Reducing 2019 election risks

 The 2019 Nigerian elections are now less than three months away. Given the relative success of the 2015 elections – which, although flawed, saw an incumbent president relinquish power for the first time since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999 – they have the potential to mark a major milestone in the consolidation of Nigerian democracy. But in a poll already fiercely contested, it is vital that confidence is strengthened in the security and transparency of the polls, especially in parts of the country that have seen serious abuses both during and since the 2015 elections.

This report is a qualitative analysis of the challenges facing those charged with building fair and transparent polls in light of this context, including, in particular, Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). It is based on SDN’s engagement with off cycle elections since 2015, discussions with INEC, political actors and other civil society organisations, and contacts with a wide range of stakeholders who have engaged with election preparations in this cycle.

The report identifies three key problem areas.

First: a series of recent elections have been marred by well-documented political violence and manipulation. One result of this is that public confidence in the organisation of elections in Nigeria has taken significant knocks from each negative event. The breakdown in trust in the government and other agencies tasked with supervising polls includes the perception that the police and other security agencies are not only refusing to acknowledge or address these problems, but are actively involved in perpetuating them.

Second: one of the key means by which manipulation occurs is to either buy or intimidate voters into supporting particular parties. There is some evidence that this is getting worse, or has at least been under-recognised as problem that is also associated with voter harassment and intimidation. For example, vote-buying may previously have been a last resort to tip the political balance in particularly competitive locations. But the persistent impunity for those alleged to be involved in such tactics means it may now be used at scale across the board, not just in areas where the polls are especially tight.

Third: confidence is diminishing in the processes that occur once voting has closed. New fears such as the threat of hacking – significant given INEC’s determination to digitise key processes – are combining with longstanding concerns about basic vote-counting procedures to increase the perception that the results chain from polling units through to final state figures is a key area of weakness, which could render void any progress made in supervising the elections themselves. The cumulative risk of these three areas is simple. Public confidence in the overall ability of the government to organise safe and fair elections in 2019 already appears to be decreasing, well in advance of specific election threats. But if it continues to do so, turnout itself will be suppressed, as voters who would otherwise participate stay away because of the fear of violence, harassment, and the inability to prevent manipulation, as well as apathy and cynicism regarding the process. The potential for the election to be rigged will then become much higher, as those who would use violence and money to do so have relatively greater resources to focus on those voters who do turn out.

Read the full report

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