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PSJ UK And Partners' Statement On Nigerian 2023 Elections

Joint Statement by Civil Society Groups and Friends of Nigeria in the United Kingdom on the 2023 Nigerian Elections in our Commitment to Support the Practice of Democracy

Nigeria’s Presidential and National Assembly elections take place on Saturday, 25th February, closely followed by the Governorship and State Assembly elections on the 11th of March 2023. We, the undersigned civil society organisations and friends of Nigeria, affirm our strong support for free, fair, and peaceful elections. As partners and friends of Nigeria, we have been following the campaigns and election process closely.

Together we remain committed in our support of Nigeria’s democracy in the hope that it will eventually produce the leadership the people of Nigeria deserve and crave. Progress has undoubtedly been made to secure democracy in Nigeria since 1999 when the military returned power to civil governance.

Yet these elections will provide Nigeria a unique opportunity to further consolidate this progress, entrench the democratic accountability of the state, and align itself with international norms to send the world a clear message that Nigeria is open for business. 

Existential consequences 

As the elections draw closer, we’re becoming increasingly concerned by multiple news reports telling us more and more disturbing incidents of pre-election violence, hate speech, various forms of intimidation, Permanent Voter Card (PVC) buying, general vote-buying, and election interference.

It is important to stress that poor management of the upcoming elections will have serious existential consequences for Nigeria, with the implications likely to extend and destabilise West Africa as a whole. It is no exaggeration to highlight that Nigeria is indeed on the brink of collapse, such conclusions are laid out in the International Organisation for Peacebuilding and Social Justice’s (PSJ UK) recent report. Unlike past elections when the Nigerian electorate were disillusioned and apathetic, this year, disenfranchised youths and women are mobilising towards active participation.

There are innumerable factors that threaten democracy and the 2023 elections in Nigeria – from all those we have focused on, what we believe to be the elephant in the room? Insecurity.

An epidemic of insecurity & its impact on the INEC 

In October 2022, Western embassies in Nigeria, led by the United States and the British High Commission, issued an alert about the elevated risk of terror attacks against a wide range of targets in Abuja, the capital city. Perhaps more than any other factor, providing a safe and secure environment for the electorate should be paramount ahead of this election.  The nation is currently engulfed in an epidemic of insecurity.

It ranges from Islamist jihadists in the north to different separatist agitators in the South-East and South-West and to criminal banditry all over the country; no geopolitical zone in Nigeria has been spared. Since the return to democratic governance in 1999, Nigeria has experienced rising levels of insecurity – higher each year. Data from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) states that records of political violence and conflict during 2022 were due to surpass the alarming astronomical figures of the year before. The Rt Hon. Andrew Mitchell, Minister of State for the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office, also confirmed that 2022 is one of the worst years on record for political violence and conflict in Nigeria.  

In the month of December 2022, there were at least 52 cases of electoral violence across 22 states, including the politically motivated assassination of candidates. In January alone, the Nigerian Elections Violence tracker has reported 130 violent events and at least 200 fatalities linked to politics. Since the last election four years ago, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has recorded 50 attacks on its facilities across 15 States. 

Separatist agitators have attacked electoral offices, killed voters and election officials, and destroyed election materials. The INEC has also raised the alarm that some politicians have been buying up PVCs and financially inducing unsuspecting voters to harvest their Voter Identification Numbers (VIN) ahead of the 2023 general elections.  Two individuals were recently convicted for illegal possession of PVCs in Sokoto and Kano State; however, the security forces have yet to expose the real sponsors behind the criminality.

We declare as follows. 

We note that all leading parties have subscribed to the 2023 Peace Accords under the chairmanship of former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar. Despite the Peace Accord, inflammatory rhetoric by political leaders has been on the rise, fanning the embers of conflict. 

Therefore, we urge both political and non-political actors to renounce hate speech and take a definitive stand against all forms of violence. We reiterate the importance of the INEC, and we call on them to further demonstrate full neutrality and professionalism. 

We call on the Nigerian people to seriously consider the colossal and undesirable consequences of a failed or even an inconclusive election. And we call on the Nigerian government: -

  1. To deploy extra security efforts to ensure the safety of life, property, INEC officials, and electoral materials. This includes ensuring that security agents not only act but are seen to act as impartial providers of a conducive and safe environment while maintaining high standards of professional conduct. 
  2. To ensure that voters are not intimidated nor cajoled with monetary or material inducement by politicians or political parties. 
  3. To monitor human and institutional drivers of insecurity more rigorously, deal decisively with lawbreakers, and step-up counter-terrorism efforts  
  4. To resist the temptation of interfering in the election process and to respect the will and choice of the people after the election. 

Lastly, we call on the United Kingdom, other governments, and international bodies to condemn in the strongest terms political actors involved in acts of violence; and for them to galvanize efforts to support the Nigerian state to monitor, call out, and prosecute under international law perpetrators who use violence to influence elections. We welcome all efforts toward a peaceful election.

"If you're part of a civil society organisation that would like to sign this statement alongside many others, we'd love to hear from you. Please email us at [email protected]. Many thanks in advance."

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