disputes. The 2019 elections also took place within a context of heightened insecurity. Despite the government’s concerted effort to rid the North East of terrorist groups, Boko Haram continued to carry out attacks in the lead-up to the 2019 elections.
The 2015 polls were a marked improvement in election administration and transparency over previous elections. Although there were shortcomings, the overall success of the elections underscored for Nigerians that credible elections matter
In 2017, the group carried out 135 attacks, three times as many as in 2016. An increase in attacks by Boko Haram against military targets in December 2018 also heightened fears of the group’s resurgence and prompted Buhari to organize an emergency meeting with regional heads of state. Meanwhile, in the South East, the Biafran separatist movement called for a boycott of the elections and a referendum for Biafran separation on the same day as the presidential vote. In addition, remnants of the militant groups that previously disrupted oil operations in the Niger Delta reportedly merged with criminal youth gangs that are commonly associated with election-related disturbances.
The Nigerian military also confronted Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) members in October 2018 who were protesting in Abuja over the government’s refusal to release their leader, Sheikh Ibrahim el-Zakzaky. IMN reported that 40 of its members were killed. Finally, pastoral and farming communities in the Middle Belt continued to clash over land ownership, resulting in more than 2,000 deaths in 2018 alone and a steep rise in the number of IDPs. Armed banditry, kidnappings and day-to-day petty crime also rose, particularly in Zamfara, Kano and Kaduna states, leading to hundreds killed and prompting a military operation by the government to quell the violence ahead of the 2019 general elections.
Key Issues in the 2019 Elections
Ahead of the 2019 polls, INEC instituted several reforms, including simultaneous accreditation and voting, the posting of results at polling units, improved voter-verification technologies, a more robust review and disciplinary process for INEC staff and enhancement of ballot secrecy and measures to reduce vote buying. INEC tested these innovations in off-cycle gubernatorial elections in Ekiti state in July 2018 and Osun state in September 2018, and lessons learned were applied in the general elections. Building on its decision to institute a continuous voter registration process in 2017, INEC added 14.5 million voters to the registration roll, bringing the number of registered voters to 84,004,084. The collection of permanent voter cards (PVCs)4 by eligible voters for the 2019 polls increased from 82 percent in 2015 to 86.6 percent.
Both polls were administered generally in accordance with election procedures. The last-minute postponement of the presidential and National Assembly elections on Feb. 16 showed that INEC had underestimated challenges associated with the administration of the elections
In January 2018, more than a year before the polls, INEC released the elections timetable, but had trouble following it due to the delayed allocation of electoral funds, failed attempts to reform the electoral legal framework and numerous pre-election disputes over political party primaries that delayed ballot production. Just hours before Nigerians were expecting polls to open on Feb. 16, INEC announced the postponement of the presidential and National Assembly elections to Feb. 23, citing delays in the distribution of election materials. However, for the rescheduled Feb. 23 polls, essential materials were still not delivered on time and poll workers arrived late, delaying the opening of polling units in many parts of the country. As a result, INEC extended voting hours for affected polling units. In many polling units, voting and counting continued late into the night. The March 9 elections saw improvements in electoral administration, including the timely distribution of materials and opening of polling units, in some parts of the country. “Both polls were administered generally in accordance with election procedures. The last-minute postponement of the presidential and National Assembly elections on Feb. 16 showed that INEC had underestimated challenges associated with the administration of the elections.”
The commission did not communicate sufficiently with political parties and the public about election preparations. Such a late postponement likely depressed voter turnout and created confusion about the duration of candidate and party campaigning. Most significantly, the delay also undermined public confidence in INEC. After the oneweek postponement, INEC increased its public outreach and communications through regular press briefings. Since the polls, however, INEC has been slow to release information, including detailed results. On Feb. 27, INEC completed the collation process for the presidential results, declaring the APC’s Buhari the winner with 56 percent of the vote. Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the PDP, received 41 percent of the vote. A parallel vote tabulation (PVT) conducted by YIAGA Africa verified INEC’s announced presidential results. The APC also emerged with significant majorities in both chambers of the National Assembly. Following the gubernatorial elections, the APC retained control of 19 states, compared with 16 for the PDP.
Insecurity and Election-Related Violence
Ahead of the 2019 polls, the poor security situation in Nigeria, mainly attributed to Boko Haram’s resurgence in the North East, intercommunal violence in the Middle Belt and widespread crime and banditry, raised concerns about the safety of voters and candidates. Increased politically motivated violence and conflict in the pre-election period was also a concern, especially around political party primaries in some areas and with some alleged political assassinations in the weeks before the polls. To ease these rising tensions, the National Peace Committee convened political parties and their presidential candidates to sign two peace accords.
The first, signed on Dec. 12, 2018, committed the candidates to run issue-based campaigns. The second, signed on Feb. 13, 2019, committed the candidates to respect the outcome of elections. Despite these accords, politically motivated violence rose and political actors used increasingly inflammatory language as election day approached. Before the elections, various Nigerian stakeholders expressed concerns about the neutrality of the security services. The Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Electoral Security, co-chaired by the national security adviser and the chair of INEC, is meant to improve coordination and information sharing on election security, but it was not fully operational at the state and local levels before and on election day.
While voting was generally peaceful during the Feb. 23 and March 9 elections in most of the country, at some polling units party agents and other party supporters disrupted voting, intimidated voters and destroyed voting materials. Party agents also acted with impunity in assisting voters to mark their ballots, intimidating voters and violating the secrecy of the ballot. During the March 9 polls, most police and unarmed security conducted themselves with restraint. However, credible citizen observer groups expressed grave concern over the heavy military presence in some areas and what they termed the “militarization of the electoral process.” The military disrupted the polls in some areas, including in Rivers state, where soldiers deployed heavily around INEC’s offices, leading to the suspension of vote collation. These disruptions contributed to many canceled votes,9 inconclusive election results and the need to conduct supplementary elections for some contests.
Money in Politics
“Money has played a corrosive role in Nigeria’s political system. The high cost to obtain political party nominations, including both formal nomination fees and payoffs often required to influence primary outcomes, deters many qualified aspirants from contesting, including many women, youth and people with disabilities.”
The influence of money in the political process also reduces the incentive for political parties to earn voters’ confidence by creating platforms that are responsive to citizen priorities. As a result, there is little to differentiate the parties ideologically. This money-driven political system also contributes to “crosscarpeting,” with party elites regularly switching parties to secure nominations for elected office. During off-cycle gubernatorial elections in Osun (July 2018) and Ekiti (September 2018) states, citizen observers raised concerns about the increasing, and increasingly brazen, practice of vote buying.12 Nigerian election stakeholders informed the mission that poverty, disillusionment with the performance of elected representatives, low civic awareness among voters, and lack of accountability contributed to the expansion of vote buying. In an attempt to curb this practice, INEC instituted new measures to protect the secrecy of the ballot, including prohibiting the use of cell phones in the voting booth and rearranging the layout of polling units. Still, throughout the campaign period, citizen observer groups noted more vote buying, including political parties buying PVCs, presumably to suppress voter turnout in certain areas. During the Feb. 23 and March 9 polls, IRI/NDI observers witnessed vote buying at polling units as well as party agents assisting voters in marking their ballots and violating the secrecy of the vote.
Electoral System and Legal Framework
Nigeria is a federal system with powers divided among the federal, state and local government levels. The country is divided into 36 states that are further subdivided into 774 local government areas (LGAs). For the 2019 general elections, INEC conducted 1,558 electoral contests: the presidential election, 109 Senate elections, 360 House of Representatives elections, 29 gubernatorial elections, 991 State House of Assembly elections; and six chairman and 62 councilor elections for the six local area councils in the FCT.23 For the presidential election, the president and vice president are elected on a single ticket to a four-year term. Presidents are limited to two four-year terms.
Money has played a corrosive role in Nigeria’s political system. The high cost to obtain political party nominations, including both formal nomination fees and payoffs often required to influence primary outcomes, deters many qualified aspirants from contesting, including many women, youth and people with disabilities
To be elected, a presidential candidate must win a simple majority as well as 25 percent of the votes cast in at least 24 states. The National Assembly is composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Senate, the upper chamber, has 109 members, three from each of the 36 states and one from the FCT. Each state is divided into three single-member constituencies from which senators are elected. The House of Representatives, the lower chamber, has 360 members elected from single-member constituencies.
Article 72 of the 1999 constitution (as amended) provides that National Assembly constituencies be relatively equal in population size. Article 73 of the constitution requires INEC to review the delineation of National Assembly constituencies at least every 10 years and allows INEC to conduct a review following a national census. While a national census was conducted in 2006, the delineation of constituencies has not been updated since 1996. This creates an imbalance in relative voting power, since constituencies with higher population growth have the same number of elected representatives as those that have not grown as fast.24
Consequently, the international principle of equal suffrage25 is not guaranteed. Nigeria’s governors are elected in single-member constituencies representing each of the 36 states. Similar to the presidency, candidates for governor must receive a simple majority and at least 25 percent of the vote in two-thirds of the state’s LGAs. Governors and deputy governor candidates run on a single ticket. During the 2019 elections, INEC conducted gubernatorial elections in 29 of the 36 states. The remaining seven states are conducted off-cycle as a result of court rulings.26 The State House of Assembly in each of the 36 states consists of 24 to 40 members representing singlemember constituencies. In conjunction with these state-level polls in 2019, INEC conducted local area council elections in the FCT, which happen every three years.
The legal framework for elections in Nigeria is the 1999 constitution (as amended) and the Electoral Act of 2010 (as amended). The constitution mandates that INEC organize, undertake and supervise all national elections. It also gives the commission power to register political parties; regulate parties’ conduct, including auditing their accounts; conduct voter registration and maintain a national voter register; establish rules and regulations for the election campaign; conduct voter and civic education; fix dates for elections; and delimit constituencies. The constitution and the Electoral Act also grant INEC the authority to establish specific regulations and guidelines for the conduct of elections. The Electoral Act of 2010 was an important update to the electoral legal framework. However, following the 2011 and 2015 polls, stakeholders identified areas for additional electoral reform and in 2016 the National Assembly, in consultation with INEC, drafted a bill to amend the Electoral Act. The proposed amendments would have codified the use of smart card readers and other forms of electronic voting. The bill also sought to increase penalties for vote buying, impose higher fines on media houses not providing candidates equal airtime and make the voter register and results electronic and accessible. The first version of the amendment bill was introduced in 2016 but was not passed and sent to the president until early 2018. In March 2018, Buhari withheld his assent, citing concerns including a controversial amendment stipulating the sequence of elections.28 Between June and December 2018, the National Assembly sent three revised versions of the bill to the president, who withheld his assent each time. Buhari cited inconsistencies in the bill and conflicts with existing law, and said INEC would not have time to implement the changes before the elections.
Presidential and Legislative Election Day Observations
Election Delay The last-minute postponement of the elections on the morning of election day on Feb. 16 demonstrated that INEC underestimated the challenges associated with administering the election. Moreover, the commission was not forthcoming about procurement delays as well as the impact of uncertainty over the candidate lists caused by pre-election disputes. The late postponement depressed voter turnout, sowed confusion about the duration of candidate and party campaign activity and imposed significant additional economic costs for Nigerians. Most significantly, the delay also undermined public confidence in INEC. Following the delay announcement, the IRI/NDI mission joined other international observer groups in issuing a joint statement calling for calm.38 IRI/NDI also released its own statement urging INEC to be more transparent about electoral preparations and to better communicate with the public and stakeholders.For its part, INEC did make efforts to increase its communication and outreach during the week-long delay, including holding regular press briefings by the chairman. In the days before Feb. 23, observers found that most materials had been received from headquarters at the state level and distributed to registration area centers. However, observers noted the absence of an inventory of materials or systems for tracking missing and misplaced materials. In addition, due to a fire in an INEC office in Anambra state, more than 4,600 smart card readers were destroyed, leaving certain districts in the state without enough backup machines.
While millions of Nigerians demonstrated their resilient commitment to democracy by voting on election day, turnout for the national polls on Feb. 23, 2019, was only 35.66 percent, a historic low. Those who voted waited patiently to cast their ballot, often despite long lines and delays. Women and youth served as polling officials, party agents and observers. Observers noted a heavy presence of party agents, including those from the APC and PDP, at nearly every polling unit observed.
“A majority of polling units observed by the mission did not have essential materials and polling staff in place by 8 a.m. and, as a result, opened late. YIAGA Africa similarly indicated that only 41 percent of polling units opened by 10 a.m. Some polling units observed by the IRI/NDI mission did not commence voting until 1 p.m., just one hour before polls were intended to close.”
Nigerians, however, remained calm and exercised patience. IRI/NDI observers noted that some polling officials did not understand how to orient or use the materials in the polling unit. Notably, in some polling units observed, ballot boxes were found unsealed or missing labels and lids. Observers found many polling units to be overcrowded and located in areas too small for the number of voting points, contributing to an overall environment of disorder and tension. In addition, observers noted that the location of polling units for IDPs was changed at the last minute from camps to traditional ward-level polling units in some locations, which could have made voting more difficult for IDPs.
IRI/NDI observers were told that the abrupt change was because the IDP framework adopted by INEC ahead of the elections was not supported by the Electoral Act of 2010, which prohibits a voter from registering in more than one center or from voting “at a polling unit other than the one to which he is allotted.” During voting, observers noted that the overall environment was peaceful and that polling officials generally adhered to voting procedures; PVCs were verified using the smart card readers and names were checked against the voter register. In most cases when fingerprints were not verified by the smart card readers, voters’ details were checked in the voter register, as prescribed by the guidelines.
A majority of polling units observed by the mission did not have essential materials and polling staff in place by 8 a.m. and, as a result, opened late. YIAGA Africa similarly indicated that only 41 percent of polling units opened by 10 a.m. Some polling units observed by the IRI/NDI mission did not commence voting until 1 p.m., just one hour before polls were intended to close
Observers noted few instances of voters being turned away. However, frequent failures of smart card readers to authenticate fingerprints frustrated polling officials and voters and stymied the process. Observers noted with concern many violations of the secrecy of the ballot. For example, voting cubicles were not provided in all polling units. Even with voting screens, the setup of the polling unit did not always guarantee secrecy of the ballot. In urban and rural areas alike, observers noted that polling units were not always accessible to people with disabilities. Magnifying glasses and ballot guides for the visually impaired were not seen by most IRI/NDI observers. When asked, numerous polling officials were not aware of or not using the EC40H form for documenting the number of disabled voters.
Collation and Announcement of Results
On Feb. 24, INEC began releasing certified state-level results from its National Collation Center in Abuja. On Feb. 28, INEC declared Buhari of the APC the winner of the presidential contest with 55.6 percent of the vote. Abubakar of the PDP registered 41.2 percent. A PVT conducted by YIAGA Africa verified the results, finding INEC’s announced results to be within a credible statistical range. INEC announced that voter turnout for the presidential election was 35.66 percent. It also announced the number of registered voters as collated as 82,344,107, nearly 1.7 million fewer than the figure announced prior to the elections.
INEC has not provided an explanation for this discrepancy. If the actual number of registered voters is 84,004,084, as announced prior to the elections, the voter turnout rate would be even lower, at 35 percent. Moreover, the difference between the number of accredited voters and votes cast indicates that 2.6 percent of voters were accredited but did not cast a ballot in the presidential race. While it is possible that some voters chose not to vote for a presidential candidate, this number is higher than expected by Nigerian civil society and election administration experts. In addition, the rate of rejected (or invalid) ballots, 4.7 percent, is higher than the rate in 2015 of 2.8 percent.
However, INEC has not released disaggregated results data that would allow for further examination of these trends. During the announcement of the presidential results, INEC also announced that voting was canceled in many polling units across the country due to disruptions, such as violence, ballot box snatching and polling officials’ refusal to use the smart card reader, as well as for over-voting. These polling units represented more than 2.9 million people, or more than 3 percent of registered voters. This is a jump from the 2015 elections, when voting was canceled in 1,045 polling units, representing less than 1 percent of registered voters. INEC has not released a comprehensive list of canceled polling units, nor the reasons for these cancellations. While the number of canceled polling units did not significantly affect the presidential results given the margin separating the top two candidates, it did necessitate supplementary elections for Senate and House of Representative contests
Gubernatorial and State House of Assembly Election Day Observations
On March 9, INEC conducted gubernatorial elections in 29 states, State House of Assembly elections in all 36 states42 and six area council elections in the FCT. INEC also conducted supplementary elections in 14 states for seven Senate and 25 House of Representatives contests whose results were declared inconclusive following the Feb. 23 poll due to violence or other disruptions. INEC did not release the list of supplementary elections until late on March 8 and did not release a list of the polling units where supplementary voting occurred on March 9.
Before election day, the IRI/NDI mission noted lingering tensions from the Feb. 23 national-level polls. Representatives of the two major parties accused each other of planning to disrupt the electoral process in various states, and the mission received reports of a spike in violent confrontations between APC and PDP supporters. In Akwa Ibom, an alleged arson at the INEC office in Ibesikpo Asutan LGA on March 8 destroyed smart card readers, and INEC had to mobilize nearly 200 replacements from other states. On election day, IRI/NDI observers noted that voter turnout was generally low. Women and youth were well-represented as polling officials, party agents and observers, with a significant number of women serving as presiding officers in polling units. In addition, observers found that voting rights for IDPs were generally respected, with IDPs in Benue and Adamawa states permitted to vote in their camps.
However, IRI/ NDI observers noted significant impediments to voting for people with disabilities and the elderly, as many polling units were not physically accessible to these voters. Most polling units that IRI/NDI observed opened on time and received all essential materials prior to opening. However, in parts of Lagos, Nasarawa and Kaduna states, observers noted serious delays in the opening of some polling units. Such delays were generally due to the late arrival of INEC staff or party agents and the late distribution of materials from the registration area centers.
In Ikeja LGA in Lagos, some polling units opened as late as 11 a.m. due to a strike by polling officials demanding back pay for their services. These delayed openings created tension and disorder. IRI/NDI observers noted that voting was generally calm and polling officials performed their duties according to procedure. In general, INEC guidelines for accreditation and voting were followed. Polling officials verified PVCs using the smart card readers; where fingerprints could not be authenticated, procedures for manual accreditation were overall followed and voter details were checked against the register. Where IRI/NDI observed, there was generally gender balance among INEC and ad hoc election officials. IRI/NDI observers reported that smart card readers were functioning in most polling units.
In the few instances where they malfunctioned, the problem was immediately reported and voting was suspended until the smart card readers were replaced. In some polling units in Lagos and Nasarawa states, the delay caused by malfunctioning smart card readers raised tension among voters who had been waiting in line for long periods. As was also noted by IRI/NDI observers during the Feb. 23 polls, the secrecy of the ballot was not uniformly protected in polling units observed. Crowding in some polling units meant citizens marked and cast their ballots in very close proximity to party agents, polling and security officials, and the general public. Some polling units in Lagos state did not have voting cubicles and did not provide adequate space to protect voter privacy. Moreover, much like the Feb. 23 elections, instances of assisted voting exceeded the mandate set out in INEC’s regulations.
Collation, Announcement of Results and Supplementary Elections
Local and international observer groups noted irregularities and violence during the governorship collation process in several states. In Rivers state, conflict between unidentified security agencies and armed thugs led to delayed commencement of the collation and eventual suspension of the governorship election. In Benue state, IRI/NDI observers and media reported that four polling officials were kidnapped on their way to collation centers. In other states, party agents and observers were chased away or simply barred from the collation centers. IRI/NDI observers similarly noted issues at collation centers in Adamawa, Benue, Lagos, Nasarawa and in Rivers state, where observers saw INEC officials flee a collation center due to a rumored threat of an attack.
The second preliminary report by the EU delegation noted that in most cases, results forms and smart card readers were not properly transmitted to collation centers. This provided room for discrepancies in the results figures received from polling units and those announced at the collation centers. There were reported cases of interference by party agents or the presence of unauthorized people at collation. Immediately following the March 9 election, INEC declared the results of 22 governorship elections, but it could not declare governorship contest results in six states where the outcome was inconclusive and in Rivers state, where the collation process was suspended due to violence. INEC also declared results inconclusive for 41 State House of Assembly contests in 23 states.
The PDP questioned INEC’s decision to declare the results inconclusive and claimed it was an attempt to sway the election results in favor of the ruling party. The PDP cited the Osun gubernatorial election as an example of how the governorship was awarded to the APC after the PDP candidate finished with the most votes after initial voting. INEC conducted most of these supplementary elections on March 23.43 Observers worried that the focus on a small number of polling units could lead to increased tensions and violence at the polls. This was the case in Kano state, where the supplementary election was marred by violence committed by armed thugs and increased presence of security. Observer groups reported that political thugs in some LGAs were forcing voters to support one party over the other. In Sokoto state, Governor Aminu Tambuwal of the PDP won reelection in one of the closest elections in Nigerian history with a margin of only 341 votes.
Following the 2019 elections, more than 750 petitions were filed challenging the election results, including four presidential, 207 Senate, 101 House of Representatives, 54 governorship and 402 State House of Assembly petitions.45 On March 18, Abubakar and the PDP filed a petition with the Court of Appeal challenging the outcome of the presidential election as declared by INEC. The petition claimed that the vote amounts announced by INEC were not the actual results, citing images produced by an unnamed whistleblower showing different result totals and pictures of an alleged INEC computer server. The petition also cited INEC’s failure to comply with the Electoral Act and the ineligibility of Buhari to contest the election.
INEC, as well as Buhari and the APC, filed responses to the petition. The Court of Appeal has until Sept. 14, 2019, 180 days after the filing of the petition, to pass judgment. The decision can then be appealed to the Supreme Court, which would have 90 days to render a verdict. On May 8, the Court of Appeal began hearing the petition. The PDP filed a claim calling for the president of the Court of Appeal, Zainab Bulkachuwa, to withdraw from the tribunal, citing her husband’s affiliation with the APC. The party also requested access to the smart card readers and INEC central server.46 In the weeks before the inauguration, election tribunals forced INEC to rescind the certification of at least 64 candidates. This includes three Senate, seven House of Representative, and 24 State House of Assembly candidates in Zamfara state who were disqualified after the courts ruled that the APC had not conducted a primary contest. Most of these election tribunal rulings related to intraparty disputes in which the court ruled that the candidate nominated by the party did not win the party’s primary and should therefore be replaced with the rightful nominee from the same party.
Many Nigerians told members of the IRI/NDI mission that they were disappointed in the lack of progress in election administration since 2015 and in the performance of political parties. These elections marked the 20th anniversary of the country’s transition to civilian democratic rule, but for many Nigerians, they also highlighted the need for a national conversation about the progress made since that transition and the vulnerabilities that must be overcome to make electoral processes more credible and to safeguard the country’s democracy. In previous years suggestions for improvements by reputable citizen and international observation missions went unheeded. The IRI/NDI mission urges Nigerian stakeholders to seriously consider these and other recommendations to improve the electoral process.
Legal Framework and Election Dispute Resolution
- Pursue a comprehensive, inclusive and expeditious electoral reform process. This process should draw upon recommendations from Nigerian-led reform initiatives such as the Uwais commission (2008) and the Nnamani committee (2017). These reforms should also address the challenges and lessons learned from the 2019 electoral cycle and should include the creation of appropriate institutions to oversee political parties and prosecute electoral offenses, responsibilities that impede INEC’s focus on election administration. These reforms should be pursued immediately and be completed early enough to allow changes to be fully implemented before the 2023 general elections.
- Establish time limits for the adjudication of pre-election petitions to ensure that judgments are rendered before election day and early enough not to interfere with INEC’s election preparations. Reduce the length of time allowed for post-election disputes so the majority of petitions can be adjudicated fully before those rightly elected assume office. This might require reexamining the electoral calendar.
- Complete constituency delimitation exercise and identify necessary polling units at least one year before the next elections. Although the 1999 constitution (as amended) requires INEC to review constituency delimitation every 10 years, these boundaries have not been updated since 1996. The National Assembly and other political actors should not interfere in this process. INEC should also review the location and number of polling units to ensure voters have sufficient space to queue and cast their ballot in a manner that ensures ballot secrecy and that polling units are physically accessible to all voters, including people with disabilities and the elderly.
- Make the continuous voter registration process more accessible to voters by pursuing technological advances that would allow for immediate issuance of a PVC upon registration and simplify the process for voters seeking to change their registration location. Voter registration information should be made available to stakeholders in a format that allows for independent audit and verification.
- Develop and adopt a strong strategic communications plan that builds on lessons learned from the 2019 elections to promote transparency and public trust. This includes more frequent and open communication with election stakeholders through the use of frequent press conferences and public statements to debunk false information and disseminate honest information about election day, field visits by headquarters- and state-level staff, appearances on popular radio and television programs, and consistent social media engagement.
- Reconsider the order and timing of general elections to ensure sufficient time for preparations and to promote voter participation and engagement at both the grassroots and national levels.
- Create a process that facilitates suffrage for those on official duty on election day, including polling officials, security agents and citizen observers. Denying these individuals an opportunity to cast their ballot is a violation of the principle of universal suffrage.
- Adopt more transparent procedures for the tabulation, transmission and announcement of results. To enhance confidence in its announced results, INEC should update its data management and communications process to ensure that information about the election process and results are shared with the public promptly and transparently. INEC should establish clear procedures for the transmission of results from the polling unit directly to INEC headquarters in Abuja or the state INEC office. INEC should make public polling-unit-level results for all elections.
Political Party Conduct
- Urgently commit to and implement measures to strengthen mechanisms for political party internal democracy. This includes promoting a more inclusive environment in which women, youth and people with disabilities can participate fully and equally in the electoral process without fear of violence, intimidation, sexual harassment, hate speech or forced patron-client relationships between political leaders and aspirants. It also includes adopting more transparent, credible and fair nomination processes. Additionally, political parties should adopt internal mechanisms for effective resolution of intraparty disagreements, which could contribute to reducing the number of pre-election disputes.
- Develop and campaign on issue-based platforms that reflect citizen priorities. Abandon electoral practices such as voter intimidation, vote buying and other disruptions in the electoral process that undermine citizen confidence in electoral processes and institutions, and democratic governance.
- Build the capacity of political parties to monitor elections. Ensure the effective recruitment and training of party agents with an emphasis on building an understanding of election day procedures and the appropriate role of party agents at the polling unit, and collecting evidence that could support election petitions.
- Improve coordination among stakeholders to increase and deepen voter and civic education. INEC, the National Orientation Agency, civil society, political parties, and the media all have important roles to play in educating citizens about the election process as well as their rights their reach, develop messages that resonate with voters, and ensure that traditionally marginalized groups—including women, youth, people with disabilities and illiterate and semiliterate voters—are specifically targeted. This includes using technologies, such as social media and radio, and delivering messages in a variety of Nigeria’s local languages.
- Continue efforts to enhance the participation of marginalized groups, including women, youth, people with disabilities and IDPs. INEC should continue to implement its own gender policy and disability framework and establish more detailed and timely guidelines and procedures that ensure the enfranchisement of IDPs.
and responsibilities in a participatory democracy. These stakeholders must redouble and better coordinate their efforts to expand their reach, develop messages that resonate with voters, and ensure that traditionally marginalized groups—including women, youth, people with disabilities and illiterate and semiliterate voters—are specifically targeted. This includes using technologies, such as social media and radio, and delivering messages in a variety of Nigeria’s local languages.
- Continue efforts to enhance the participation of marginalized groups, including women, youth, people with disabilities and IDPs. INEC should continue to implement its own gender policy and disability framework and establish more detailed and timely guidelines and procedures that ensure the enfranchisement of IDPs.
- Continue to improve coordination between security agencies and INEC on the provision of electoral security. The Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Electoral Security should be strengthened and better operationalized at the state and local government levels. Security agencies should participate fully in INEC’s electoral security training and be more transparent about election day deployments.
- Enforce electoral laws by investigating and prosecuting perpetrators of election-related criminal acts. This includes those arrested during the elections and those found to have supported or instigated criminal acts. Moreover, INEC should thoroughly investigate and prosecute election officials who engaged in or facilitated electoral offenses. Security agencies, including the military, should investigate and sanction security personnel who violated rules of engagement during the 2019 elections.