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2019: A Look Ahead at Nigeria’s Elections at Zero hour

International engagement will be critical to the success of Nigeria’s elections, but its international partners – in particular the US – appear well more engaged than they were four years ago. However, the level of collective interest and engagement of the international community will play out in the next 24 hours. Only time will tell.
A Peep into the build up:
• Tomorrow on February 23, 2019 Nigerians will vote for their next president, deciding who will lead Africa’s largest economy and most populous country into the next decade. They will also elect the governors of 29 of Nigeria’s 36 states, and all federal and state legislators. The elections will pit the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) against the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and many smaller parties.
• The presidency and the Senate are currently jockeying over the sequence of elections, which is proving to be very disruptive to the process. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) released its election timetable (providing for a two-stage election process) in January 2018, but a controversial bill to enable the reordering of the electoral sequence was subsequently approved by the National Assembly. Buhari refused to sign the bill into law, warning that it might undermine INEC’s ability to organize, undertake and supervise elections.
• Security conditions during the pre- and post-election period will greatly impact INEC’s ability to ensure credible and well-executed polls. A number of security crises have intensified across the country: these could be exploited by unscrupulous politicians and their supporters to disrupt pre-election logistics or the voting process itself.
• A few key factors will determine whether the APC will repeat its 2015 victory or risk defeat. The first is the degree to which the party either remains united behind Buhari’s candidacy or sees additional high-level defections and a widening of existing factional divisions. The second is the president’s performance in the last six months of his term, and his party’s performance in off-cycle governorship elections.
• The opposition PDP currently controls 12 state governorships and the office of deputy president of the Senate including the Senate President seat with the decamping of Senator Bukola Saraki from APC to PDP, as well as – following large-scale defections from the APC in July 2018 – an apparent majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Looking ahead, the PDP’s competitiveness will depend on two main factors: the political pedigree and popular appeal of the party’s presidential nominee, and its ability to unify against a well-financed incumbent who retains a strong support base across much of the north.
• It will be recalled that a number of political groupings emerged keen to exploit popular disillusionment with the APC and PDP. They are raising awareness of the power that citizens hold, and calling for an end to political impunity by encouraging the electorate to hold political leaders to account.
• Nigeria’s international partners appear to be somewhat less engaged ahead of the 2019 elections than they were four years ago. US policy towards Nigeria, in particular, has been weakened by a shift in emphasis away from democracy and governance toward counterterrorism and trade. To make up for the lack of interest in Washington, the UK, the EU and their Nigerian civil society partners will need to redouble their efforts to support – but also closely and objectively scrutinize – INEC’s performance in the run-up to and during the elections.
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Union of Journalists National Secretariat has opened an Elections Situation Room at the headquarters of the Union in Abuja ahead of tomorrow’s election and subsequent ones with instructions to all Journalists on election duty to report all acts of impunity against the media. Numbers to call or send text messages to are:
08037762492, 08034004239, 08053000100 and 08035882742.
The National President of the Union, Chris Isiguzo while inaugurating the Situation Room, today cautioned Journalists to be mindful of their environments and avoid all dangerous areas. He urged Journalists to study areas of duty assigned to them and to work together with other colleagues in groups.
The NUJ according to Isiguzo , had in realization of the need to promote safety of Journalists and peaceful elections through professional coverage of elections said that the Union in collaboration with Media Foundation for West Africa, Accra and International Media Support based in Copenhagen organized a workshop earlier this month on Safety of Journalists and Police Media Relations in Abuja.
The President who expressed confidence in the ability of Journalists to carry out their assignments professionally also appealed to Agents of the State and all other Stakeholders to ensure the safety and security of media professionals and equipment.

Picture shows an official of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) registers the thumbprint of a voter with a biometric system at a polling station in the Apapa district of Lagos on 11 April 2015. Photo: PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/Getty Images.


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