On 16 February, Nigerians will head to the polls in an election that will have national and transnational implications.
Why is it happening ?
On the 16th of February, over 84 million people in Nigeria, Africa’s largest democracy, will vote to elect the next President and members of the National Assembly. While more than 70 candidates are in the presidential race, two main contenders have emerged. The incumbent, President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) will face off against the former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
Why does it matter?
As Africa’s most populous country, the world is watching Nigeria. Already, both the European Union and the US released statements calling for a free and fair democratic process. The African Union (AU) is expected to deploy short and long term Election Observer Missions. This year’s elections would be the first elections since Nigeria’s first peaceful handover of power in 2015.
However, the upcoming elections have already been marred by controversy. The incumbent, President Buhari, suspended the nation’s top judge, Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen, over allegations that he failed to declare his personal assets before taking office. In what many perceived to be a clear overreach of power so close to the elections, President Buhari replaced him with an acting Chief Justice merely weeks before an election in which the judiciary may play a decisive role. Amidst the resulting uproar across the nation, the main opposition party, the PDP, decided to temporarily suspend their campaign in protest.
With two Northern Muslim candidates as the two remaining top contenders for the Presidency, identity cleavages will likely play a less important role in these elections. In previous elections, religion and ethnicity served as key predictors of voter preferences. However, this election will be different as ideas and issues, particularly the state of the economy, will likely mobilize voters instead. This is why it is crucial that Nigerian citizens vote. This election will likely be one of the most competitive, with the APC wanting to hold onto power while the PDP seeks to take back the presidency, House and Senate majorities.
In an election where the candidates have focused on ideas rather than identity, the power lies in the hands of the Nigerian people. More importantly, Saturday’s vote will mark a crucial point in Nigeria’s electoral history. Free and fair elections will not only do well for Nigeria’s fragile socio-political cohesion, but it also has the potential to set a democratic example for the rest of Africa at a time of regional turmoil and the World’s perceived turn to the authoritarianism.
What can you do about it?
At the individual level, and given the long history of election rigging and voter fraud, voters should support the “Defend Your Vote” initiative, a strategy encouraged by the electoral commission in 2011. If possible, voters should remain at the voting station after casting their vote and observe the counting process.
Apart from tracking the progress of elections on news channels and on social media, voters can also take advantage of election monitoring apps. The Civic Media Lab, for example, launched Zabe, an election monitoring app for the 2019 elections, which is available on Google Play and the iOS store. Voters can monitor the elections in real time, report news, share videos and publicize results from each of their polling stations. This is a convenient way to ensure transparency at the polls and make sure each vote counts.
Further, the Mission for Democracy in Africa Project encourages citizens to commit themselves to an action guide as an expression of their dedication to sustainable democracy. Here are some particularly relevant commitments as election day draws near:
1. I will always vote when elections are going on.
2. I will not sell my vote and I will discourage others from selling their votes.
3. I will not be used as a thug nor participate in violence during elections.
4. I will not vote for somebody just because we are from the same tribe or ethnic group or belong to the same religion. I will vote for only those whom I think are good people and whose policies I support.
5. I will be vigilant to prevent rigging.
Tetsekela Michael Anyiam-Osigwe briefs from London, UK. She is a candidate for a BSc Politics and International Relations at the London School of Economics (LSE).