Three West African nations – Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone – are jostling to strengthen their fledgling democracies as they go to polls to elect new presidents in 2023. All three have a dark past of coups or civil wars.
Nigeria is scheduled to conduct its presidential election on February 25, and governorship and local polls on March 11. But the preparations have to constantly consider insecurity.
Its electoral commission says it is commited to ensuring a free, fair and credible election but is not too sure if the poll will be hitch-free.
The chairman of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof Mahmood Yakubu, on January 7 warned that the elections are threatened by a spike in insecurity.
Yakubu says the election is highly important as a milestone in the country’s political dispensation and for the region. Yet bandits and terror merchants have been raiding every week.
Since 1999 Nigeria has successfully elected civilian leaders in a peaceful change of guard, the longest unbroken period of democratic rule since independence.
But a tough economic situation as well as insecurity – which the government claims is under control – have triggered a lot of interest in the political process.
There are growing armies of insurgents in the North East, bandits in the North West and North Central, militants in the South South, separatists in the South East and ritual killers in the South West.
Among groups advancing a bloody secession campaign is the Indigenous People of Biafra whose leader, 55-year-old Nnamdi Kanu, is currently on trial for acts of terrorism and treasonable felony following his arrest and deportation from Nairobi in July 2021.
His militia group, Eastern Security Network, continues to unleash terror on security operatives and citizens it considers as “saboteurs” and has vowed that elections will not be held in the region.
In the North East, more than 60,000 people have been killed and more than 2.2 million displaced since 2009 in insurgency perpetuated by the Boko Haram and Islamic State of West Africa Province.
In North Central and North West, faceless bandits continue to kill and maim at will and violent secessionist groups have taken charge of the East and the troubled Niger Delta, vowing to stop elections in its nine states – Abia, Ebonyi, Anambra, Enugu, Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo and Rivers.
Yakubu says attacks on INEC’s facilities may undermine its capacity to organise elections and also negatively impact electoral processes.
According to official reports, at least 56 INEC offices have been either torched or vandalised across Nigeria by armed non-state actors in the last two years.
Yakubu said elections may be postponed in flashpoints if the situation does not improve.
“If the insecurity is not monitored and dealt with decisively, it could ultimately culminate in the cancellation and or postponement of elections in sufficient constituencies to hinder declaration of elections results and precipitate constitutional crisis.”
Some 18 candidates are jostling to take over from 80-year-old President Muhammadu Buhari, who will bow out on May 29 after tumultuous two tenures of eight years.
The major candidates are Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress, Abubakar Atiku of the Peoples Democratic Party, Peter Obi of the Labour Party, and Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party.
Optimistic of a successful general election, President Buhari said: “INEC is ready because I made sure they were given all the resources they asked for because I don’t want any excuses that they were denied funds by the government.”
A political scientist, Prof Jubril Ahmed, noted that President Buhari, who returned to political power after his sojourn as military leader in 1984, has spearheaded institutionalisation of democratic reforms.
“The most enduring legacy of Buhari’s Presidency is his strong commitment to the respect of the constitutional order and democratic alternation,’’ Ahmed said.