Nigeria’s keenly anticipated national elections are scheduled to take place in February and March 2019. These elections will mark the sixth vote since the reintroduction of democracy in 1999—and will follow the country’s first peaceful transition of power to an opposition party in 2015, when Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP conceded to Muhammadu Buhari of the rival APC. Based on field research in eight states and Abuja, this Special Report identifies the emerging and shifting risks of election violence for Nigeria’s 2019 elections and provides recommendations for Nigerian authorities and international donors supporting the electoral process to help mitigate these risks.

Read a Q&A with the authors

Summary

  • In 2019, Nigeria will hold national elections for the first time since a historic, peaceful, democratic transition of power to the opposition in 2015, when incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party conceded defeat to Muhammudu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
  • Buhari is standing for a second term, but nominations for other positions within the APC are expected to be highly contested. This could lead to the fragmentation of the party, defections to other parties, and violence.
  • Social and economic inequalities, ethnic and religious divisions, and structural weaknesses, such as corruption and weak state capacity, remain prevalent across Nigeria and contribute to the risks of electoral violence.
  • Other important factors contributing to the risks of electoral violence have evolved since 2015, including changing forms of insecurity and the prominence of disputes within, rather than between, the political parties. Grievances or violence arising from recent local government elections may also have significant consequences for national elections.
  • Public confidence in Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is mixed. Although INEC was applauded for organizing broadly credible elections in 2015, some respondents expressed concerns that the commission’s progress may not be sustained in 2019.
  • More assertive communications by INEC, transparent results management, staffing reforms, earlier and more consistent police preparations, improved internal democracy within political parties, and the creation of a specialized election offenses commission would likely alleviate some risks of violence in the 2019 election cycle.
  • Successful state-level initiatives—such as efforts in Plateau State to tamp down on religious intolerance and an initiative in Kano State to improve the quality of election coverage by the media—could be considered for adaptation in other states.
  • The United States and other international supporters of Nigeria’s electoral process should augment their diplomatic efforts to preempt electoral violence in the run-up to the 2019 elections.
  • During the campaign, voting, and results phases of the election, regional and continental leaders should be prepared to mediate disputes and to work toward peaceful acceptance of the election’s outcomes.

About the Report

Drawing on more than two hundred interviews conducted in March and April 2018 in eight states and the Federal Capital Territory, this Special Report identifies the emerging and shifting risks of election violence for Nigeria’s 2019 elections and provides recommendations for Nigerian authorities and international donors supporting the electoral process to help mitigate these risks. Research for this report was supported by the Middle East and Africa Center and the Center for Applied Conflict Transformation at the United States Institute of Peace, and by the Centre for Democracy and Development, the CLEEN Foundation, the Fund for Peace, the International Republican Institute, and the National Democratic Institute. 

About the Authors

Aly Verjee is a visiting expert at the United States Institute of Peace. He has observed, administered, or analyzed more than thirty elections, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. Chris Kwaja is a senior advisor at USIP and a senior lecturer at the Centre for Peace and Security Studies at the Modibbo Adama University of Technology in Yola, Nigeria. Oge Onubogu is a senior program officer at USIP and leads the Institute’s programs in Nigeria.

Related Publications

Nigeria’s Buhari Vows a Credible Election to Bolster Democracy

Nigeria’s Buhari Vows a Credible Election to Bolster Democracy

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

By: USIP Staff

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari says he expects a credible election to choose his successor in just 10 weeks. A credible, publicly accepted result and a peaceful transfer of power could help consolidate democracy in Africa’s most populous country following democratic setbacks in the region, notably seven coups in 26 months in the Sahel and West Africa. Buhari, first elected in 2015, is completing his second term in office, the constitutional maximum, and is to hand power to his elected successor in May — an extension of democracy that Buhari has said he wants to ensure as part of his legacy to the country.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & Governance

The Latest @ USIP: What’s at Stake in Nigeria’s Elections?

The Latest @ USIP: What’s at Stake in Nigeria’s Elections?

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

By: Mahmood Yakubu

Mahmood Yakubu, the chairman of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission, discusses how his team is working to ensure free, fair and credible elections — as well as why the support of young people and political leaders is crucial for maintaining the longest period of uninterrupted democratic governance in the Nigeria’s history.

Type: Blog

Democracy & Governance

Barriers for Young Women in Northern Nigeria

Barriers for Young Women in Northern Nigeria

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

By: Rachel Simon-Karu

We are constantly reminded that the youth are “leaders of tomorrow.” But when it comes to their involvement in governance and development, tomorrow never comes. In Nigeria, this has created an unsustainable system. Currently, about 70 percent of Nigeria is under the age of 30, with girls under 30 alone comprising nearly one-third of the total population. Based on their sizable role in the country’s demographics, you would think youth and young women specifically in Nigeria should have more of a voice in decision-making processes. Yet, both are often underrepresented and excluded as collaborators in all sectors of society.

Type: Blog

GenderYouth

Amid Nigeria’s Turmoil, an Election Could Alter its Democracy

Amid Nigeria’s Turmoil, an Election Could Alter its Democracy

Thursday, July 28, 2022

By: Oge Onubogu

In mid-summer 2022, Nigeria is just seven months away from elections that could strengthen, or set back, its democracy. Good news includes a surge in voter registrations and a wave of civic engagement among young Nigerians who in recent years have often despaired of better governance through elections. Yet dangers loom: risks of electoral violence or disputed election results in a country where political and criminal violence has reached new levels. To help Africa’s most populous nation pivot toward stability — and to indirectly bolster democratization across the continent — the United States and other international partners should provide diplomatic, political and technical support for Nigeria’s electoral authority.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & GovernanceElectoral Violence

View All Publications