As Nigeria enters its third decade as a democracy, YIAGA AFRICA, National Endowment for Democracy (NED), and Ford Foundation hosted a conference titled “Nigeria’s Democracy at 20: Reflections and Reform” in Washington DC on October 22 – 23, 2019. The conference provides an opportunity for reflection on Nigeria’s democracy with special focus on how Nigeria can consolidate and deepen its democracy. The event designed to raise the profile of and build on on-going election review and governance reform conversations in Nigeria and mobilize international support for democratic reforms in Nigeria. The conference also featured a special roundtable on Nigeria’s economy and restructuring at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), John Hopkins University, Washington, DC.
During the conference United States diplomat, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said the ”gentleman agreement” of zoning of leadership in Nigeria may prompt a tougher electoral process in the next general elections in 2023 describing Nigeria’s political system as an ‘old men’s club’.
“Nigeria’s politics is an old men’s club. There is also a gentleman’s agreement to rotate power between the north and the south,” she said. “The next election will be a challenging one because of a gentleman’s agreement to rotate power,” Ms Thomas-Greenfield said.
Speaking on the challenges of Nigeria’s democracy in the past 20 years, the diplomat said Nigerian elections have a huge potential for violence. “Nigeria made a huge step backwards to violence in 2019,” she said. “I read that 30 people lost their lives to electoral violence, but I think it would be higher than that.”
According to Thomas-Greenfield, elections are expensive in Nigeria because there is no framework for candidates to receive donations from electorates. Although Nigeria was given credit for having the financial ability and institutional infrastructure to hold elections, Thomas-Greenfield said the government occasionally “uses its ability to pay to influence how the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) performs”.
The conference also hosted panel discussion on security, human rights and rule of law which featured YIAGA AFRICA Watching The Vote Board Chair, Dr Hussaini Abdu. This was followed by Panel Discussion where Programs Manager Cynthia Mbamalu discussed the inclusion of vulnerable groups like Women, youth and People With Disability during the 2019 elections while projecting a pathway for the future. According to Cynthia, we need to give credit to young people for the sacrifices they are making for our democracy either as election administrators, election observers or mobilization agents. He further urged that Nigeria needs vast political party reforms that engender internal democracy, political inclusion and democratic accountability.
The event featured a cross section of Nigerian civil society, academics, and government officials discussing 20 years of inconsistent democratic progress, the 2019 elections, and avenues for reform. Key speakers include: Professor Okechukwu Ibeanu, National Commissioner in charge of electoral operations, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC); Prof. Eghosa Osaghae, University of Ibadan; Dr Hussaini Abdu, Country Director, PLAN International; Clement Nwankwo, Executive Director, Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), Ayo Obe, Ezenwa Nwagwu, Chairman, Partners for Electoral Reform Idayat Hassan, Director, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD); Cynthia Mbamalu, Program Manager, YIAGA AFRICA. Others include Kemi Okenyodo, Executive Director, Partners West Africa; Yemi Adamolekun, Executive Director, Enough is Enough; Mufuliat Fijabi, CEO, Nigeria Women Trust Fund (NWTF), and Paul Phillip James, Watching The Vote Training manager.
The conference has contributed immensely to tangible policy reform priorities for election management, internal party democracy, security sector governance, and political inclusion, as well as a roadmap on what civil society, the government, the public, and the international community can do in accelerating the process of democratic reform in Nigeria.