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OPERATION SAFE CORRIDOR: The Deradicalisation and Reintegration of Ex-Combatants

By Democracy, Human Rights, PublicationNo Comments

Idayat Hassan, Centre for Democracy and Development & Dr. Laura Routley, Newcastle University


This report presents some preliminary findings of the de-radicalization and reintegration program, aimed at Boko Haram ex-combatant undertaken as part of the federal government of Nigeria’s Operation Safe Corridor (OSC).  The research looks to explore how these processes of deradicalisation, and rehabilitation are understood to have worked by asking key questions about:

  • How staff and clients of the program conceive the de-radicalization programs they are implementing/undertaking? And how successful they have been? 
  • What kinds of changes staff are looking to achieve and perceive they have achieved in detainees?
  • What practices/program/interventions they perceive to be effective in achieving these changes?
  • What they see as the constraints on their ability to reform/de-radicalize detainees?

Understanding how this program is supposed to effect change can encourage discussions about improving these processes and ways in which others can learn from the program’s successes and failures. It also provides insights into how the Nigerian government, and the other agencies involved, comprehend processes of deradicalisation and reintegration.

In the process of undertaking the research the focus shifted not only to the camp itself but to the communities that deradicalized ex-fighters were to be reintegrated.  As Clubb and Tapley (2018) have highlighted it is reintegration which is both a key measure and driver of the success of these kinds of deradicalization programmes.

 A Note on Methodology

The findings of this report are based on interviews and focus groups conducted between July and December 2019 but are shaped by CDD’s long engagement with transitional justice in Northern Nigeria (for example see Hassan and Tyvoll 2018). 

Interviews were conducted with thirty-three ex-combatants, seventeen of whom were currently in special holding and sixteen of whom had been reintegrated into their community.  These interviews explored their experience of the programme and of reintegration.  As well as how they thought their views and behaviours had been reshaped by the programme.  Staff involved in the programme were also interviewed with five of interviews being undertaken with staff implementing the programme this included those engaged in the deradicalisation, administration and oversighting of the Initiative at the Advisory Committee level. These explored how they understood the programme to work what changes they were looking for in clients and the conditions and activities they considered would achieve these.  Members of thirty communities where ex-combatants have been reintegrated were also interviewed.  Through these interviews we aimed to understand further what communities considered to be necessary to consider an ex-combatant as deradicalised / reformed.  All the interviews have been anonymised

In addition, six focus groups were conducted with stakeholders including members of Operation Safe Corridor Advisory Committee, community leaders (both religious and traditional) from communities where ex-combatants were being resettled, Civilian Joint Taskforce (CGTF) among others were held across the three most affected states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa.  These were aimed at understanding more broadly community perceptions of how the deradicalisation process takes place and the effectiveness of reintegration.


The activities of the Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Wal-Jihad, popularly known as Boko Haram, have caused an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 deaths and displaced over 2.3 million people since 2009. Between 2009 and 2015, the group took control of extensive territories in north-eastern Nigeria, including the Borno state capital Maiduguri, devastated the lives of millions; and constituted a significant threat to the integrity of the Nigerian state.  Boko Haram’s increasing military raids and attacks in territories of Nigeria’s neighbours led to the formation of the joint neighborhood military response force in early 2015: The Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF).  Supported by the United States, France, and Britain through the provision of training, advice, and intelligence, the MNJTF came to include the military forces of Chad, Niger, Cameroon, and Benin, in addition to those of Nigeria. Boko Haram lost control of much of its territory from 2015 onwards but despite factionalism that led to a formal split and government declarations of victory, the insurgency continues to kill thousands of people yearly, with about 2,733 people killed in 2019 across the most affected communities in the Northeast, Nigeria. In the last years, the terrorist group has varied its recruitment strategies; most new members have been forcefully conscripted, abducted, or blackmailed into the group. There are also older members who left and even fled their communities when the group made its transformation from dawah (the proselytizing of Islam) to destructive jihad (the spread of Islam by unholy war).

In 2015 Muhammadu Buhari was elected president. In fulfilment of one of his campaign promises, he set up Operation Safe Corridor (OSC) in September 2015. OSC is a custodial program undertaken under a Presidential Directive, with the major aim to deradicalise, rehabilitate and reintegrate repentant ex-combatants into society. Its focus is those who surrendered during the military onslaught, those who were conscripted to the Boko Haram insurgency against their will and those who felt disenchanted with the activities of the leadership of the group.

President Buhari has publicly reiterated his government’s commitment to the scheme on several occasions. In granting amnesty to repentant Boko Haram members in April 2018 he said, “we are ready to rehabilitate and integrate such repentant members into the larger society”.4 With increased military pressure, tightened borders, diminished supply routes, internal division in the group and the desire of forcibly conscripted members to escape, the numbers of Boko Haram fighters surrendering themselves to the military has continued to increase with over 1500 ex-combatants as at December 2019. Since the onset of OSC, a total of 800 ex-combatants have passed through the program.

Read Full Report Here

Report of Training of Hakimai and Ardo on Peacebuilding & Conflict Resolution in Kaduna State

By Blog, PublicationNo Comments


Even before the current spate of rural violence and banditry in northwest Nigeria, Kaduna state has been a hotspot of violent conflict with a history of religious and ethnic conflicts, political violence as well as deep-rooted indigene-settler disharmony. Present-day rural banditry, in the form of kidnapping, pillage of rural communities and mass killings, has fluidly diffused into pre-existing ethno-religious tensions and bigotry, which is often amplified by the media and political commentators. Every killing, kidnapping or act of violence in Kaduna is seen as Muslim against the Christian or vice-versa, thereby inflaming the multiple complexities of the conflict. As a result, armed banditry in the state has the potential of being misinterpreted in different ways, compared to other states with less of a history of ethnic and religious violence.

Traditional leaders—Hakimai and Ardo—are ever-present conflict actors either as its victims or as agents of peacebuilding and resolution. Socially speaking, traditional authorities are the agents of peace and social cohesion. They operate at the grassroots and interact regularly and closely with the masses. In addition, they are custodians of culture and traditions. They are also the major pillars for the success of any social programme and public policy design and implementation. When it comes to conflict resolution, they have a vast knowledge and experience of the acceptable traditional methods and procedures of conflict management, conflict resolution and peacebuilding. In fact it has been argued that the collapse of the traditional conflict resolution and peacebuilding architectures in many societies was partly responsible for the escalation of this violent conflict in Kaduna state.

In recognition of this Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Abuja in partnership with the Centre for Peace Studies, Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto organised a two-day capacity building training for selected Hakimai and Ardo in Kaduna state on peacebuilding and conflict resolution under its Strengthening the Delivery of Peace and Security (SDPS) Project.


The key essence of the training was to provide a platform in, which the capacity of traditional leaders would be improved by strengthening their traditional methods of conflict resolution in order to serve as agents of peace and conflict resolution. This approach is based on the premise that traditional leaders are best placed to counter negative narratives by the media and individuals that could instigate and inflame violent conflict. Without challenging and correcting ethnic and religious profiling the evolving conflicts in volatile Kaduna state will likely continue to linger and spread. The situation requires more urgent and effective proactive measures and CDD believes the best point to start is from the Hakimai and Ardo, who are the custodian of peace and conflict resolution. The main objective is therefore, to build the capacity of traditional leaders to strengthen their knowledge and expertise to understanding the challenging dynamics, trends, dimensions and complexities of all types of conflicts in Kaduna state and to support their efforts to contribute meaningfully towards peacebuilding and resolution using all necessary traditional and religious mechanisms as differentiated in various communities and religious domains.

Download Full Publication Here


By Election, Press Release, PublicationNo Comments

With voting in the 16 July 2022 Osun State Governorship election already underway across the 30
Local Government Areas of the state, the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) through its
Election Analysis Centre (EAC) has been closely observing the election. CDD-EAC deployed 300
trained and accredited observers who are currently collecting data on key aspects of the day’s voting
and voting related process. The objective of the CDD-EAC doing this is to determine through
evidence based analysis, the credibility of the election in meeting and satisfying canons of electoral
integrity under Nigerian laws and international codes and standards.

The observations that follow are based on preliminary findings of the conducts and procedures on the
election day.

General Environment of the Election
The CDD-EAC notes the signing of the peace accord by thirteen out of the fifteen political parties
taking part in the election and other measures aimed at ensuring the election is hitch free. The decision
by the political actors to commit to an agreement, which enjoins them to do their part in ensuring a
violence-free election is laudable. Although pockets of disagreements between party agents and INEC
officials were reported by our observers in a few polling units, these were largely resolved. CDD-EAC
similarly notes that in the build up to today’s governorship election, a number of consultations and
strategy sessions involving the Election Management Body and the relevant security agencies were
held under the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES). These
consultations were observed to have happened at both national and state level; added to this is the
deployment of 21,000 police officers to the state. We hope these measures contribute to the peaceful
conduct of the election.

INEC Preparedness and Deployment
Data from the CDD-EAC observers indicate that 97 percent of INEC officials had arrived at their
polling units by 8:30am. It further shows that 79 percent of INEC poll officials addressed voters
before the 8:30am official time of poll opening. CDD-EAC data indicates that in at least 92 percent of
polling units observed critical election materials like ballot papers, Biometric Voter Accreditation
System (BVAS) devices, results sheets, ballot boxes and the voter register were available for the
conduct of the election – a marked improvement over the 83 percent recorded in Ekiti.
CDD-EAC notes that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) took some steps to
address some of the gaps identified in the Ekiti State governorship election last month. INEC has
embedded officials of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) in the INEC
situation room in Osogbo to help address issues around deployment of personnel and movement of
voting materials. The Commission similarly conducted mock accreditation exercises in Osogbo,
Borife, Ede, and Egbedore to test the preparedness of the trained staff and the efficiency of the BVAS.

Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS)
The mock accreditation exercise carried out by INEC to ensure the readiness of the 5,306 BVAS
machines appears to have worked, with CDD-EAC officials noting that there was a BVAS machine
and compliance in 99% of the polling units visited, with two polling units in Ife Central and Irepodun
reporting the absence of BVAS machines at 9:30am.

Electoral Offences
CDD-EAC observers reported cases of political party agents campaigning, and canvassing for votes
near the polling unit in 14 LGAs, which represents 9.6 percent of the polling units observed. These
acts which contravene the provisions of the Electoral Act 2022 were mostly reported by observers in
Ife Central, Odo Otin, Osogbo, Oriade and Irepodun. CDD-EAC observers also reported seeing
unremoved campaign posters at some polling units, just as political party agents openly canvassed for

Fake News
CDD-EAC Fake News Hub for the July 16, Osun State Governorship election has been closely
watching online and offline spaces with the objective of tracking and fact-checking fake news and
misinformation. A number of fake news stories, misleading captions for images, and the sharing of
dead online links are being used by partisan actors to mislead voters or to possibly depress the vote in
areas in which the political opposition is perceived to have some strengths. CDD-EAC fact-checkers
have also documented claims and counter-claims by political actors over allegations of vote buying.
Using online tools, and a range of verification techniques, CDD-EAC fact-checkers have been
working to independently fact-check online and offline misinformation capable of undermining voter
confidence. One of the major fake news stories, which began trending as voters headed to the polls
this morning, is the claim that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Ademola Adeleke had
been sacked by a court. CDD-EAC fact checkers verified and found this claim to be false. CDD-EAC
fact-checkers also spotted a claim that one of the major opposition parties’ candidates was asking
voters to swear an oath that voters voted for him before he would pay them. CDD-EAC fact-checkers
found nothing on the circulated image to lend credence to the claim. Our fact-checkers also noted that
the image, which was circulated to make the claim, was taken at the point the candidate was casting
his vote.

CDD-EAC observers will continue to keep a close watch on the election up till when voting ends, and
counting and collation of results begin. Further updates on findings will be provided at the end of

Professor Adele Jinadu, Chair, CDD-EAC
For Media Enquiries, contact:
Mr. Damien Ihekoronye
Coordinator, Election Analysis Centre (CDD-EAC)
(+2348087185684 | )


By Blog, Cohesion, Event, Human Rights, PublicationNo Comments

Violent conflicts between nomadic or semi-nomadic pastoralists and sedentary farmer communities in
Nigeria have led to thousands of deaths and significant economic losses in recent years. The conflict has worsened the already protracted food crisis in the country. Land-use disputes, historically resolved through traditional dispute resolution mechanisms, have become more difficult to contain, with the increased availability of small arms and light weapons a factor. Climate change and population growth have also increased pressure on available resources, while farmer-herder relations have become increasingly politicized as ethnic and religious identities have hardened. While farmer-herder conflict now exists in every region of Nigeria, it has evolved into banditry and terrorism in parts of the northwest and north-central zones. To find lasting solutions to these conflicts, the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) organised a national multi-stakeholder conference on farmer-herder conflict in Nigeria on June 7-8, 2022 with support from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and United States Institute of Peace. Participants included the Emir of Argungu, the Commissioner of Internal Security in Kaduna State, members of civil society organisations, academics and the

Emir of Argungu

Among the key topics discussed during the conference were:

  1. The root causes of farmer-herder conflict, including mismanagement of land-use disputes, climate change and urbanization, the hardening of ethnic identities, corruption, a lack of opportunities for youths, and the proliferation of small arms and light weapons
  2. The local variations in farmer-herder relations across Nigeria, including the factors behind certain communities’ successful sustenance of historically peaceful relations
  3. The role of traditional institutions in managing farmer-herder relations
  4. The successes and shortcomings of government efforts to address insecurity and land-use disputes, such as the National Livestock Transformation Plan
  5. Recommendations for improving relations at the federal, state and local

The Resignation of the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the State of the Judiciary

By Blog, Constitution, PublicationNo Comments

Press Statement by the Forum of Fellows of the Centre for Democracy and Development

Date: Monday, 4th July 2022

The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, resigned his appointment on 27th June 2022 and the next in line, Olukayode Ariwoola, was sworn in the same day in an acting capacity, as is the practice. The manner of the resignation – voluntary or forced – and the reason for it – ill-health or cover up for corruption – have raised critical questions on the state of the judiciary. Even more important is the circumstances of the said resignation, the letter from his peers that was leaked to the media.

Fourteen Justices of the Supreme Court had written to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Tanko Muhammad, lamenting the parlous situation in the court. In this first-of-its-kind protest letter in the 58-year history of the apex court, the justices chronicled the operational challenges that have almost crippled the efficient adjudication of cases at the court. The aggrieved justices led by the second most senior judge of the Supreme Court, Olukayode Ariwoola, listed the problems to include vehicles, electricity tariff, supply of diesel, Internet services to their residences and chambers, and epileptic electricity supply to the court. The jurists further noted that “we find it strange that despite the upward review of our budgetary allocation, the court cannot cater for our legitimate entitlements”.

The justices also complained that for three years the CJN withheld assent to the rules of court, thereby slowing the dispensation of justice. They saw the situation as “the peak of the degeneration of the Court; it is the height of decadence and clear evidence of the absence of probity and moral rectitude.” The import of this leaked letter is that the CJN had lost the respect of virtually the entire justices of the Supreme Court. 

Even more disturbing is that since the “resignation”, there have been allegations, rumours and innuendos in connection with the former CJN, including rumours of bribery and undue interference of his family in the work of the Supreme Court. Although there is no evidence to back this, the speculations suggest that he did not resign of his own volition.

We can surmise from these that all is not well with the Supreme Court. It would be recalled that CJN Tanko Muhammad’s predecessor, Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen, was suspended on the 25th of January 2019, following a questionable prosecution by the Code of Conduct Tribunal, at a time also that the residences of several judges, including Justices of the Supreme Court, were raided by security operatives. There is strong evidence of the Executive getting involved in activities that interfere with the independence of the judiciary. In other words, there is a challenge to the constitutional principle of separation of powers and the integrity and the independence of the judiciary. The not so hidden hands of the Presidency have also been often seen in the appointment and removal of judicial officers. Indeed, the same can be said of the relationship between State Governors and the judiciary at the state level.

The Forum of Fellows of the Centre for Democracy and Development therefore make the following observations:

  1. The crises in the Supreme Court reflect a significant challenge with the operations of the principle of the separation of powers and it is important for all democratic forces to strive to maintain the independence of the judiciary.
  2. In recent years, several high-profile mid-night attacks on the houses of senior judicial officers, including justices of the Supreme Court has indicated Executive agency in the harassment and intimidation of the judiciary.
  3. The process of appointment of judicial officers, from the lowest levels right up to the Chief Justice of Nigeria has become politicised and integrity and competence are no longer core criteria in the selection process. The outcome is that there is a steady decline in the quality of judicial officers;
  4. The powers of the Chief Justice of Nigeria are excessive within the Supreme Court and the National Judicial Council. The same is true of the State Chief Judges in relation to the State judiciary. These should be reviewed to reflect a more collegiate approach among peers.
  5. There is a very high level of corruption in our society which clearly has penetrated the judiciary and threatens to compromise the whole system of justice delivery.
  6. Many judges have become very cosy with politicians and prominent members of society, and no longer keep to the age-old principle of maintaining a healthy distance from political and social networks.

Based on the foregoing, the Forum recommends that:

  1. Defending and protecting the principle of separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary should constitute a principal plank of advocacy by all democratic forces and organizations.
  2. The process of appointing judges at all levels, including the CJN, should be reviewed and made more open with a focus on competence and integrity.
  3. The excessive powers of the Chief Justice of Nigeria in the control of the Supreme Court and the National Judicial Council should be reviewed and transformed into a more collegiate system.
  4. The conditions of service of judicial officers, especially Judges and Magistrates at all levels, should be improved and their tenures properly guaranteed to insulate them from political and societal pressures and corrupting influences.


CDD Fellows

Professors Adele Jinadu, Jibrin Ibrahim and Okey Ibeanu


By Blog, Election, Fact Check, Fake News, Human Rights, News, PublicationNo Comments

The spread of falsehoods across information ecosystems in West Africa is growing. Although enabled by increasing access to social media and the internet across the region, the flow of fake news is not simply confined to online spaces but moves between offline and digital environments with regularity and ease. A rumour that is started by an online influencer on Facebook, once trending, can become a topic of debate and discussion for television or radio talk shows, broadening its audience. These debates, in turn, are then discussed and debated in gathering spots such as markets, atayah bases, okada stages or grins enabling them to disseminate through well-established word of mouth rumour networks. Completing the circle, these offline rumours can then be transposed back online and can either be further skewed to disinform or simply reinforce an already circulating falsehood.

The way information flows between online and offline networks is critical for understanding how fake news spreads and influences actions across West Africa. So
too is trust. Information that a recipient deems to be from a trustworthy source – be that the original source of the information or the individual who last shared it – remains fundamental to decisions about what is true and what is not, along with whether the information aligns with existing beliefs and biases. These factors are increasingly well understood by those involved in the
purposeful spreading of falsehoods online across West Africa particularly on issues relating to politics and health.

This report draws on the findings of 15 studies undertaken in 2021 covering all members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Information was gathered through desk-based research, key informant interviews, focus group discussions and the authors’ experiences of using social media platforms. This regional report draws out some of the key trends from those studies. It highlights the individuals or organizations involved in the spread of falsehoods, the tactics they seek to employ, and the influence and impact that they are having. It then draws attention to the range of approaches adopted so far to respond to the ‘fake news’ threat. It concludes by offering recommendations to key stakeholders about what more can — and should — be done.

Read the full article below


By Blog, Cohesion, Event, Fact Checks, General, Human Rights, News, Publication, RescueNo Comments

Nigeria is confronting a number of critical political and security challenges that are raising serious questions about its identity and survival as a democratic federal republic. First, there is a dramatic breakdown in security that has created a climate of disillusion in the state as a protector of citizens.

Threat to State Integrity

Secondly, there is a breakdown of social cohesion in Nigeria with stress lines emerging at the levels of the family, community and state.

Thirdly, there is a significant rise and expansion religious, fueled in part by disinformation and hate speech that circulates across traditional and social media. Fourthly, there is frustration about the country’s political and economic direction, with citizens believing the system is stymied by a reckless political class that is corrupt, self-serving and manipulative. Finally, Nigeria’s elite consensus on federalism and the federal character principle as a guarantee against group discrimination and marginalization is badly shaken.


The state of insecurity in Nigeria has reached unprecedented levels. On a daily basis, well coordinated
commando-like operations by gunmen are organized against rural communities where people are kidnapped for ransom, houses burnt, and property looted. Similar attacks are also conducted against the army and
police. These attacks are now occurring in virtually all geopolitical zones in the country. According to Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara state, there are no fewer than 30,000 gunmen spread across more than 100 camps in and around his state alone. These bandits collected N970 million as ransom from the families of their kidnap victims – over 1,100 – in the eight years between 2011 and 2019. During the same period, they killed 2,619 people.


FACT CHECK: Did Late Osinachi Family open a GoFundMe account?

By Blog, Election, Fact Check, Fact Checks, News, PublicationNo Comments

Verdict: False


A viral message is currently trending on social media purporting to be a crowdfunding platform popularly known as GoFundMe to assist the family of late Gospel singer Osinachi Nwachukwu.

The GoFundMe account is said to have realized about N32 million as at the time of the fact check.

The aim of the crowdfunding was said to be for the purpose of raising money for the welfare of late Osinachi’s children.


Daily Trust tried to verify the authenticity of the account and also to know if it was authorised by the family.

Subsequently, a statement made available to Daily Trust on behalf of the family by A. A. Paul, a lawyer, stated that the family did not authorise the crowd funding.

The family also called on Nigerians to discontinue donating to the account as it was not approved by the family.

Part of the statement reads: “We plead with the general public to please respect our privacy. We appreciate the public for their concern and love. All her children are being taken care of and we have not collected any 32 million from anybody nor are we stranded or begging the public in any form as regards to a certain GoFundMe account making rounds. Please everybody should be careful so that you don’t get scammed.

“The burial arrangement is in progress and we shall inform the general public once we have made full preparation. Please remember us in your prayers as we have seen how far the devil can go but in the name of Jesus we are victorious and the bible says that the steps of the righteous shines brighter and brighter unto a perfect day that is our assurance,”


Daily Trust reported the death of Osinachi Nwachukwu on April 8, 2022.

Few days after, there were revelations by family, friends and church members about the domestic abuse she had been allegedly subjected to by her husband

Subsequently, her husband Peter Nwachukwu, was arrested and later arraigned before a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) on a 23-count charge that bordered on culpable homicide.

He however, pleaded not guilty to all the allegations that were contained in the charge the Federal Government preferred against him.

Following Nwachukwu’s insistence of not being guilty, trial judge, Justice Njideka Nwosu-Iheme, in a short ruling, ordered his remand at the Kuje Correctional Centre, even as she adjourned the case till June 16 and 17 for trial.

The gospel musician came into fame with the hit gospel song, “Ekwueme”, which she paired with Prospa Ochimana.


Checks by CDD/Daily Trust has shown that the GoFundMe account currently soliciting funds for the late Osinachi’s children was not authorized by the family, as such it is FAKE

Nigeria: Women and Electoral Politics in 2023 — Charting the Way Forward

Nigeria: Women and Electoral Politics in 2023 — Charting the Way Forward

By Publicaitons, Publication, PublicationsNo Comments

As Nigeria enters a new general election season — with political parties already conducting local congresses ahead of primaries next year— what prospects lie ahead for Nigerian women interested in seeking political leadership positions?

Women have remained a vastly underrepresented minority in the halls of political power throughout Nigerian history. Since the resumption of electoral democracy in 1999, public campaigns proposed legislative reforms, and internal measures within political parties have attempted to address the gaping gender imbalance. Yet assessments of the performance of female candidates in Nigeria’s most recent general elections revealed a
disturbing trend: women’s representation in elected and appointed office has not only failed to increase but appears to be in decline.



By Fact Checks, Publicaitons, Publication, PublicationsNo Comments

This study assesses the Nigerian Economy over the past two decades using the key economic plans of the various administrations. It focuses largely on comparing the projected and actual performance of the real, monetary, fiscal, and external sectors within the plans of each administration and their respective performance targets.

Our assessment of the Nigerian economy confirms a high dependence on oil for both foreign exchange earnings and public sector revenues across all tiers of government. While there was no attempt in this paper to assess the potential economic impact of COVID-19 on the Nigerian economy, a preliminary assessment from other sources (The Guardian, 2020) highlights the dangers of Nigeria relying on oil for its future growth and development. Our policy brief takes its direction and impetus from our findings and the economic challenges amplified by the emergence of COVID-19.

Liberia’s Fake News Ecosystem: An Overview

By PublicationOne Comment

Fake news is spreading fast and wide in Liberia driven by increased access to the internet. This report provides an overview of the fake news ecosystem in Liberia by investigating — through key informant interviews and secondary research — how information is produced, shared and spread in the country.

The report focuses on the key actors and platforms used to circulate fake news in the country. It then examines how fake news impacts and shapes national events, and offers some recommendations on how to contain fake news and mitigate its impacts on society.

Download Liberia’s Fake News Ecosystem: An Overview (PDF)

UNE INFLUENCE CROISSANTE: La Chine en Afrique de L'ouest

By Publicaitons, Publication, Publications

Cette édition de West Africa Insight Cs’intéresse à la manière dont la Chine étend son influence en Afrique de l’Ouest. Tobi Oshodi et James Barnett commencent par donner une vue d’ensemble et une analyse du rôle que les Instituts Confucius, qui sont maintenant au nombre de 15 en Afrique de l’Ouest, jouent pour soutenir l’agenda du soft power de la Chine dans la région.
L’accent mis sur les efforts de la Chine pour étendre son influence de manière plus indirecte est également abordé dans les articles d’Emeka Umejei et de Solomon Elusoji. Tous deux examinent la manière dont la Chine a cherché à s’implanter dans l’espace médiatique en Afrique de l’Ouest en fournissant du contenu et en soutenant les maisons de presse et les journalistes, et dans quelle mesure ces efforts ont un impact sur les reportages, avec un accent particulier sur le Ghana et le Nigeria. Folashadé Soulé porte son attention sur les relations militaires entre la Chine et le Bénin dans un article qui cherche à mieux comprendre comment et pourquoi une telle coopération se met en place, et avec quel impact. Enfin, Adedayo Bakare propose une analyse de la manière dont les relations commerciales sino-ouest-africaines pourraient s’adapter à la zone de
libre-échange continentale africaine et en bénéficierlors qu’elle deviendra opérationnelle.

Increasing Influence: China in West Africa

By Publicaitons, Publication, Publications

This edition of West Africa Insight reflects on the ways China is extending its influence across West Africa. Tobi Oshodi and James Barnett start by providing an overview and analysis of the role Confucius Institutes, of which there are now 15 in West Africa, are playing in support of China’s soft power agenda in the region.

The focus on China’s efforts to extend its influence in more indirect ways is also discussed in pieces by Emeka Umejei and Solomon Elusoji. Both look at the ways in which China has sought to gain a foothold in the media space in West Africa through providing content and supporting media houses and journalists, and to what extent these efforts are impacting reporting with a specific focus on Ghana and Nigeria.

Folashadé Soulé switches the focus of attention to China-Benin military relations in a piece that seeks to better understand how and why such cooperation is being forged and with what impact. Finally, Adedayo Bakare offers an analysis of how Sino-West African trade relations might adapt to, and benefit from, the African Continental Free Trade Area as it becomes operational.

How Youth Can Reshape Political Participation in Nigeria

By Blog, Publication, Publications

By Chris Olaoluwa Ògúnmọ́dẹdé

Can Nigeria’s #EndSARS protests evolve into a force that can restructure electoral politics? Or will the protests, which culminated with the state opening fire on its own citizens in Lagos, simply become a dramatic, but ineffective interlude, to the status quo?

If recent electoral contests held in Lagos, Imo, Bayelsa, Plateau and Abia are an indicator, the civic awakening that seemed apparent at the height of the demonstrations in October 2020, has thus far failed to spill over into the electoral realm. Voter apathy, which typifies Nigerian elections, has been a notable feature of these polls. But as the 2023 elections draw closer amid a gloomy political and economic outlook, Nigeria’s young voters and activists are yet again being pushed to consider their role in politics while trying to navigate the relative power of protest and electoral politics as modes of civic participation.

Activists and organisers who participated in the #EndSARS protests must decide between redoubling their efforts or stepping back from all contentious political activity; whether, and how, to change tactics; what issues they should focus on; or if abstaining completely from electoral politics would be the most powerful statement. These questions are particularly pressing for Nigeria’s so-called “s’oro s’oke generation” or what I like to call the “70 Percent Club” – the cohort of Nigerians believed to be 30 years old or younger.

In a country as large and heterogeneous as Nigeria, these young people come from all walks of life and have different experiences, but they also share some important commonalities. They have no little to no memory of Nigeria under military rule, they increasingly reject the respectability politics that govern intergenerational social interactions, and they are very online. #EndSARS was undeniably their moment; their introduction to the world as a social force to be reckoned with.

Fresh voices

#EndSARS as a struggle in the public square coincided with the takeover of the virtual one, much of it driven by this “70 Percent Club”. Even as the protests gathered steam in early October 2020, the overwhelming majority of Nigeria’s print and broadcast media – whose ownership structure is largely concentrated in the hands of political entrepreneurs with close links to government officials and the Nigerian state – gave little to no coverage to the protests. But in a country where 61% of the population has access to the internet, these attempts to stymie the protests proved to be a miscalculation. Young Nigerians do not rely on newspapers, television and the radio for news and information to the same degree their parents and grandparents do.

According to 2019 findings by NOI Polls, 70% of Nigerians aged 18-35 have access to the internet compared with 56% of those aged 36-60. Roughly 20% of the Nigerian population has a Twitter account, with young people again the more likely users. WhatsApp and Facebook have even more significant numbers of users. During the protests, social media users got the #EndSARS hashtag trending globally. The millions of unique impressions on Twitter and other platforms, gained the attention of international celebrities and the Nigerian diaspora. Online spaces and new media platforms like Pulse Nigeria, Zikoko and The Native quickly worked to fill the gaps left open by legacy media.

The digital prowess young Nigerians displayed during the #EndSARS protests played a huge role in its reach, fundraising, coordination and message discipline. They used online platforms to share information in real-time, coordinate activities with protesters across the country, fight misinformation and document important events such as attempts by hired thugs and pro-government forces to subvert the protests and the fatal shootings in Lekki on 20 October. Women were at the heart of this movement, with The Feminist Coalition playing a critical coordinating role, alongside SARS victims’ mothers’ groups, in demanding transparency and accountability for victims of police brutality. 

The challenge now is how to institutionalise the vibrant online activism demonstrated during the #EndSARS protests into electoral politics and broader civic participation. The protests did a lot to dispel the myth of apathy among so-called “lazy Nigerian youths”, who have been forced to provide social goods and services for themselves amid a weak state incapable of meeting their basic needs. The immense strides the ICT and creative sectors have made in the last decade largely reflects the ingenuity and entrepreneurialism of the “70 Percent Club”. Far from being frivolous and lazy, young Nigerians have simply lost hope in institutions that do not serve their interests or reflect their preferences. Their low participation rates in electoral contests reflecting disenchantment with the ruling elites and the systems of governance they oversee.

But this disillusionment with the political system and the lack of trust in civic norms and institutions represents the best opportunity to reshape political participation in Nigeria. There is a need to shift Nigeria’s civic culture from one skewed overwhelmingly towards elections as the primary means of participation, and towards a system inclusive of mass civic activism designed to trigger long-term political development and social change. This effort must start with building the kinds of “mediating structures” Alexis de Tocqueville argued strengthened democracies by providing alternative loyalty bases and sources of information for citizens. These mutually reinforcing online and offline entities would serve as a bulwark against dominant political forces, and as intermediaries between citizens and the Nigerian state, who are socially distant from each other.

Learning from the past

A crucial mistake made after the collapse of military rule and return to civilian democracy in 1999 was the failure to connect institutional politics – understood narrowly as represented by political parties and elections – to the participatory ethos that energised the pro-democracy movement of the 1990s. Electoral politics returned to being the crown jewel of civic participation in Nigeria’s civilian democracy, with many democracy activists – some of them erstwhile politicians – running for and winning elected office, or getting appointed to government and party positions.

At the same time, civil society organisations (CSOs) arguably did not, and still do not, serve as intermediaries between citizens and state, acting more as entrenched, professional middle-class interests or even as an extension of the political class. Many CSOs rely on international donors for funding – when they are not covertly funded by political figures – and have come to prioritise access and closeness to government and foreign donors, raising questions among their critics about their ability to be effective intermediary institutions. The weakness of the rule of law and a culture of opacity in government, combined with the aforementioned tendencies, makes contemporary organised CSOs incapable of, and unsuited to, being a credible mouthpiece for young, socially-networked Nigerians.

Leaderless and decentralised

Historically, organised activism in Nigeria leaned towards centralised representation, usually in the form of professional organisations, trade associations and farmer, labour and student unions. The #EndSARS protests were structured differently, resembling the many “leaderless” movements that have emerged across the world in recent years. Although Lagos served as a sort of symbolic capital of the movement, the protests were decentralised away from any one geographic location or group and were truly national in scope. Nigerians in 21 of the 36 states participated in demonstrations, along with diaspora supporters in London, Johannesburg, Washington DC and elsewhere.

Time will tell whether this format of mass activism will become the norm in Nigeria, but its spontaneity, message discipline and organisational prowess caught the Nigerian establishment by surprise. This in part explains the violent crackdown that brought the protests to a halt, as well as the continued repression by state authorities against key organisers and ordinary protesters. Many demonstrators remain detained, with the whereabouts of more than a handful an open question. Others saw bank accounts frozen or had their passports seized.

Making engagement meaningful

Given the varied manifestations of poor governance across the country which the #EndSARS protests sought to challenge, it stands to reason that localised organising which reflects the reality of Nigerians in their immediate communities should drive the establishment of mediating structures. But if the broader trends which emerged during the protests are to have any significance during the 2023 elections, the demands of Nigerian political organising should not be directed solely at centres of power like the major cities and state capitals.

Although the #EndSARS movement drew on a cross-representation of Nigerians, the most dominant narratives and visible organisers emerged from Lagos, which served as the protests’ centre of gravity to a large extent. The emergent forums and collective platforms which formed during the protests demonstrate the necessity of broader inclusivity of Nigerians across different income groups, regions and communities. Mediating structures must be designed to broaden constituencies and bring in voices who may not be well-represented among Nigeria’s online population. The problems of governance in Nigeria might have similar dimensions across the board, but they manifest themselves differently everywhere and these mediating institutions ought to reflect these nuances. Solutions that might work in Abia might not be replicable in Zamfara, and vice versa.

With the myriad of challenges bedevilling Nigeria, efforts to resolve them cannot wait until 2023, and neither should Nigerians. While young people should be encouraged to register to vote and join political parties and other organs of institutional politics, these efforts should be coupled with a commitment to building long-term civic institutions that give youths a means of engaging political systems and actors beyond election day. More civic participation by youths will not guarantee better governance outcomes, but it does raise the odds of bridging the significant gap between those deciding policy and those who have to weather its effects. And that is a useful point of departure. 

Chris Olaoluwa Ògúnmọ́dẹdé is a foreign policy analyst, writer, editor and political risk consultant specialising in comparative authoritarianism, regional integration in the West Africa region and transnationalism in African diasporic communities. He is also an editor at The Republic, a pan-African global affairs publication. Follow him on Twitter at @Illustrious_Cee.

Editor’s note: This is the seventh article in a nine-part series in which leading thinkers and practitioners explore key questions and themes about the current state of electoral democracy in Africa. You can click to read the sixth, fifthfourththirdsecond and first.

Deradicalizing Rehabilitating and Reintegrating: Building Peace in Nigeria's North East

By Publicaitons, Publication, Publications

Since 2009, Boko-Haram’s violent activities have ravaged Nigeria’s north-east – primarily Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states – leading to the death of over 30,000 civilians and the forceful recruitment of youths, women, young girls, and school children among other human rights violations.

These events have destroyed affected communities’ social fabrics, traditional institutions and impacted on the regions socio-economic reality. In response in 2016, the Nigerian government launched two initiatives to address the challenges of the victims and perpetrators. The North East Regional Initiatives (PCNI), which became the North East Development Commission (NEDC) in 2019 and the Operation Safe Corridor Programme (OPSC), a key part of its counter-terrorism and peacebuilding strategy.

It was designed to “encourage defection within the ranks of Boko Haram Islamic State of West Africa Province through the corridor of the opportunity offered by the DRR Program as part of the Federal Government of Nigeria’s overall efforts to end the insurgency in the North East’”. OPSC is a joint multi-stakeholder/multi-agency operation that includes Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of the state, the Armed Forces of Nigeria and security agencies. Coordination of its activities is provided by the Office of Chief
of Defense Staff (CDS) with technical and some funding support from the non-state actors like the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD). The program was mandated to facilitate the deradicalization, rehabilitation and reintegration (DRR) of repentant ex-combatants. A timely initiative that from inception required the trust, acceptance and participation of local actors including victims, the wider members of affected communities and religious leaders.

In November 2016, CDD supported and facilitated the first Community Dialogue and Strategy Session in Maiduguri, Borno State. This provided the initial opportunity for the state and OPSC to engage with local actors on the approach and their participation in the DRR Program. At this session, the local actors outrightly rejected the intervention, and in some extreme responses mentioned that the ex-combatants should be murdered or moved to North Korea as they are not in any way welcome back in the communities. They first wanted peace to return and for victims to recover from their socio-economic status before DRR of ex-combatants commenced. While the findings and outcome of this initial community dialogue and strategy session were not encouraging, it laid the necessary foundation towards understanding the views, and dynamics of the challenges to be addressed in the design of the DRR program.


Farmer-Herder Conflict in Northern Nigeria: Trends, Dynamics and Gender Perspectives

By Publication, Publications

The farmer-herder conflict has become persistent and pervasive with debilitating consequences on human lives and their sources of livelihoods. Although scholars, policymakers and development workers have given attention to the conflict, the trends and dynamics of the conflict, as well as the direct and indirect actors in the conflicts, are constantly changing. The constantly changing nature of the conflict makes efforts at resolving it by both state and non-state actors difficult.

This research explored the current conflict dynamics, the various actors, causes and triggers, its gender dimensions, as well as the effectiveness of conflict mitigation mechanisms used to date. The study adopted a qualitative data collection process using focus group discussions (FGDs) and key informant interviews (KIIs). Four states – Benue, Kaduna, Katsina and Nasarawa – that are among those adversely affected by the conflict were selected as case studies. Eight Local Government Areas – Guma and Logo (Benue State), Kajuru and Kaura (Kaduna State), Batsari and Jibia (Katsina
State), Awe and Doma (Nasarawa State) – were chosen as the study locations. In all, 48 FGD sessions and 46 KII interviews were conducted with men, women, youth, farmers and herders, traditional rulers, religious leaders and government officials to generate the data, and content analysis
was applied to discuss the key findings from the study.

The findings of the research revealed that there are increasing occurrences of farmer-herder conflicts in virtually all the states. In two of the states, Kaduna and Katsina, the conflict has metamorphosed into other forms of generalized criminalities such as armed banditry involving cattle rustling and cattle theft and kidnapping for ransom.


SULH-ALHERI NE Replacing Evil with Something Better: Promoting Alternative Peacebuilding Narratives

By Publicaitons, Publication, Publications

Attacks launched by Boko Haram and other extremist and self-defence groups in northern Nigeria has claimed over 30,000 lives in the last decade. The rise of the Boko Haram insurgency has also led to the destruction of communities, resulting in gross human rights violations, mass atrocities, disappearance and forced displacement. Restoring peace and rebuilding the communities ravaged by the Boko Haram insurgency must include a justice component. When legitimate grievances are not redressed timely, justly, and fairly, then impunity and injustice can be formidable obstacles to restoring peace and rebuilding communities.

In fact, unaddressed grievances have been identified as one of the major push factors towards violent extremism. However, the scale and complexity of the atrocious crimes and violations of human rights committed in the context of the Boko Haram insurgency makes it very hard, if not totally impossible, to prosecute all the perpetrators through the already overburdened criminal justice system.

The duration that criminal cases take to be concluded, and the resources,
expertise and personnel needed to prosecute thousands of criminal
complaints are too daunting to contemplate.


How tenure elongation and a lack of term limits weaken the integrity of elections in Africa

By Blog, Publication, Publications

By Ayisha Osori

Until the late 1980s, Liberia’s constitution was the only one in Africa to provide clarity for presidential term limits. Without these limits, political succession was a major source of instability on the continent, with many countries dominated by a single leader who insisted on his – and it was always him – indispensability. The end of their rule was invariably by force. In 35 years from 1961 to 1997, Africa witnessed 78 coups d’états.

But by 1995, at least 33 countries had revised their constitutions to include presidential term limits. The Organisation of African Unity (as it then was) built on this trend by developing a rule against coups and what it called “unconstitutional changes in government” with the recommendation that “any manipulation of the constitution aimed at preventing a democratic change of government” be outlawed. By the 2000s elections and term limits had replaced death and coup d’état as the most common way in which African presidents and prime ministers left office. Term limits were one effective way of curtailing the excesses of all-powerful executives and a tool that allowed for greater investment in the independence of critical democracy strengthening institutions such as the judiciary, legislature and election management bodies (EMBs).

Fast forward to 2021, and 16 countries across the continent have either revised their constitutions to remove term limits or seen the extension of the tenure of the incumbent president against the spirit of term limits. A further eight – Eritrea, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Lesotho, Libya, Morocco, Somalia and Eswatini – still have no term limits, whilst another nine countries, have term limits that exist in law, but that has yet to be tested or applied in practice.

Electoral choice

According to academic Andreas Schedler, to qualify as democratic “elections must offer an effective choice of political authorities among a community of free and equal citizens”. He identifies seven conditions that should exist if regular elections are to fulfil the promise of effective democratic choice: empowerment, free supply, free demand, inclusion, insulation, integrity and irreversibility.

Empowerment and insulation speak to voters’ ability to vote freely without restrictions, fear or intimidation. In the January 2021 presidential elections in Uganda – where presidential term limits were removed in 2005 and age limits in 2017 – political violence linked to the election resulted in over 50 deaths, while more than 400 individuals have been forcibly ‘disappeared’ in a pre and post-election clampdown. In Guinea, after changing the constitution through a dubious referendum, President Conde contested and won, a third term in 2020 amidst sustained protests that saw at least 12 people killed.

Free supply, free demand and inclusion cover citizens ability to form, join and support opposition parties, candidates and their policies; and mitigate against candidates being prevented from participating in the elections through legal or pseudo-legal means. An increasingly common way of preventing candidates from participating in elections is the sponsorship system where presidential candidates are required to secure a minimum threshold endorsement of registered voters or elected representatives. This, along with high filing fees, effectively narrows the number who can contest.

Ahead of the 2020 presidential elections, Cote d’Ivoire’s election management body required that to be eligible candidates must secure the signatures of at least 1% of the electorate. This gave a significant advantage to the incumbent, Alassane Ouattara, who successfully secured a disputed third-term against reduced opposition. In addition to technical obstacles, more direct threats can be used by incumbents. Ahead of April’s presidential poll in Chad, the leading opponent to President Deby’s sixth term in office, Saleh Kebzabo, withdrew his candidacy after a deadly raid by security forces at the home of another opposition candidate.

The integrity factor relates to the election process, rules and execution. When EMBs or courts are perceived as compromised, the impact on the credibility of the electoral outcome is diminished. Like in Uganda in January, many voters in Congo Brazzaville cast their ballot on 21 March 2021 with continued doubts about the independence of the EMB given that nothing has changed since it oversaw a questionable outcome in 2016. An election that followed the 2015 removal of term limits, that gave President Sassou Nguesso the opportunity to seek a third term in his second spell in power. A fourth term is set to follow.  

Finally, the irreversibility condition covers the sanctity of the result and winners taking office peacefully. Elections should have the desired consequences, where the will of the majority of voters is respected. In 2016, Yahya Jammeh tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to ignore and annul the results of the election, but the EMB, supported by regional powers, held firm to force him from office after two decades at the helm.  

Limiting power

Those who argue against the imposition of term limits claim that they compromise the sovereignty of the people and their choice, as well as risk undermining the stability and continuity required for the development. They argue that instead of term limits, the focus should be on improving the integrity of elections. But a determination to stay in power predisposes leaders to oversee compromised polls. Presidents contesting for or having won, their sixth term in office in 2021 – Museveni in Uganda, Sassou-Nguesso in Congo Brazzaville and Deby in Chad – do not feel more secure. Instead, with each successive election the violence against the opposition, the rhetoric of intolerance and abuse from state security actors increases. As Schedler has argued, “the desire of those who manipulate elections is to enjoy the fruits of electoral legitimacy without running the risk of democratic uncertainty”.

But respect for term limits alone is not a vaccine against electoral authoritarianism. Niger’s historic transition in February affirmed its commitment, for the first time, to two-term limits, but the vote, which was won by the ruling party candidate amidst protests about the results and an internet shutdown, exposed the fragility of the country’s democracy. Despite adherence to term-limits in Tanzania, a change of the political party in power has not been forthcoming. In places where the ruling party never loses, there can be a systemic weakening of the checks and balances, and critical voices, required for a healthy democracy. Even in places where term-limits are in place and turnovers have occurred – Benin, Senegal and Nigeria – continued vigilance is required. There have been deep erosions to the independence of democracy strengthening institutions in recent years.

Innovative thinking is needed to tackle anti-democratic forces intent on capturing and controlling access to power whilst maintaining a veneer of electoral legitimacy. Africa still has more countries that have strengthened and upheld term limits than not. But constitutional power grabs are on the rise, particularly in West Africa, and the complicit silence of the Africa Union (AU), and regional bodies like ECOWAS, is a concern. In addition to considering the adoption of non-amendable presidential term limits, as has been proposed as part of Burkina Faso’s constitutional review, the AU should lead a collective review of the application of the non-retroactivity principle to constitutional amendments to make it explicit that leaders who oversee constitutional amendments cannot reset their tenures on that basis. The spirit of the principle is to prevent a retroactive application of punitive law and not to give sit tight men a window to legally hijack their countries.

Most importantly citizens must also be encouraged, and supported, through investments in organising and social movement-building to demand change. Afterall half of the dozen African leaders who have tried to evade limits over the past 15 years, were foiled by populations who rallied against these tenure extensions. Listening to, and learning from, the experiences of Burkina Faso, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Zambia can offer valuable lessons.  

Ayisha Osori is Executive Director of Open Society Initiative West Africa

Editor’s note: This is the fourth article in a nine-part series in which leading thinkers and practitioners explore key questions and themes about the current state of electoral democracy in Africa. You can click to read the fourth, thirdsecond and first.

Crafting Credible Election Commissions in West Africa

By Blog, Publication, Publications

By Professor L. Adele Jinadu

The crass and partisan manipulation of African electoral management bodies (EMBs) was a central feature of the legacy of abuse that successor regimes to colonial rule in Africa inherited and perpetuated. Embedded in partisan politics through “outright control” by successor regimes, EMBs became “ineffectual mechanisms for democratically managing diversity”.

To lay the ghost of such partisan political abuse, and to nurture and strengthen trust in electoral commissions, the democratic transitions of the 1990s stipulated new norms and rules for redesigning competitive party and electoral politics and systems. These norms included democratic political succession, entrenched provisions for the periodic conduct of credible elections, in the case of presidential systems, fixed presidential term limits, the promotion of diversity, civic participation, and engagement, especially through an increased role of civil society and marginalised groups and the establishment of independent EMBs.

Indicators of what credible EMBs and electoral integrity should look like were set out in African codes and standards such as the African Charter on Popular Participation in Development and Transformation (1990) and the African Charter of Democracy, Elections, and Governance (2007) to name just two. But has the objective of nurturing credible EMBs and electoral integrity been achieved?

Multiple management models

EMBs in Africa are currently either a single, independent body; comprised of two or more bodies with shared responsibilities for election management; or a hybrid government-civil society EMB under an independent oversight supervisory body of experts, usually judges. Non-autonomous or fully government controlled EMBs inherited at independence, notably in francophone and lusophone countries, have been replaced with autonomous or semi-autonomous ones. But within these classificatory models, structures and composition vary significantly, dictated by each country’s constitutional and political history, and the interplay of contending sociocultural forces and prevailing circumstances.

However, appointment processes and the tenure terms of the chair and members of election commissions are problematic areas across the continent. Concerns remain about the transparency of the nomination, appointment and removal process of EMB members according to a 2013 Economic Commission for Africa expert opinion survey. It found that “in only 10 of the 40 African countries surveyed did more than half the respondents consider the procedure to be mostly or always transparent and credible…[with] serious implications for the integrity of elections in Africa.”

Renewal under consecutive fixed tenure for members tends to enhance EMBs’ credibility, but remains problematic and is diminished by the power of appointment and renewal, which is also the power of removal. This power can be used to remove members perceived as resisting or not pliable to executive branch partisan influence, or who, by general perception, have not lived up to the integrity expectations of their office. In Nigeria and Sierra Leone, EMB members have been removed before their tenure expired. To pre-empt such a possibility, it has been suggested that the tenure of EMB members should be fixed, like judges, to their retirement age, except for cause, as is the case in Ghana.  

Autonomous actors?

Recent studies of West African EMBs distinguish between their formal, administrative and financial autonomy. The level of autonomy varies not only from country to country but also within country over electoral cycles according to a 2019 study of six West African countries comissioned by the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions (ECONEC). The study explored factors driving or constraining the autonomy of the EMBs and how these impact election integrity.

In Benin, the financial autonomy of the Commission Electorale Nationale Autonome (CENA) is constrained by attempts by the Ministry of Finance to exercise a priori control over its expenditure. This leads to dysfunctions in the electoral administration process. Another problem is the dependence of the CENA on the executive to obtain electoral funds. A challenge that confronts many EMBs in the ECOWAS region. Furthermore, in Senegal, the 2019 ECONEC study found that when the funds were released, almost half the election budget was spent by the other institutional actors such as the judiciary and security agencies.

But formal autonomy on paper does not always translate into practice. In West Africa, several EMBs have almost identical legal provisions protecting their independence, yet they have widely differing degrees of autonomy. An EMB, like CENA in Benin, made up of members nominated by political parties, whatever its defects, has sometimes conducted elections with more independence and competence than an expert commission such as Nigeria’s. Cape Verde’s EMB has a longer tradition of effective performance and independence in action than Senegal’s. Even though both exemplify the same classificatory model.

Although the different systems of appointment and composition do have an impact, institutional partnership and collaboration – like the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security established by Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) – between EMBs and other institutions with election-related mandates, can play an equally important role in shaping perceptions of EMB capability. Issues like a country’s size, the relative balance of powers among political parties, the internal security situation, and the strength of courts, the civil service and civil society, are critical for the conduct of credible elections.

In short, an autonomous EMB is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for conducting credible elections. An anti-democratic political culture of impunity characterised by abuse of power by incumbent parties for partisan electoral gain; a zero-sum approach to electoral competition that ignites and fuels electoral violence; and high-levels of vote-buying and voter-intimidation create an environment in which conducting credible elections is difficult, regardless of the technocratic skills and technological innovations deployed. This is the experience in Nigeria, where controversial elections were held in 2015 and 2019, despite the popular perception of INEC as increasingly credible after it invested in technology such as smart-card readers and undertook internal administrative and financial reforms, after polls in 2011, to try and limit the space for electoral malpractice.

Advancing credibility

Enhancing the application of ICT and internal administrative reforms that improve the transparency of EMBs has improved electoral transparency in Ghana and Nigeria. So too can enhancing the administrative and financial independence of EMBs. This can be done by vesting in them powers to recruit their own staff, professionalise their bureaucracies, and make their annual budget and election budget direct charges on national consolidated revenue funds. Reforming EMBs also requires removing their members’ appointment and reappointment process from political officeholders and vesting them in independent, non-partisan individuals or bodies.

But election commissions need to be supported in their efforts to conduct credible polls. Partnerships with civil society organisations can improve civic awareness and tackle prevailing problems such as vote-buying. Allying with impartial security actors can also discourage campaign and election-day violence, whilst regular dialogue with all political parties can go some way to reducing the zero-sum, winner-takes-all approach to politics. They also must continue to learn from each other. ECONEC, and the Electoral Commissions Forum of Southern African Development Community countries, are constantly sharing experiences that can shape regional best practices.

The impact of these discussions and dialogues become clear on election day, but the work to get there is ongoing and unending. Maintaining credibility does not just mean standing still. Election commissions across West Africa must be constantly evolving if they are to do their part to oversee elections that reflect the will of voters.

Professor L. Adele Jinadu is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Democracy & Development, Abuja, Nigeria.

Editor’s note: This is the fourth article in a nine-part series in which leading thinkers and practitioners explore key questions and themes about the current state of electoral democracy in Africa. You can click to read the third, second and first.

Judgements and Jurisprudence: Presiding over presidential petitions in Africa

By Publication, Publications, Uncategorized

By Dr O’Brien Kaaba

In 2017 the Kenyan Supreme Court became the first court on the African continent to annul a presidential election following full due process. In February 2020 the Malawian High Court, sitting as a constitutional court, followed suit in cancelling the results of the May 2019 presidential election. Not only did the judges demonstrate extraordinary courage in pronouncing these verdicts, but they demonstrated what a competent and independent judiciary can do to ensure democratic electoral processes are free, fair and credible on the continent.

Hiding behind technicalities

For the most part courts across Africa have been unwilling to reverse electoral outcomes, preferring instead to seek refuge in technicalities when casting judgement. This reflects poorly on judicial independence, and brings to the fore the reality that many judges are appointed as a reward for their loyalty to those in power, not because of their competence and capabilities.

The first of these is the use of procedural technicalities to dismiss the case, thereby avoiding hearing its merits. In 2016, the Zambian Constitutional Court decided to abandon the election petition, without determining its merits, on the pretext that the 14 days set by the Constitution, during which the case should be heard and determined, had elapsed.

Another technicality used by courts is simply to abdicate judicial responsibility and avoid rendering a judgment. This has been a common approach deployed by the Zimbabwean judiciary. Following the 2002 elections, a petition was filed in the High Court by losing opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai seeking the nullification of the presidential election results on the grounds that the election was characterised by widespread violence and intimidation, corruption, voter fraud and ballot-stuffing. After hearing the case for seven months, Justice Ben Hlatshwayo, in a terse one-page ruling, dismissed the allegations and promised to render a reasoned judgment in two weeks. The judgment never came.

The 2013 Zimbabwean elections were also challenged in Court. To prepare their case, the petitioner made a preliminary application to the Court to allow him to have access to election materials. The Constitutional Court reserved ruling on the application and by the time the hearing of the petition commenced, had still to take a decision. This forced the petitioner to withdraw the petition, indicating that it was going to be impossible to substantiate the allegations of irregularities without access to election materials.

A final, and arguably most common technicality, is to misapply the materiality test, also known as the substantive effect rule. This rule is premised on the idea that some electoral irregularities may be minor and inconsequential, while others may be significant enough to have a bearing on an election’s fairness and legitimacy. Inconsequential mistakes, omissions and commissions should not lead to an annulment of an election, provided that its overall fairness was not vitiated. But the substantive effect rule has provided an escape route to timorous or compromised judges who prefer to defer to incumbents.

In Uganda, successive election petitions by opponents of the incumbent have been unsuccessful, ultimately because the petitioners have been unable to prove, quantitatively, that the alleged malpractice has substantially affected the outcome of the election. This focus on numbers can effectively legitimatise large scale election cheating. But proving substantive effect is difficult. It is further complicated by short timeframes and the fact that the data that can be used to validate the claim is often in the hands of the electoral management body and that some irregularities, such as political violence, are not susceptible to numerical quantification in relation to election results. Interpretations of the substantive effect rule have been applied in judgements that confirmed the outcome of recent elections in Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.

Historic decisions

In August 2017, the Kenyan Supreme Court made a ground-breaking decision when it annulled the election of Uhuru Kenyatta. By a majority of four to two, the court held that the presidential poll was not conducted in accordance with the Constitution and the applicable laws, rendering the declared result invalid, null and void; that the irregularities and illegalities in the election were substantial and affected its integrity, the result notwithstanding; that Uhuru Kenyatta was not validly declared as president-elect and that the declaration was invalid, null and void; and that the electoral commission should conduct fresh presidential elections in strict conformity with the constitution and applicable electoral laws within 60 days.

The Kenyan Court’s decision demonstrated the value of proactive adjudication. Prior to the elections, the 2011 Elections Act was amended to introduce the Kenya Integrated Electoral Management System. This was intended to be used in biometric voter registration and, on polling day, in voter identification as well as instantaneous transmission of election results from polling stations to the Constituency Tallying Center and the National Tallying Center. The transmission of results required the use of standard forms – Forms 34A and 34B – but in many instances the results were not transmitted in the manner required by law.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) gave no plausible explanation for this, while the petitioners alleged that the system had been hacked and results tampered with in favour of the incumbent. The Court appointed its own IT experts to assess the IEBC servers and report their findings. However the IEBC, in violation of the court order, declined to give the court-appointed IT experts access. The Court held that the failures by IEBC were a clear violation of the 2010 Constitution and the Elections Act (as amended). It raised serious doubt as to whether the election results could be said to be a free expression of the will of the people, as required by the Constitution. 

Perhaps the judgment’s greatest contribution to electoral jurisprudence in Africa was its correct application of the substantial effect rule. It held that elections are not just about numbers and that the quality of the entire process matters when gauging whether the result reflects the will of the people. In the words of the Court, “even in numbers, we used to be told in school that to arrive at a mathematical solution, there is always a computation path one has to take, as proof that the process indeed gives rise to the stated solution.”

Similar jurisprudence was applied in relation to Malawi’s 2019 presidential election petition. The Court found that election results forms, which were used to tabulate national figures, were pervasively altered unlawfully. Based on adduced evidence, it concluded that a substantial number of the official result sheets had results altered using correction fluid, popularly known as Tippex. The judgement reached was that the Electoral Commission had failed to preside over a free and fair election, that the electoral process was compromised and that it was conducted in a manner that violated electoral laws and the Constitution. It nullified the election and ordered a new election to be held within 150 days. The re-run saw opposition candidate Lazarus Chakwera win 58.6% of the vote to comprehensively defeat incumbent, and winner of the 2019 poll, President Peter Mutharika.

In terms of the threshold for the integrity of the election, Malawi’s High Court, followed the Kenyan precedent of 2017, in agreeing that it is not just numbers, but the quality of the electoral process that matter in determining the substantial effect of irregularities on election results. This is an important recognition that the judiciary must consider the context in which an election is held in order to determine if the will of the people could have been exercised freely.

Continuity…for now

The decisions reached in Kenya and Malawi demonstrate the capacity of what competent and courageous judges can do to enforce electoral rules. The judgments also pose a challenge to other African judges: will they follow in their footsteps or will they choose to hold fast to the archaic and pro status quo jurisprudence that has prevailed up to now?

Early indications suggest that continuity, rather than change, continues to prevail. Recent electoral decisions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia have continued to produce judgements that look for substantive effect on the outcome, and less on the process. In Uganda, a petition to challenge the outcome of the January 2021 presidential election was withdrawn over concerns about the judicial independence.  

Nonetheless, the verdicts handed down in Kenya and Malawi serve as landmark decisions, that over time will serve as a yardstick of contextually relevant presidential election jurisprudence in Africa. Both set a precedent that the quality of an election and the environment in which the election is held matter, and have a bearing on the outcome, regardless of numbers.   

Dr O’Brien Kaaba is a lecturer at the School of Law at the University of Zambia and a senior research fellow at the Southern Africa Institute for Policy and Research.

Editor’s note: This is the third article in a nine-part series in which leading thinkers and practitioners explore key questions and themes about the current state of electoral democracy in Africa. You can read the second and first piece.