On May 23, 2023, Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) hosted a webinar titled Unpacking Nigeria’s 2023 Ballot Dynamics and Charting the Course for a Resilient Democracy. The webinar hosted under the auspices of the European Union Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria (EU SDGN) attracted over 50 participants, including members of civil society, media practitioners, and young persons who gathered to review and discuss the process and outcomes of Nigeria’s 2023 General Election.
In his opening remarks, Akinbode Oluwafemi, the Executive Director of CAPPA stated that since the aftermath of the 2023 General Election in Nigeria, critical questions have surfaced in the public space regarding the processes and effectiveness of Nigeria’s electoral system, and contentious post-election matters shaping the nation’s outlook. He observed that the lead-up to the elections brought progressive changes such as the amendment of the country’s electoral legislation which allowed for an improved election process and the incorporation of new technologies like the Bimodal Voters System (BMAS) and INEC Result Viewing Portal (IReV) in the election process. Despite these improvements aimed at transparency and accountability, other issues, such as violence, non-transmission of the Presidential election results to IreV, and attacks on press freedom, undermined the election’s credibility. Hence, Oluwafemi emphasized the need to address these issues to enhance democratic processes and institutions.
Lanre Arogundade, the Executive Director of the International Press Centre, facilitated the first discussion of the webinar, focusing on Election Administration and Management. He underscored the crucial need for reallocating various responsibilities currently overseen by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). As part of his proposed overhaul, he recommended the establishment of an independent commission specifically tasked with managing electoral offences, thus relieving the INEC of this duty. He also advocated for a more democratic procedure for appointing INEC staff, which could involve a national hearing and selection by the National Assembly along with individuals of high integrity.
In addition to these changes, Arogundade suggested that the National Orientation Agency should be entrusted with voter education and election sensitization, further decentralizing INEC’s obligations. In his perspective, such redistribution of responsibilities would greatly enhance the Commission’s performance and effectiveness. Arogundade also expressed confidence that, given recent advancements, Nigeria is ready to hold all its elections in one day, which would significantly cut down the election period and costs.
Oluseyi Olufemi, Lead, Research for Development at Dataphyte led the next conversation on The Role of Technology in Enhancing Electoral Integrity. Discussing the influence of technological innovations on the 2023 electoral process, he highlighted several improvements. These include a streamlined voter registration process due to INEC’s launch of an online voter registration portal, the simplified process of location transfer for registered voters, the ability to confirm registered voter status via INEC’s portal, and the adoption of a functional Geographic Information System (GIS) for tracking polling units. Additionally, the introduction of BVAS and IreV in the voting process helped to improve the 2023 general election accreditation process and enhance transparency in the handling of election results.
Despite these advancements, he acknowledged that there were issues that clouded the quality of the elections. Technical issues on INEC’s portal, disruptions, and delays in posting copies of election results on INEC’s portal on election day were major concerns. Post-election, Oluseyi emphasized the need for INEC to bolster its digital systems against cyberattacks and enhance its ability to collate and verify results efficiently. Furthermore, he advocated for the Presidential Election Tribunal to permit digital coverage of the proceedings. This, he argued, would ensure citizens are kept informed and foster public confidence in democratic systems.
In a concluding presentation, Nnamdi Elekwachi from the Youth and Students Advocates for Development Initiatives shed light on Voter Participation and Civic Engagement. He observed that the 2023 elections saw a disappointingly low turnout, with only 27% of registered voters casting their ballots. Elekwachi highlighted that the Not Too Young to Run legislation and the #ENDSARS protests of 2020 had energized youth’s participation in the 2023 election. These developments revved political consciousness in the youths and opened new avenues for their participation in political processes. However, the prohibitively high cost of electoral forms, running into tens of millions, hindered many young individuals from taking part. Additionally, he expressed concern about the low representation of women in elective positions following the 2023 elections, which he described as poor.
To promote broader participation in future elections, Elekwachi advocated for decentralizing the power of appointment for key electoral positions, such as the INEC Chairman and Resident Electoral Commissioners. This power is currently vested with the President. Decentralization would help alleviate suspicions of undue influence, especially among potential voters and opposition parties. He also identified a trust deficit stemming from the 2023 elections, notably the failure to transmit presidential election results in real-time. This issue led to widespread voter apathy in the subsequent Gubernatorial elections of March 18, 2023. As such, he underscored the importance of rebuilding citizens’ trust to ensure more robust participation in future elections.