Nigeria and the 2023 general elections
Regular conduct of free, fair, and credible elections, in which people can vote to choose their leaders, is a major indicator of a democracy. Nigeria returned to democratic governance in 1999, after the military terminated the democratically elected government of President Shehu Shagari through a coup in 1983. The 2023 general elections scheduled for February/March 2023 will be the 7th since the country returned to democratic governance 23 years ago. This is the longest period of democratic governance in the history of Nigeria, which calls for celebrations! However, while there have been reasons to celebrate, there are also challenges which the country must deal with as it continues its journey towards deepening democracy. For example, the influence of religion and ethnic identities in politics, the cost of politics, as well as the need for inclusion of underrepresented groups in the process, among others.
Nigeria is a multicultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-religious country which operates a federal style structure and a presidential system of government as provided for in the constitution. From 1999 to date, the management of the nation’s diversity, allocation, and distribution of its resources to the different groups in the society has often brought up challenges. Political parties have had to manage the diversity of Nigeria through zoning arrangements, which sees the emergence of candidates alternated between the various zones. Elective positions are subjected to the “zoning formula”, while appointive positions are guided by the Federal Character provision of the constitution. Concerns about religion are managed in such a way that when a Muslim or a Christian emerges as Presidential candidate, the running mate would come from the other religion to ensure balance. Yet, there have always been alternative opinions supporting the emergence of the most credible and capable individuals, regardless of their religion or ethnic identity.
For the first time in 23 years, Nigeria appears to be doing away with the rotational principle or the prioritization of identities for determining emergence of candidates. The ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) will be contesting the Presidential election with Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a southern Muslim, as the Presidential Candidate and Alhaji Kashim Shettima, a northern Muslim, as the running mate. This generated lot of debate given that religion remains an important element of Nigerian politics and society. On other hand, against the expectation of fielding a Southerner, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is fielding a northerner and former Vice-President Alhaji Atiku Abubkar as its Presidential candidate. The candidate will however have a Christian southerner, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, as his running mate. While it will be interesting to see how electorates react to these changes, both parties argue that their candidates’ selection is based on calculations that would ensure victory in the 2023 elections.
Political parties’ primaries also raised concern among citizens about the high cost of entering politics leading to the reversal of inclusivity in the democratic process. Despite efforts at promoting the participation of underrepresented groups in politics, the high costs placed on political parties’ expression of interest and nomination forms was substantial enough to deter young Nigerians and women. Expression of interest and nomination forms were set by the ruling APC as high as N100 million (198,927 GBP) for the Presidential ticket and N50 million (99,464 GBP) for the Governorship ticket. Allegedly, there was massive use of money to induce delegates during the primaries. While the use of money is nothing new in politics, in Nigeria and elsewhere, its excessive use to determine standard bearers may deprive the most capable and competent individuals – particularly among women, youths, and persons with disabilities (PWDs) – the opportunity to contest for elective positions. There are also risks of “dirty money” finding its way into politics to fund the ambition of candidates.
The observed recent rush by young Nigerians, and other usually excluded groups, to register as voters and collect their permanent voters’ card is a positive signal. Out of Nigeria’s estimated population of over 200 million people, PWDs are approximately 25 million, youths constitute more than 60% of the entire population, while women constitute 50% of the population. Statistics made available by the Election Commission (INEC) indicates that Nigeria currently has slightly over 84 million registered voters. With the current energy with which Nigerians, particularly young people, discuss the 2023 elections, it is hopeful that more voters than the 34.75% recorded during the 2019 general elections will turn out to exercise their rights.
WFD will be launching a programme to monitor and engage political parties on how inclusive they are. We will publish our findings and then work with the political parties and civil society to improve inclusive political participation. Opening political parties to women, young people, and PWDs should be a continuous process. It must not stop until all Nigerians are able to participate and have their voices heard in the decisions that affect their everyday life.
Adebowale Olorunmola is the WFD Country Representative in Nigeria.