Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Analysis of Nigeria's elections

Richard Downie is a fellow and deputy director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC. He describes the conclusions of an 18-month study by CSIS.

Building on Success: Advancing Electoral Reform in Nigeria
Many Nigerians and their friends in the international community approached the 2015 national elections with trepidation. They feared a violent contest and a disputed outcome… The stakes were particularly high in 2015 because the incumbent Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) faced a serious electoral threat from the All Progressives Congress (APC)… Yet, apart from a few violent incidents, the fears of chaos were unrealized. Instead, Nigeria held one of the best elections in its history. It also completed for the first time a peaceful transition from one political party to another.

The 2015 elections, while improving the chances of national reconciliation, also laid bare some ugly aspects of Nigerian politics. Of particular note is the tendency of candidates to inflame sectional tensions, whether ethnic, regional or religious. Concerns were raised about the capacity of the electoral institutions to mitigate disputes. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) rose to the challenge…

Technical reforms were a big factor in INEC’s success. They include the compiling of a credible voting register and the introduction of permanent voter cards with biometric data…

In terms of internal party democracy, Nigeria’s parties have a long way to go. The PDP was an effective vehicle for winning elections but paid less attention to promoting internal competition, acting transparently, promoting marginalized groups, formulating policy platforms, and engaging with constituencies. As it assumes power for the first time, the APC should ensure that principles of good governance and inclusivity are applied, not only to its leadership but to the party as well…

As is true of the United States, getting a party nomination in Nigeria is very costly. It therefore puts candidacy beyond the means of all but the very rich, or those with affluent patrons. Nigeria’s constitution and electoral laws require that an aspirant for public office secure the sponsorship of a political party…

Another important set of electoral reforms to consider is how voter engagement can be enhanced. Only 44 percent of registered voters took part in the 2015 presidential poll. This is very low by African standards…

There were restrictions on the franchise that also affected participation… Individuals whose dedicated service contributed to the success of the elections— such as Youth Service Corps volunteers and members of the security services—were effectively disenfranchised because they were stationed away from their home states.
Youth Service Corps volunteers check voters' registrations
Another important component of civic participation is encouraging greater diversity among the candidates. One of the dispiriting outcomes of the 2015 elections was that women were largely excluded from serving in government. They constitute only five percent of the legislators elected to the new National Assembly. Youths played an important role in the election as civic educators, peacemakers, and observers, but their activism did not translate into political representation. Many members of the ruling class are advanced in age. It is a paradox that President Muhammadu Buhari, at 72, represents a fresh start for the country.

One of the troubling aspects of Nigeria’s political culture is the tendency to mobilize regional, religious, and ethnic differences for electoral purposes. While Nigerians self-identify in multiple ways, they are usually proud of being Nigerian. This national pride was evident in the displays of patriotism during the elections; in the lines of voters who spent many hours waiting to vote; and in the professionalism of the polling staff and Youth Corps members and other volunteers…

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