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By Prof. Okechukwu Ibeanu & Idayat Hassan

The 2023 elections will be the seventh consecutive elections since the return to democracy in 1999; making a 23-year period of unbroken democracy, the longest in the country’s short history. The presidential election is scheduled to hold on 25 February 2023 and will not feature the incumbent president for only the second time, while governorship and other subnational polls will hold on 11 March. More than 95 million Nigerians have registered to cast their ballots with key issues for the leading presidential candidates likely to Centre around the economy, prevailing insecurity and corruption. Ironically, these were the same issues that defined the 2015 general election that brought the outgoing president, Muhammadu Buhari, to power.

This strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis assesses some of the key factors and actors that will shape the 2023 polls. These include a review the preparedness of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and how it is working within the newly passed legislation that ostensibly provides a more robust legal framework for the conduct of the polls. It also offers a review of prevailing insecurity in all the six geo-political zones of the country and how this is likely to impact voting. Finally, attention is drawn to some of the leading candidates and their main support bases in the country. Whilst not ignoring the issues that are likely to come up in the campaign, this piece looks at issues of religion and misinformation that are likely going to be equally critical in shaping electoral outcomes.

The 2023 election will be conducted with a new electoral framework but with the same leadership of INEC as in 2019. INEC continues to push for increased application of technology to election administration and the new Act provides the legislative backing for a more transparent and robust voting and results management processes, if applied judiciously. But the credibility of the 2023 general election will also depend on the degree to which citizens can vote freely and unencumbered. Insecurity remains a critical issue, particularly in the northwest and southeast. Further challenging this operation are the prevailing structural, infrastructural, and cultural ecosystems in which the polls will take place. Prompt release of the full INEC budget could help in mitigating some of these.

Finally, the role played by the security agencies, and subsequently by the judiciary, may be as important in determining the credibility of the election as that of the election management body. Nigeria is currently facing an epidemic of insecurity. Violence led by bandits, terrorists and secessionists has been recorded across its six geo-political zones, further dividing the country along ethnic, religious and political lines. Holding credible polls in this context that guarantees the security of voters and INEC personnel will be a major challenge. The ability of INEC to conduct continuous voters registration has already been questioned as insecurity has prevented the Commission from deploying to all wards across all electoral districts. The challenge of citizen access to electoral infrastructure will remain constant throughout the campaign and during the voting period. This is particularly true for those that have been displaced internally by conflict.

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