Towards the end of October, foreign missions began issuing terror alerts to their citizens in Abuja.
Several missions began evacuating staff and citizens, while some establishments temporarily closed
down as a result. The government has sought to dispel the reports and reassure citizens, but this points
to the increased level of investment that the international community has in Nigeria – from diplomatic
missions to citizens who live and work in the country. It is why a key part of this election is looking at
the impact it will have in the foreign policy considerations of Nigeria’s neighbours, allies and projects
that it will seek to embark on. This is because the nature of politics around the world is such that no
action or incident is in isolation. Recent developments have emphasized this point – the war between
Russia and Ukraine continues to play a part in the price of oil and even export prices. The impact of
government decisions has now translated to monitoring elections to see what can be gleaned from the
policies and proposals of party candidates. However, the upcoming elections also offer other
important considerations to factor in when analysing news and looking at government policies.
Looking Across the Neighbourhood
West Africa is also in need of a successful election to counter the prevailing gloom of four attempted
coups this year alone, with two successful in Burkina Faso alone. In the 23 years since Nigeria
resumed a democratic form of governance, there have been 30 coups in the region and 17 of them
have been successful. As a result, Nigeria’s elections are an important event in the region that seeks to
reassert democratic principles and stem the tide of unconstitutional transfers of power. Similarly, a
contentious outcome can also lead to a strong displacement issue and significantly affect migration
patterns and trade arrangements in the region. The next administration will likely have to deal with an
increased trade area through the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and ensuring that
Nigeria’s significant population and industries are able to leverage, and be leveraged, to ensure the
trade blocs success. Similarly, Nigerian troops have been at the forefront of many peacekeeping
deployments around the world – and especially in the region. These concerns would ordinarily be on
the plate of the next president, but the negative implication of a contentious and divisive election will
not only have consequences for Nigerians, but the region as well.
Fake News and Disinformation
The increasing dependence on technology in this election also highlights how susceptible and
vulnerable the election is to foreign policy interests. The Independent National Electoral Commission
(INEC) revealed that there were attempted server hacking attempts during the recently conducted off-
cycle governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun, citing that some hackers were as far as Asia. While
the confidence of the INEC Chair in their precautionary measures is reassuring, it also serves to
highlight how key these elections will be to foreign interests. This leads to strong concerns around
fake news and concerted campaigns to discredit the elections. Some citizens and media platforms
unwittingly engage in misinformation, which is when fake news is peddled unintentionally. However,
some groups actively carry out disinformation campaigns, which is when falsehoods are intentionally
directed towards an aim. This is, however, not a new addition to our elections.
The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD-West Africa) has been actively tracking fake
news reports, especially around elections, and has often reflected them in its reports. For example, on
the eve of the Ekiti State governorship elections this year, a ‘withdrawal’ message from the Social
Democratic Party (SDP) candidate, Segun Oni, in favour of the People’s Democratic Party candidate
was widely shared on social media. Despite efforts of many groups to fact check this development, it
is impossible to know the true extent of how this might have affected the elections. And while this
point does not in any way seek to delegitimise the election, it definitely provides concern for ensuring
a free and fair process.
Lastly, there have been clear reports of foreign groups actively sponsoring disinformation campaigns
and spreading illiberal influence in the region. In a recently released report titled ‘Illiberal Influence
Fuels Disinformation’, CDD Director Idayat Hassan and freelance researcher Kyle Hiebert look at the
rise in external actors in the disinformation space in West Africa. Some countries have actively
promoted favourable views about authoritarian regimes to counter narratives after coups or to promote
the sense of support for a new dictator. Others have sought to destabilise governments by spreading
news to discredit governments, with the aim of encouraging a change in power. These are through
targeted reports, sponsoring media publications and even bots on social media. Now more than ever, it
is important to vigilantly check the source of information and news, especially as it concerns one of
the most important civic responsibilities a citizen can take part in – electing leaders.
This is one group of foreign actors that should be actively incorporated in decisions concerning
Nigeria in the future, and that is the Nigerian diaspora. Many citizens are moving abroad to seek
opportunities abroad in response to difficult economic and security concerns at home. At the moment,
this is largely a negative effect because of the talent and workforce being lost. However, this group
still actively contributes to the country. Diaspora remittance to Nigeria is a significant addition to the
economy, running into billions of dollars a year. Some candidates have rightly sought to engage with
these citizens since, this is still home. As a result, foreign investment in our elections does not
necessarily have to be negative. But it is still important that as active stakeholders in our democracy
and our elections, that we make a concerted effort to check against plans to destabilise our elections –
both at home and abroad.
Afolabi Adekaiyaoja is a Research Analyst at the Centre for Democracy and Development.