2023 election: CSOs and challenges of influencing electoral processes in Nigeria 

Political watchers have observed that Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) that were meant to be purveyors of knowledge about the Nigerian electoral process failed to perform their role in ensuring the process ends with an election that every Nigerian is proud of. ADEOLA AKINBOBOLA writes.

In spite of efforts towards facilitating and sustaining the electoral process, Civil Society Organisations are still constrained by issues of corruption, partisanship, identity crisis, government interference, and lack of cohesion in the performance of their duties, just to mention a few.  

As organised groups, CSOs have a pivotal role to play due to their diverse background especially as they are able to easily reach people at the lowest rung of the ladder.  

One thing is obvious, with their versed knowledge of a diverse range of issues, they are able to educate and enlighten people on government plans and programmes. But has that been the case in recent times?

Lack of specialised focus 

It was clear as daylight in the just concluded general elections that some CSOs did not have a specialized focus, many of them acted more on the spur of the moment. 

Speaking with Blueprint, the Executive Director of Human Growth for Peace Initiative, Bashiru Olasupo, many of them were more interested in the immediate, thus they wanted to be part of anything.  

According to him, when it’s time for elections, every Civil Society group becomes an election monitor adding that everybody wants to be part of the Transition Monitoring Group, whereas being a member of that group requires some expertise and some commitments.

In his words “Unfortunately, some of these CSOs just take it for granted and as such whatever people get from them at the end of the day are more or less unprofessional. 

“There are no special things they are adding to the analyses of the processes and there are no recommendations that will help deepen our democracy,” he said.

Need for continuous voters education

However, certain issues militate against the effective operation of civil society organisations in Nigeria, one of which is continuous voters’ education. According to Olasupo, voters’ education by CSOs should be a continuous exercise.

He said it should be an ongoing exercise with Nigerians, they should not wait till the next elections, noting that it was one aspect that was always treated with levity.

In his words, “You see what happened at the just concluded elections, where there was a lot of voters’ apathy in some polling units. You can see the implications of these on our elections and the processes. 

“In places where you have one million registered voters during the day of election, you have 2 to 300 voters coming out to be accredited. Voter apathy is a serious thing and I think INEC, CSOs, and the government should work together in curbing voter apathy in future elections.

 “We have gotten to a point in Nigeria that in most places, CSO leaders are called “cashylist” that all they do is get money,” he said. 

‘Not detailed enough’  

It would be recalled at just concluded 2023 general elections that some NGOs like Ready to Lead Africa, were not detailed enough on several incidents of the LGA collation centres.  

The Global President of the Group, Godbless Otubure at a press conference in Abuja during the 2023 general election claimed there were 34 incidences of violence during voting, 31 incidences of vote counting suspension, and 30 incidences of polling stations running out of material. 

He said reports from Obiakpor LGA, Woji Town Hall Ward 6, Unit 002, 003 and 004 indicated that the voting process was very slow, as INEC officials arrived late and needed extra time to set up the BIVAS machine. 

Supporting political parties

A Civil Society Organisation staff who pleaded anonymity also observed that the role some CSOs played at the just concluded election was disheartening as it was clear that they already had a position on how and where the election results should tilt towards.

In his words “This for me is not a good practice because it is not expected that as a CSO, you should take a position with any political party.”

He said the just concluded elections left a scar on CSOs, as according to him, there is need for a review of the activities of CSOs. 

Few observers at state-level elections

The European Union Election Observation Mission Nigeria 2023 in a second preliminary statement during the Governorship and House of Assembly elections which was held on 18 March 2023 expressed concern that the EU and ECOWAS was the only international observation mission on the ground for the state-level elections. 

The EU said generally, civil societies play a crucial role in raising awareness and providing electoral information of public interest to voters. 

Inconsistent party oversight of candidates 

The EU observation showed inconsistency in party’s oversight of candidate selections, weak political loyalties, and bitter rivalries between aspiring candidates were demonstrated by the many legal disputes following candidate selection primaries held in mid-2022. 

The EU observed the submission of candidate information to INEC by parties was at times inaccurate and thus contributed to uncertainty for candidates at both governorship and HoA level.

According to the EU, many losing aspirants lodged legal challenges against registered candidates and, in various courts, judges subsequently ordered re-runs of party primaries, threw out vexatious legal challenges or directed INEC to list or de-list specific candidates. Such orders were often appealed and, in some cases reversed, leaving uncertainty for candidates seeking to go on campaigning.

The EU observed 18 political parties sponsored candidates for the March 18 polls with approximately 11,000 candidates registered with INEC to compete for state elections. 

These, according to the EU, included some 1046 women candidates in the running for seats in the 36 state assemblies. Out of a total of 419 contestants for 28 gubernatorial posts, 25 were women. 

The EU also observed that all governorships posts are presently and have always been occupied by men. In the original list of 837 governorship and deputy governorship candidates published by INEC, only 53 were of the minimum legal 35 years of age. 

“Almost half of candidates for the HoA, where the minimum age to contest is 25, were aged between 25 and 34 years, showing a clear appetite among young people to take an active part in state level decision-making.

Low women candidates

“The extremely low level of women’s candidacies and consequent concerns for an expected low return of female representatives follows dismal outcomes for women in the national assembly elections.

“The lack of representation highlights an abject failure of political parties and lawmakers in the states, contrary to international commitments and the Constitution, to confront obstacles to meaningfully progress equal representation for an entire half of the population of Nigeria.

Lack of trust in electoral process

On election administration, the EU observed that in the aftermath of the presidential and National Assembly elections. Also, its observers noted that trust in the electoral process decreased significantly due to a lack of transparency and operational failures on and after election day and INEC’s delayed and insufficient explanations for those failures. 

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had stated that logistical and technological problems were unforeseen. It also blamed party agents, party supporters and lower level election personnel for shortcomings.

The Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) operating at state level were mandated by the electoral body to bar all staff found to be negligent from conducting the state-level elections.

Most of all, stakeholders including CSOs should start preparing ahead of future elections if the nation is to move forward.