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Votes, violence and validity: Nigeria’s 2023 sub-national elections

On March 18, following a one-week delay by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to enable it to comply with a Court of Appeal judgement,…

On March 18, following a one-week delay by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to enable it to comply with a Court of Appeal judgement, Nigerians returned to the polls to cast their ballots in the governorship and state house of assembly elections. Voters in 28 states had the chance to elect new, or re-elect existing, governors in the March 18th vote, with the remaining eight states operating off-cycle processes, three of which are scheduled to take place later this year.  This is a summary of the report of the Election Analysis Centre of the Centre for Democracy and Development on the elections.

BVAS was largely deployed and functional across the country for accreditation. Linked to the improved deployment of BVAS, the uploading of declared polling unit results to the INECs results viewing platform (IReV) was significantly improved as compared with the 25 February polls, with 23 per cent of declared polling unit results available on the platform by 1810 on election day. By 1400 on March 19 that had increased to an average of 85% and ranged from 98% in Oyo to a low of 68 per cent in Kano. This provided real results for political parties and citizens to follow the distribution of votes. Nonetheless, diminished trust in the electoral institution will shape wider perceptions when it comes to the acceptance of the results returned, particularly in races where a narrow margin of victory is recorded or where presidential results are not replicated at the sub-national level.

The conduct of these elections was also impacted by the increased levels of violent incidents and vote trading recorded. The patchy deployment of security personnel in states such as Bayelsa, Enugu and Bauchi reduced the ability or willingness of security agencies to intervene to prevent critical violent incidents has further undermined the credibility of this poll. Across the country eight per cent of observers noted there were no security personnel at their polling units. Voter suppression, voter intimidation and the destruction or theft of election materials predominantly by political party agents and politically aligned thugs was recorded across all six geopolitical zones. These violent incidents were often focused in political strongholds of opposition or perceived opponents, which suggests that the use of BVAS – which limits overvoting when properly used – has resulted in a more concerted effort to stymie citizens casting their votes in opponent’s strongholds than to try and stuff ballot boxes in order to rig the outcome of an election.

The threat or use of violence – not just offline but also online through the use of identity drive misinformation and disinformation on social media – in some polling units to intimidate, suppress and destroy election materials had a multiplier effect, further reducing voters’ appetite to cast ballots, a reality that likely shaped engagement with the process in states like Lagos and Rivers in this election. In the first six hours of polls being open on March 18, CDD’s war room team came across a flurry of voter intimidation videos, particularly from Lagos State where it was ensconced in rhetoric about belonging and ethnic identity, an illustration of the ways that voter intimidation took place both online, as well as offline.

Uncertainty in Kano as NNPP leads APC with over 120,000 votes

Votes, violence and validity: Nigeria’s 2023 sub-national elections

In zones across the country vote trading was more pronounced than during the presidential elections, with both cash and goods used by all political parties in an effort to entice voters to cast their ballots in their direction. In total, 25.3 per cent of observers noted vote buying at their polling units across the country with the highest figures reported in the southeast (41.4 per cent) and northwest (35.4 per cent). In Anambra State, party agents were observed using materials, phones and other souvenirs to entice voters. In the south-south, multiple party agents reported a desire for voters to show proof of their vote before being paid, with party agents reportedly compiling a list of their voters in Esan Central LGA, Edo State.  In Kano, the value of goods, if not cash, was as high as N5,000, with 90 per cent of observers reporting incidents of vote buying in the polling units they observed. In polling units in Dutse, Ringim and Birnin Kudu LGAs of Jigawa State observers highlighted that some voters were actively soliciting funds in exchange for their votes. Vote buying, the violence and intimidation that many voters experienced in casting their ballots and the mistrust that many voters have in the capabilities of INEC following the February 25 elections, despite improvements this time, cannot be disassociated from the outcomes from the 28 governorship and 36 state house of assembly races.

APC candidates have been returned in 15 states: Gombe, Jigawa, Katsina, Kwara, Lagos, Ogun, Yobe, Sokoto, Nasarawa, Kaduna, Ebonyi, Benue, Niger, Borno, and Cross River.  The party was able to return incumbents in five of these states – Gombe, Kwara, Lagos, Ogun and Yobe – and retain control of states that it had lost during the presidential election – Gombe, Katsina, Sokoto and Yobe were won by PDP, while Lagos was won by Labour Party (LP).

PDP candidates have so far been successful in: Akwa Ibom, Oyo, Bauchi, Delta and Enugu, states that the party controlled before the elections, with an incumbent re-elected in Oyo despite losing the state to the APC during the presidential elections. The New Nigeria People’s Party was also able to parlay its strong showing in the presidential election to win the governorship elections in Kano State while LP won in Abia. The elections produced a governorship setup with five parties producing governors (in addition to All Progressives Grand Alliance in Anambra). This mirrors the multi-party configuration in the National Assembly.

Initial analysis of the results reinforces the unique nature of local politics. Available results show a correlation between governorship and state house of assembly results among declared states. Of note is the incumbency factor, with six of the 11 incumbents seeking re-election already returned elected.  Greater interest in state politics is also reflected in emerging data. Turnout for three states show increases when compared to the presidential election: Akwa Ibom 27.8 per cent versus 24.9 per cent, Jigawa 44.8 per cent versus 40.6 per cent and Katsina 39.4 per cent versus 31 per cent. While a different average can be expected when all the results have been formally declared, it appears the direct impact of governors on citizens, the high number of term-limited governors and the decision of state party chapters to respond to the presidential result led to an increased turnout.

Nigeria’s identity divisions have been more pronounced in these elections, with narratives amplified by online discourse further contributing to accentuating this. Whether to promote conventional zonal arrangements or to whip up ethnic concerns to support voter bases, this has played a part in heightening a sensitive political climate and led to an acrimonious voting process. Instances of systematic disenfranchisement on the basis of ethnicity, and the expectation that will translate into votes for another party, will also lead to more partisanship and division in incoming administrations.

The development of electoral democracy in Nigeria confronts regular and determined efforts by some members of the political class to undermine it for their selfish interests. It therefore requires continuous reforms to strengthen and build its resilience. We recommend the following measures:

A lot of the challenges confronting electoral democracy in Nigeria are the direct result of illegal and often criminal action taken by key members of the political class and their surrogates who violate the Electoral Act and other laws and regulations, engage in violence, murder, fraud, disruption of elections, hate speech and so on. Accountability for such action is important and the long-standing proposal by the Uwais Electoral Reform Committee to establish the Electoral Offences Commission should be implemented as soon as possible.

Establish a Political Parties Regulatory Commission, which will focus on building the strength and capacity of parties so that INEC can focus exclusively on the organisation of elections.

Strengthen democracy-promoting institutions, including the Independent National Electoral Commission, which requires more autonomy, especially in relation to the appointment of its members and related support institutions such as the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the National Human Rights Commission who serve as guardrails of competitive party and electoral politics:

Create a National Cohesion and Integration Commission to promote Inter-ethnic and Inter-Religious Understanding with functions and powers modelled on the Kenyan Commission with same name;

Establish an independent committee, like the Uwais Electoral Reform Committee to look into improvement of election management in the country.

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