As Nigeria moves closer to its sixth general election since the return to civilian rule in 1999, its electoral process has once again come under intense scrutiny both locally and internationally. As has been the case over the years, the international community has shown a lot of interest in the conduct of free and fair elections in Nigeria due to the country’s strategic importance to their political, economic, and wider regional peace and security interests.
There are high hopes that Nigeria will become a good example of democratic consolidation and stability in Africa, particularly in the face of its endemic challenges of low-intensity conflicts, insecurity, poverty, economic and political fragility, and developmental deficits. Getting elections right in Nigeria is widely seen as an important step toward guaranteeing national and regional stability and setting the stage for Africa’s largest democracy to realize its full potential. In contrast, a poorly managed election or hotly disputed electoral outcomes could lead to internal crises with ramifications for the country’s unity, regional stability, and international peace and security.
International involvement in Nigerian elections usually comes in the form of support for electoral management processes, security, voter education, local election monitoring, and international observation before and during elections. Foreign governments, international and regional organizations, and NGOs also send high-level delegations led by statesmen or former heads of state to support steps aimed at lending credibility to the conduct and outcome of elections. This includes meeting with political stakeholders and contestants before and after elections to strengthen confidence-building and crisis management mechanisms to ensure credible and peaceful outcomes. For example, before Nigeria’s 2015 elections, former United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Kofi Annan and former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Prof. Emeka Anyaoku brought all major contestants together to extract a commitment to peace during that year’s election. The then president of the United States, Barack Obama, also issued a video address urging Nigerians to ensure a peaceful, free, and fair election.
As the 2019 elections draw closer, the US, United Kingdom (UK), European Union (EU), and twenty-two other countries have committed to monitor the elections. Toward this end, EU Chief Observer Maria Arena launched the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) to Nigeria on January 22 following an invitation from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Also, the UN, through the secretary-general’s Special Representative for West Africa and the Sahel, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, has urged citizens to reject anti-democratic voices that may want to promote conflict and disrupt the elections.
The UN admonition came at the end of a pre-electoral mission to Nigeria which took place from January 21 to 31. It was the third such pre-election mission to the country by the secretary-general’s envoy and involved extensive engagement with stakeholders in key parts of the country, including Benue, Kaduna, and Kano. At the regional level, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Election Observation Team led by former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has been in Nigeria meeting with stakeholders to support a successful election. These initiatives are important as they help enhance credibility and ensure a peaceful process, especially given the mounting allegations by both of the major political parties—the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP)—of plots to illegally influence the outcome of the election.
Compared to past elections it would appear that the 2019 election has received less attention from the international community. A number of developments since 2015 may account for this. The US, for example, seems to have taken a somewhat less active interest in the Nigerian election perhaps due to President Trump’s focus on domestic issues in his country. This notwithstanding, there is a high level of interest from the international community in Nigeria’s 2019 elections and its implications for democratic stability, development, and security in Africa’s most pivotal state.