Political Parties, Presidential Candidates and the Electoral Act 2022  nigeria

INSIGHTS & OPINIONS

Nigeria’s next presidential election is set to hold on 25 February 2023. Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari is coming to the end of his two-term tenure and cannot seek re-election. The election will be a contest between aspirants of the country’s two major political parties — former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and former Lagos State Governor Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC). The Labour Party’s candidate, Peter Obi, has also thrown his hat in the race. Riding on a wave of online support, the former Anambra State governor is poised to play the role of spoiler.  

Over the past couple of months, Nigerians have closely observed candidates’ campaigns, political parties’ machinations, and presidential selection processes for the upcoming election. These processes have taken on a new face this time around, following the recently enacted Electoral Act 2022.  

The new Act has several implications for electioneering in Nigeria. Firstly, the Act mandates political parties to conduct primaries no later than 180 days before the general election. The previous mandate was 60 days. Secondly, the Act stipulates nominated candidates’ campaigns shall begin 150 days before the general election as against 90 days as per the previous Act. By implication, candidates now have more time to inform the electorate of their platform. Thirdly, the 2022 Electoral Act now permits the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to maintain an electronic database of registered voters in contrast to the previous Act which only permitted a manual register of voters. This change has been widely accepted by the public to promote transparency and prevent election rigging and illegal voting in next year’s election.  

The new Act also aims to update standards at polling units and eliminate political influence on the electoral process. To do this, the Act authorizes the presiding officer of a polling unit to cancel the unit’s results if the number of votes cast in the polling unit exceeds the number of accredited voters in that polling unit. The Act also bars political appointees from acting as voting delegates or aspirants in any political party’s primary process. In effect, political appointees must resign their public office to become eligible for the electoral process. Finally, the Act now allows for the electronic transmission of election results by the procedures determined by the Electoral Commission. 

These updates will have a significant effect on various stages of the 2023 elections. Meanwhile, dominant public discussions currently revolve around how political parties nominate their presidential candidates and the role of delegates in the process.  

The 2022 Electoral Act recognizes only three procedures for the nomination of party candidates for the general elections: direct primaries, indirect primaries, or a consensus. In direct primaries, registered party members vote for their chosen aspirants at each ward of the federation, and the candidate with the highest number of votes is declared the party's candidate for the general election. In an indirect primary, party delegates vote for the aspirant of their choice, and the aspirant with the highest votes is selected as the party’s candidate. Delegates are chosen from members of the political party through a congress held in local government wards across the country. Finally, in a consensus system, all aspirants must sign a written consent endorsing one candidate for the elections. In the just-concluded intra-party electioneering process, both the APC and the PDP adopted the indirect procedure to select their party’s chosen representative in the forthcoming election. 

There are a couple lessons to learn from the 2022 Electoral Act’s influence on the party primary process. The role of delegates in the primaries poses earnest questions about the fairness, credibility, and transparency of the intra-party voting process. And this begs the question: is the candidate chosen by the delegates a true representative of the party’s members? There is also a widespread public belief that delegates have been financially induced by aspirants in return for their votes. If the Act did not make provision for the indirect primary process, such a situation could have been averted. In addition, the Act places no restrictions on the activities of delegates. For example, the Act could easily have barred delegates from collecting any form of inducement (financial or otherwise) from aspirants in exchange for a vote.  

The Electoral Act 2022 seeks to update and standardize Nigeria’s elections. The introduction of technological changes such as an electronic database of registered voters and an electronic transmission system of votes is a welcome improvement. Restricting political appointees' involvement in the election process is also a step in the right direction. However, there is a fundamental issue with the new act — its endorsement of the indirect primary process. A process that is bound to be fraught with irregularities and corruption, especially with the absence of provisions that check the activities of party delegates. A system where party delegates freely hand their votes to the highest bidder is corrupt and unrepresentative of the views of the nation’s electorate. The National Assembly must work on addressing this issue to ensure subsequent elections are fair, credible, transparent, and inclusive.

This article was written by Hycent Ajah.

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