Nigeria’s 2023 general elections were “largely peaceful” despite administrative and logistical hurdles at many polling units, according to an independent group of Commonwealth observers.
The Chairperson of the Commonwealth Observer Group, former President of South Africa. Thabo Mbeki, delivered his team’s preliminary assessment of the electoral process at a press conference in Abuja on 27 February, saying: “Nigerians were largely accorded the right to vote.”
Addressing the journalists, President Mbeki said: “We congratulate all Nigerians for their determination, patience and resilience displayed throughout the electoral process.”
As Nigeria waits for the final results, he encouraged all citizens to exercise patience to allow the country’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and its staff to conclude the results process peacefully.
“We call on all those with grievances to address disputes through prescribed legal channels,” President Thabo Mbeki said. “The time now is for restraint and continued patience as we await the final results.”
He commended the commitment shown by voters, despite the late arrival of election officials and materials at many polling units, technical issues with biometric identification machines in some cases, and delays with the live results transmission system.
President Mbeki also praised the polling officials for conducting their duties diligently, while noting some inconsistencies in procedures, particularly in the positioning of some polling booths which compromised the secrecy of the ballot as well as lack of advance voting for those deployed on election day.
Delivering the group’s preliminary assessment, he expressed that as voting hours extended into the night due to late openings, some polling units were ill-equipped with proper lighting to facilitate voting and counting in the dark.
Considering the challenges, the President encouraged the electoral commission to conduct a thorough post-election review of the electoral process to draw lessons and consider setting up appropriate mechanisms to implement the recommendations of observers.
The chairperson also noted an improvement with the enactment of a new Electoral Act in 2022, which gave the electoral commission more autonomy, legal backing for the use of electronic accreditation of voters and frameworks for the inclusion of people with disabilities in the elections, among other things.
Noting the low percentage of women candidates, the group was, however, impressed by the “vibrant participation” of young people, including as polling officials, in the elections.
Commonwealth observers were in Benue, Edo, Kano, Lagos, Ondo, Rivers and Sokoto states as well as the Federal Capital Territory.
They observed the accreditation, voting, counting and results aggregation, and met with electoral officials and observers to build up a broader picture on the conduct of the electoral process.
The Commonwealth Observer Group was constituted by the Commonwealth Secretary-General, the Rt Hon Patricia Scotland KC, at the invitation of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission.
Before leaving Nigeria on 2 March, the group will complete its final report, setting out its recommendations, which will be submitted to the Commonwealth Secretary-General at a later stage.