Introduction

. . . So many of the internally displaced persons are in the houses of friends and relatives and have lost their Permanent Voters Cards and it is next to impossibility to recreate their constituencies and polling units. This is because section 47(1) of the Electoral Act clearly provides that “A person intending to vote in an election shall present himself with his voter’s card to a Presiding Officer for accreditation at the polling unit in the constituency in which his name is registered.1Aidoghie Paulinus, “Insecurity, IDPs will pose challenges to 2023 elections – INEC,” The Sun, March 3, 2022, https://www.sunnewsonline.com/insecurity-idps-will-pose-challenges-to-2023-elections-inec/

As the 2023 elections draw closer, no fewer than 63 percent of Nigerians are currently living in multidimensional poverty.2“Nigeria launches its most extensive national measure of multidimensional poverty,” Nigerian State Press Release, November 17, 2022, https://nigerianstat.gov.ng/news/78#:~:text=Highlights%20of%20the%202022%20Multidimensional,quarter%20of%20all%20possible%20deprivations. This manifests in the form of severe deprivations in sanitation, healthcare, housing, and food security. According to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), there are more than 90 million registered voters looking forward to exercising their civic right in the election. The greatest numerical strength rests unquestionably on the shoulders of the poor whose vulnerabilities have always been exploited for vote buying.

Despite the vulnerabilities of the poor who constitute a significant percentage of the voting population, expectations of a credible election are high especially because President Buhari has consistently assured both local and international audiences that a credible election will be one of his legacies. These expectations place a great deal of responsibility on the Nigerian government and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to ensure that no citizen is constrained or prevented from exercising his or her right to vote.

However, as one of the most conflict-affected3Gbemisola Animasawun, “Communal Conflicts, State Responses and Local Peace Infrastructure,” in Democracy and Nigeria’s Fourth Republic: Governance, Political Economy and Party Politics 1999-2023, Wale Adebanwi (ed.), 2023, https://boydellandbrewer.com/9781800109933/democracy-and-nigerias-fourth-republic/ countries in the world, humanitarian crises, resulting from terrorism, man-made and natural disasters, armed conflict, and cycles of drought and flooding, have led to widespread internal displacement. The usurpation of the roles of formal state authorities by non-state armed actors across the country has led to forced dispersals of populations while those unable to flee have resorted to paying levies and rendering free labor to the bandit kingpins operating as oligopolies of violence and alternative sovereigns to gain access to their communities and farmlands.4Ifeanyi Nwannah, “Bandits overtake farmlands, demand levies from villagers – Dansadau residents cry out,” Daily Post, June 9, 2022, https://dailypost.ng/2022/06/09/bandits-overtake-farmlands-demand-levies-from-villagers-dansadau-residents-cry-out/

Implications of Humanitarian Crises on the 2023 Presidential Election

Both the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended) and the 2010 Electoral Act provide for the voting rights of eligible Nigerians. During elections, special international conventions and national policies such as the Kampala Convention and the National Policy on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) pay special attention to the most vulnerable, particularly the political rights of internally displaced people. Special polling units for victims of insurgency in northeast Nigeria were established in the run-up to the 2015 and 2019 general elections as provided for by the policies. At present, some of the IDP camps in Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, and Abuja have been closed and most of the returnees are now stranded in places where they are not eligible to vote. Also, many of these decamped internally displaced Nigerians have also moved from IDP camps to informal camps. Indeed, this class of Nigerians would like to exercise their right to vote, despite the difficulty imposed by the long distance between where they currently stay and where they are eligible to vote. Many of these people may develop apathy while many would be disenfranchised.

How the Humanitarian Crises Might Affect Electoral Participation and Outcomes

The humanitarian crises may affect participation in and the outcome of the 2023 general election, though the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is working to ensure it will not. In the face of worsening humanitarian crises across the country, it has been predicted that the 2023 presidential election will be the most challenging in the history of Nigeria.5Kabir Yusuf, “Key issues that will shape Nigeria’s 2023 elections – Report,” Premium Times, September 27, 2022, https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/headlines/556316-key-issues-that-will-shape-nigerias-2023-elections-report.html?tztc=1 This is connected to the vulnerability that comes with being a victim of a humanitarian crisis and the fact that politicians have been known to exploit socio-economic vulnerabilities for bulk and retail vote buying, going by reports that bulk sales of votes are already on sale in the conflict and terror-affected parts of the country for as little as two thousand naira ($4.34).6Editorial Board, “Primaries, Money And Delegates,” Leadership, 2022, https://leadership.ng/editorial-primaries-money-and-delegates/; Chidi Amuta, “Time to License the Vote Trade,” This Day, June 26, 2022, https://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2022/06/26/time-to-license-the-vote-trade/ Even candidate-selection processes were characterized by commercialization of votes as recorded during the presidential primary elections of the major political parties, in which party delegates voted for the highest bidders.7Iwok Iniobong, “Party primaries: Politicians bank on massive deployment of money,” Business Day, April 17, 2022, https://businessday.ng/politics/article/party-primaries-politicians-bank-on-massive-deployment-of-money/ Given the popularity of slogans of vote selling like Dìbò kóo se’bẹ̀ (Yoruba for: vote and prepare a pot of soup) and owó rèé ìbò rèé (Yoruba for: pay me and I will vote for you), even amongst those not impacted by humanitarian crises, it therefore goes without equivocation that humanitarian crises are likely pushing a significant number of Nigerians into commodifying their votes, which will undermine the legitimacy of the vote as being representative of the will of the people.

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References