In less than 100 days, The Federal Republic of Nigeria would conduct a high-stakes Presidential election amidst global and national uncertainties. Being the seventh general election since the return to democracy in 1999, the polls would be consolidating more than two decades of uninterrupted democracy in the country. Despite this progress for democratization, the polls would be conducted in a climate bogged down by insecurity, heightened religious sentiments, divisive national politics, and a cost of living crisis.
Bar the 2015 election (because the opposition pulled an unprecedented defeat against the incumbent), the upcoming election is poised to be the most interesting because this would be the first election since ’99 where the dominance of the two major parties is threatened by “mushroom parties”.
For the first time since 1979, Nigeria has a number of major candidates emanating from different geopolitical zones and representing competing interests, hopes, and aspirations. The much-anticipated election is expected to be competitive like never before in Nigeria’s history. The dynamics of the election are unending but we discuss a few such as youth participation, religion, technology, a paradigm shift, voter turnout, and information warfare.
The interest and enthusiasm of the youth in the upcoming election have been nothing short of remarkable. Whether in terms of policy planning, advocacy, mobilization, and political party participation, the youth seem to be giving their all. Significantly, Nigerian youth make up more than 60% of INEC’s voter register. Theoretically, the election is theirs to decide. In reality, turnout amongst this demography on election day has always been an albatross, and without it this demographic can’t pose a formidable threat to the status quo.
In terms of contesting for public offices, Nigerian youth are hindered by the astronomical cost of party nomination forms and campaigns. So while the youths might not be too young to run, they’re too broke to run. Hence, their political participation is largely limited to voting and not being voted for.
Nigeria is almost evenly divided between Muslims and Christians but this semblance of parity in demography has been unable to curb perennial heightened tension between adherents of either faith, leading to frequent showdowns, manifesting in forms of violent crisis, virulent rhetoric, and competition for power.
Political power is likened to the holy grail for adherents of either religion as religious leaders are never relenting in mobilizing their congregation to vote “one of theirs”, in most cases at the expense of competency. The desire of having “our own” presiding over the affairs of the country trumps every form of scrutiny and history has shown that religious sentiments strongly influence voter choice.
Recently, the Redeem Christian Church of God, with quite a large number of congregants established the Directorate for Politics and Governance to direct the affairs of its members seeking political offices. In Northern Nigeria, there’s a long-established political culture of religious leaders playing instrumental roles in the voting choice of their congregation. History has shown that ethnoreligious sentiments strongly influence voter choice and that is why politicians and religious leaders are hell-bent on exploiting it.
APC’s decision to field a same-faith ticket has exaggerated the influence of religion in the election and caused a formidable backlash that’s likely to reflect on the ballot. Christian Association of Nigeria has been unequivocal in their opposition to APC’s decision but their strong stance is been met with rumors in Northern Nigeria that this is because Christians have an agenda to determine who rules the country.
This mismatch is a pointer to an ethnoreligious voting pattern in the election and a deeply divided polity post-2023. As is common with the election season, the fragile unity of the country is being strained by politicians exploiting the stark fault lines in the competition for power. The 2023 election wouldn’t be different, especially because of the apparent dynamics.
The new electoral act empowers INEC with the authority to introduce technological innovations such as the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), INEC Results Viewing Portal, and electronic transmission of results, to enhance the integrity of the electoral process and inspire public confidence in the election.
BVAS is an electronic device designed to read Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) and authenticate voters – using the voters’ fingerprints – in order to prove that they are eligible to vote at a particular polling unit. Speculations are rife on politicians being jittery about BVAS for it is a technological feature that impedes rigging and increases the difficulty of elections being manipulated.
INEC Results Viewing (IREV) Portal has emerged as an innovative way to promote transparency in the results collation process thereby boosting public confidence in the integrity of the electoral process and promoting accountability. INEC test ran this innovation in Osun and Ekiti off-season elections and Nigerians witnessed real-time transparency as it largely prevented malpractice during the physical transmission of results from polling units to collation centers.
The 2023 general election is going to be the first national poll whereby results would be transmitted electronically. Election transmission of results reduces the element of human error. Though not a silver bullet because it’s vulnerable to hacking, it undoubtedly increases the integrity and credibility of the election.
It behoves INEC to solidify its firewall as cyber attackers are unrelenting. Vulnerabilities in electronic transmission and INEC’s firewall can give hackers the opportunity to tamper with the votes of the people. Ultimately, the silver bullet isn’t technology but a willingness by political actors to play according to the rules of the game.
The Nigerian political party terrain has largely been dominated by two parties, with a third party finding it difficult to make any noteworthy impact. But the upcoming election promises to be a break from this pattern, as the APC and PDP face stiff competition from Labour Party and New Nigeria Peoples Party making 2023 a high-stakes election.
PDP’s control of the South-East is now in danger of being eroded by the remarkable support of Obi. The major opposition party would have to redraw its electoral map given the notable support Peter Obi has garnered from the South East with many seeing his candidacy as an opportunity to achieve the much sought-after Igbo Presidency.
In the North-West and North-East, NNPP is amassing grassroots strength that could rattle the clout of APC and PDP. Its strength in Kano has sent PDP to oblivion and threatens APC with the position of second place. Kano being a significant voter bank essentially causes another upset to whatever electoral map PDP and APC had.
The constitutional requirement for victory in the Presidential election is a majority of votes cast in addition to at least 25% in two third (24) of the 36 states. Analysts believe that given the emergence of four major candidates emanating from different geopolitical zones with a decent support base, the election could go into a runoff precisely because the margin and voter spread needed to emerge victorious would be difficult for one candidate, with four heavyweights in the contest.
And if the projections turn out to be off the mark and a run-off doesn’t occur, the mere fact that the “mushroom parties” galvanize new voter base and is poised to affect the traditional strongholds of the two major parties thereby unsettling the electoral map is impactful. Ultimately, the probability of a run-off rests heavily on voter turnout and the performance of the four major contenders.
Nigeria has a history of low voter turnout. In recent polls, only about 26 million voters making up 34% of registered voters voted for the president in the year 2015. Similarly, just 28.6 million voters (35%) out of the over 84 million registered voters turned out to vote in the presidential elections in 2019. Despite the advocacy and mobilization by INEC, civil society, and celebrities for voter registration and PVC collection, we can only be cautious in assuming that turnout would improve because of the many obstacles, and low PVC collection.
Voter turnout is threatened mainly by insecurity and apathy.
Nigeria is facing an avalanche of insecurity crisis with a pattern of violence across the six geopolitical zones further exacerbating the country’s fault lines. The South-East and North-West are hotspots and have seen a spate of banditry, terrorists, secessionist, and kidnapping attacks. The two regions also recorded the highest and the lowest amount of turnouts in 2019.
In 2019 Kano, Kaduna and Katsina came first, second, and third with a voter turnout of 1.96 million, 1.71 million, and 1.62 million respectively. While Kano could maintain the tempo, Kaduna is bedeviled with a terrorist invasion that threatens turnout. In Birnin-Gwari LGA of Kaduna, the Ansaru released audio prohibiting any forms of political campaigns, the audio went further to mention certain villages as no campaign zones. Ansaru is also reportedly in control of at least 30% of Birnin Gwari. In Katsina, bandits subject some rural communities to frequent violent attacks, including killing, kidnapping, rape, and arson. These activities will significantly undermine the capacity of rural dwellers to participate in the 2023 elections.
The South-East has a worrisome history of poor voter turnout, exacerbated in recent times by Biafra agitations. The last election conducted in the South-East was the Anambra Gubernatorial election in late 2021, where only about 10% of registered voters turned out to vote. The climate that produced such an abysmal level of turnout persists today as IPOB and its armed militia, ESN still remain potent. And their sit-at-home orders and arson attacks on government infrastructure (particularly INEC offices) are targeted at preventing elections. Armed conflict between violent separatist agitators and security forces also creates a climate of tension whereby residents would prefer to remain indoors for fear of being caught in the crossfire.
However, the situation in the South-East is far from one-dimensional. The surge in Permanent Voter Card (PVC) registration is novel in the South-East and perhaps a testament to waning apathy. Analysts believe some of this is tied to the presence of Mr. Peter Obi on the ballot, a major candidate for the Presidency. Many residents of the South East see Obi’s candidacy as a pathway for an Igbo presidency. As a result, the question on many lips is: Is Obi’s candidacy the counter to the history of apathy and poor turnout in the South-East?
As the world goes further into the digital age, the consequences are unending and felt across the board. In view of winning elections, the battleground for the hearts and minds of people is rapidly moving from traditional media sources to the streets of social media. Not many voters are aware of an “unseen hand” skilled in manipulation, exploiting bias, and altering perception, all based on the digital footprint of their target audience. Information/communication warfare might be subtle but the effects depending on the objective can be damning, and corrosive, or enlightening and reassuring. But whatever the effect, doesn’t erase the fact that at its core is electronic brainwashing.
Given its notoriety, Cambridge Analytica comes to mind when analyzing weapons-grade communications tactics. A data analytics firm that harvested online information to create micro-targetted content geared to change/influence the behavior of a target audience or identified target voter group. Cambridge Analytica has been involved in Trump’s first campaign for the US Presidency, Brexit campaigns, and elections in Mexico, Colombia, Kenya, and wait for it, our very own Nigeria.
The data analytics firm was contracted in 2007 and 2015 by Nigerian political parties to use their expertise to win the polls. In 2007 the firm utilized a strategy that involved persuading opposition voters against coming out to and organizing anti-election rallies at opposition strongholds to discourage voter turnout by proxy. This subtle yet malignant type of election interference was damning.
In 2015, Cambridge Analytica was contracted to run a covert campaign for Goodluck Jonathan’s reelection. This time around, the firm resorted to entwining violent propaganda with anti-Buhari content that alluded to viewers that Buhari would support Boko Haram, the notorious terrorist group.
While Cambridge Analytica was closed in 2018 due to a scandal. The participation of the likes of it in the 2023 election is a latent possibility. Modern electoral tactics are sinister and their effects are far-reaching, notwithstanding if the objectives are achieved or not. If people are continuously bombarded with false information, so much so that it makes the truth seem false, how then can they make informed decisions about electoral matters?
On the prowl are firms lurking to harvest the hopes and fears of Nigerians for the greatest political yield and the staying power of their propaganda has negative consequences on the psyche of the nation. Therefore, Nigerian social media users need to be discerning about information and their sources, lest they become useful idiots.
PDP’s Blast From the Past
Since the conduct of their presidential primary election, the People’s Democratic Party has been troubled by an internal crisis. The dramatic personae are unrelenting in their stance and seem to be going for broke. The crux of the crisis can be traced to the aftermath of the primary and Governor Wike’s insistence on the resignation of the party chairman, Iyorcha Ayu, on the premise that Atiku and Ayu, both presidential candidates and party chairman, come from the North, and this arrangement negates inclusivity.
Ayus’ removal seems very unlikely, but should he be removed, the PDP constitution stipulates that a chairman should be replaced by a deputy chairman from his zone, which is far from being a solution to the bone of contention. There have been several meetings between the representatives of Governor Wike and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, but the inability to reconcile differences lingers.
Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike has gone further to accuse PDP national chairman, Iyorcha Ayu of mismanaging party funds, though the latter has dismissed the accusations as false. This back and forth is damaging the party’s ability to go into the election as a united front. But the dissidence exhibited by the “Integrity Group” in the PDP isn’t without precedence, as the party is witnessing a blast from the past.
In 2013, a coalition of PDP Governors (G7 Governors) largely from Northern Nigeria opposed the reelection of President Goodluck Jonathan and held the party to ransom, their reason being that President Jonathan seeking re-election would disrupt the power rotation agreement between the North and South in the party. Some eventually decamped to APC and others stayed back and sabotaged the PDP from within just like the G5 Governors in collaboration with ex-ministers, and former members of the national assembly are currently doing. PDP’s loss in the 2015 election could be traced to this same internal crisis within the party.
History often repeats itself, first as a tragedy, second as a farce. The PDP must be wary.