OVERVIEW OF THE 2023 GENERAL ELECTION IN NIGERIA
Nigerians trooped to the polls on February 25 and March 18, 2023, to elect a new President, National Assembly Members as well as 28 State Governors and members of 36 State Houses of Assembly.
It was the seventh consecutive general election since the return of the country to democracy in 1999. This represents 23 years of unbroken democracy, the longest in the history of Nigeria.
The Presidential election was contested by eighteen political parties and conducted under a new electoral framework. The new electoral framework known as the Electoral Act 2022, allows the country’s electoral body, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) the use of Technology for the conduct of elections using Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS for fingerprint and facial biometric identification and authentication of the voters.
The new Act also allows the commission to transmit election results electronically from the collation centres into the INEC servers and results viewing portal immediately after the counting of the votes.
Invariably, the new technological innovation introduced by INEC, paved the way for online pre-registration system of voters and new INEC enrolment device which helped to reduce the long queues witnessed in previous voter registration and voting exercises in the past. The new Electoral Act as amended by the Nigerian National Assembly also extended the time for political campaigns from 90 to 150 days which has equally created the opportunity for politicians to visit the nooks and crannies of the country if they so desire.
However, instead of reducing how money is used in Nigerian politics, the Act jacked up campaign finance funds from an initial N1billion to N5 billion for presidential candidates. The ceiling for other elected positions were also increased significantly in the new electoral Act.
There were 93.4 million registered Nigerian voters eligible to go to the polls. However, only a little above 30 million people turned out for the February 25 Presidential and National Assembly elections a far cry from those registered.
Prior to the elections, the electoral umpire adopted some strategic action plans to ensure a successful and smooth conduct of the elections. To achieve that, the commission activated 2,673 additional permanent voter card registration centers nationwide, introduced simultaneous accreditation and voting system and created additional polling units nearer to the electorates. It also embarked on continuous engagements with election stakeholders such as security agencies, political party leaders, civil society groups and the media towards improving the electoral processes.
In a bid to ensure that no eligible voter was disfranchised in the General Election, the commission made special provision for persons with disabilities, adequate provision for voters in Internally Displaced Camps to exercise their franchisee during the elections.
The commission was equally engaged in continuous sensitization programmes on the processes and preparations for the elections by galvanizing the citizenry by ensuring that they understand and participate fully in the electoral proceedings for the peaceful conduct of the elections.
Despite the mechanisms and measures put in place by the commission ahead of the elections, there were still some challenges encountered by the commission. Some of these challenges include attacks on INEC facilities and personnel in some parts of the country, vote buying and selling during elections, the malfunctioning of the BVAS in the transmission election results during the presidential election amongst other things.
Despite all the challenges faced, the elections were generally peaceful and winners announced without rancor. The losers have taken the right path by resorting to laws of the land which allows them to challenge the outcome in Special Elections Tribunals set up by the government.
Kudos should therefore, not only be given to the electoral umpire but also to the Nigerian government for supporting the commission adequately by ensuring early release of fund to INEC to enable it carry out its electoral activities successful.
Nigerian voters on the other hand should also be commended for their resilience by participating in the electoral processes despite all odds. Both Foreign and local observers, the media and of course security agencies should equally share the glory of the success of the 2023 elections.
Going forward, INEC needs to improve on its planning process to avoid the challenges it encountered on its inability to transmit the presidential election results electronically and create strong barriers against vote buying and selling. By so doing, the electorates would have more confidence in the commission.
The commission must avoid any act that could create doubt in the mind of voters that their votes will not count. Also, the personnel used during the elections should be only those who have been tested, trusted and persons with integrity to engender believe in the system.
The politicians on the other hand, should not always see elections as a do or die affair and avoid the act of desperation. Security agents on the other hand should eschew any corrupt practices and follow strictly, the rules of engagements on election security while the media should play their noble role of the watch Dog and act professionally during elections