The Electoral Act of 2022 has set the stage for free, fair, and democratic elections in Nigeria in 2023, but significant challenges remain according to prominent activists and leaders convened by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in April 2022. This discussion, moderated by NED’s Senior Program Manager for Africa Christopher O’Connor, featured Hon. Benjamin Okezie Kalu, spokesperson of the House of Representatives, Barr. Festus Okoye, national commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and Samson Itodo, executive director of Yiaga Africa. The experts discussed the new electoral act and Nigeria’s preparations for the 2023 elections, emphasizing the need to provide the Nigerian people with a real voice in choosing their future leaders and policies.
After years of intense advocacy from civil society and INEC, the Nigerian government signed the Electoral Act of 2022, increasing the independence and capacity of INEC, improving the party primary process, and strengthening the integrity of the vote. It includes new provisions such as permitting the use of Electronic Voting Machines and Card Readers, which Kalu explained, “helps encourage transparency and increase the integrity of the fairness element of the electoral process in the coming election.” (Learn more about NED’s partners in Nigeria.)
Ensuring credible and inclusive elections is essential for ensuring democratic political processes. “At a time when democracy is increasingly under threat across the world, Nigeria’s 2023 elections are incredibly important,” said O’Connor. “These elections will determine how Nigeria grapples with growing insecurity, economic headwinds, and an increasingly vocal citizenry, and if it emerges a more peaceful, prosperous, and democratic state.”
Analysis of successes and failures during previous elections is needed to ensure free and fair voting. According to Okoye, INEC is guided by three questions when preparing for the upcoming elections, “What did we do so well that we don’t have to worry about the way we do it? What did we not do so well enough that we must improve the way we do it? And, what did we do so badly that we must find a new way of doing it?”
The political elite has attempted to undermine past elections and threatened the independence of the electoral commission. As Itodo explained, “INEC’s improvements and INEC’s professionalism is a threat to the political class. One of the greatest concerns with the 2023 elections is how do we protect the independence of the electoral commission.
The Nigerian people and government continue to work toward holding more credible elections in the upcoming year. “We approach 2023 with more confidence,” said Kalu. “We approach 2023 knowing that we are now better than how we were when we started.