The West Africa Democracy Solidarity (WADEMOS) Network has monitored and observed with keen interest, the introduction of recent electoral reforms by the Independent Nigeria Electoral Commission (INEC) in the lead up to the February 25, 2023 presidential and national assembly elections and the gubernatorial and state assembly elections slated for March 11, 2023.
The WADEMOS Network considers the recent electoral reforms introduced by the INEC a significant step towards a more transparent, free, fair and inclusive voting process as it will modernize the system and ensure the integrity of the results.
The Network, from January 24-28, 2023, embarked on a pre-election solidarity mission to Nigeria ahead of the forthcoming elections in recognition of the shared democratic values by people across the ECOWAS sub-region and in acknowledgement of the unity among civil society and other civic actors across the West African sub-region in their common desire to see democracy upheld in Nigeria.
“The mission recognizes the importance of this election considering the strides that Nigeria has made in sustaining democracy over the last 24 years without any unconstitutional interruptions.To this extent, we commend the people of Nigeria in their quest to deepen democratic elections in the sub-region as reflected in the extensive reforms including the passage and assent of the Electoral Act 2022 and the subsequent legal deployment of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System and the INEC Results Viewing Portal (IReV)”, a statement issued by the Network after the solidarity visit indicated.
The statement further noted, “these are two critical interventions that signal an improvement in the voting and results transmission and collation systems for the 2023 elections with implication for promoting transparency and trust in the electoral process. We further acknowledge efforts by INEC to improve access to polling stations by increasing the number of polling stations by 56,872, bringing the total number of polling units to 176,846. This is further supported by reforms aimed at improving the independence of INEC through the establishment of the Independent National Electoral Commission Fund to finance elections in the country”.
As part of the visit, the Network met and interacted with the Chairperson of the Nigeria electoral management body, INEC who assured that deployment of logistics, electoral materials and biometric systems across the country were far advanced.
“We received strong assurance from INEC on its preparedness towards the conduct of the election,” the delegation observed in their statement.
The Network also observed with excitement the dedication and passion with which civil society organizations, the media, the general public and other stakeholders have contributed and supported to the processes leading to the February 2023 polls in Nigeria.
Despite the advantages the electoral reforms present, the Network flagged some concerns and challenges that required urgent attention by the INEC and other stakeholders to ensure peaceful polls.
These include concerns bordering on INEC’s failure to provide PVCs to registered voters who turn up at INEC offices; inadequate contingency plan to address large-scale malfunctioning of the BVAS (biometric voting system) on election day; logistics and electoral materials deployment challenges; insecurity in parts of the country and poor security protection for journalists, CSOs and other stakeholders; misinformation, cyberbullying; conflicts in interpretation of electoral laws and breach of the peace accord signed by political parties and their candidates.
As a transnational CSO-led body, we have noted the optimism and hope expressed by civic actors in Nigeria about the potential positive impact of electoral reforms and call on various stakeholders to ensure that these challenges do not mar the peaceful conduct of the elections.
To this end, the Network recommends the following actions to help mitigate the concerns we observed during the solidarity mission. We propose the need for INEC to provide clarity on the electoral laws especially section 134 of the Nigerian constitution; the need to extend the period of PVC collection; the need for the security services to respect and protect the rights of citizens especially media, voters, election staff and observers in general before, during and after the election; the need for political parties to run issue-based campaigns and heed to the signed peace accord; and the need for the Government to resist the temptation to abuse incumbency.
Most importantly, we also urge the INEC to train all electoral staff on the management of the BVAS and popularize the regulations and laws surrounding its use in the upcoming elections.
The WADEMOS Network delegation was co-led by Dr. Kojo P. Asante, the head of the West Africa Election Observation Network (WAEON) at the Ghana Center for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana) and the Bernadette French, Head of the National Elections Watch (NEW) Secretariat in Sierra Leone. The other members of the delegation included representatives from the West Africa Election Observation Network (WAEON), the Rencontre Africaine pour la Defense des Droits de l’Homme (African Meeting for the Defense of Human Rights—RADDHO) in Senegal, the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP), the Institute for Research and Democratic Development (IREDD) in Liberia, AFLED in Mali, and some staff of the WADEMOS Network Secretariat in Accra, Ghana.
For details of the full press release, please visit the website of the Network on www.wademosnetwork.org