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The Case of Nigeria by Samson Itodo

July 14, 2016 in News by DYN Admin

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I. Background

Since the return to democracy in 1999, Nigeria has conducted five successive elections between 1999 and 2015. The 1999, 2003 and 2007 elections were regarded as the worst due to electoral chicanery and the high level of malpractices that characterized the elections.[1] In 2007, the late President Umaru Yaradua in his inauguration speech confessed that the elections that brought him to office was fraught with irregularities and fraud.:[2]

…despite the consensus by Nigerians that democracy is the best form of government, our inability to have elections that are internationally accepted and credible has left a credibility problem for our electoral process … (Umaru Yar’adua, former President of Nigeria)

The hallmark of the 2007 elections was the brazen partisanship and partiality of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). International and local observers reported that the commission was a key actor in the perpetration of electoral fraud and irregularity. The human rights commission also demanded for the prosecution of Professor Maurice Uwu for alleged compromise and rigging of elections.[3]

In a bid to institutionalize democratic elections, President Yaradua constituted the Electoral Reform Committee headed by former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Muhammadu Lawal Uwais. The committee had the former Chairman of INEC, Professor Attahiru Jega as member. The committee received and considered 1,466 memoranda and undertook wide consultations, learning visits and public interactive forums.[4] The final report of the committee advanced far reaching recommendations on how to reposition electoral governance for better electoral service delivery and increased citizen participation.

Since the publication of the report, Nigeria has experienced remarkable advancement in electoral governance and citizens’ participation. New biometric voter register, improved security of elections materials, increased stakeholder engagement and internal restructuring of the commission ere amongst the reforms introduced by the commission.  This owes its credence to the robust advocacy by non-state actors like CSOs, trade unions and the media. Remarkably, in 2010 the Nigerian constitution was amended to grant INEC financial autonomy by placing the electoral commission on consolidated revenue fund of the federation. In addition to financial independence, the Constitution was also amended to fix 180 days as the timeline the determination of election petitions by the election tribunal and upon appeal the matter shall be disposed of within 60 days. The composition of the governorship and federal/state legislative tribunal was reduced from five to three. The quorum shall be the Chairman and one other member. At the appeal court, the Presidential election petition tribubal shall be composed of atleast three justices while the composition at the Supreme Court is five justices. The timeline for filing an election petition was fixed at 21 days after the date of the declaration of results of the elections (as amended).[5]

The 2011 elections ushered a new paradigm in the administration of elections with the constitution of an independent and credible leadership at the Independent National Electoral Commission. New innovations like the mainstreaming of youth in election management and the deployment of technology to deepen the inclusiveness and integrity of elections were introduced by the commission in its bid to enhance liberal democracy. These new innovations and policy reforms laid the foundation for the conduct of successive democratic elections in Nigeria.

II. Youth participation in politics and elections

To prevent against arbitrariness by state actors in the classification of youth, Nigeria adopted an age-based definition of youth to ensure the needs of this social category are not neglected. According to the National Youth Policy, 18 – 35 years is the age classificationfor youth.[6]

Since 1999, the country has witnessed increase in the evolution of youth civil society organizations involved in promoting electoral governance, citizen participation and public accountability. Social media has assisted young people to organize against autocratic regimes and draconian public policies. With tools like twitter and Facebook, Nigerian youths have organized to enhance political and economic development.[7] Driving conversations and policy advocacy has become fun for young people who hitherto feel excluded from engaging political discussion due to apathy. The #OccupyNigeria protests in 2012 is a classic example of how young people forced their government to act.[8] Other initiatives like #ConstReview focused on mobilising youth to engage constitution review processes, #SaveBagega promoted accountability in the environment sector; #OurNASS seeks to galvanize youth to demand accountability and transparency in the legislature and #NISStampede that seeks justice for victims of a recruitment scam exercise are other good examples of impactful trends driven by young people in Nigeria. The campaigns elicited positive responses from government. It also provided a platform sustained youth engagement in governance. For example, the legislature ensured youths include were mainstreamed in the constitution review process during public hearings and committee meetings. Youth issues were also captured in the review process.

Young people have been active participants in elections in contemporary Nigeria, playing significant and visible roles in election management. The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) played a significant role by managing the biometric voter registration exercise conducted by the INEC in 2010 and supported the administration of the 2011 elections.[9] A Youth Observatory Report released by Youth Initiative for Advocacy Growth and Advancement (YIAGA), revealed that 90 per cent of political party polling agents deployed on Election Day were young males with substantially lower representation of women. The report also highlighted the fact that most stationary election observers were young people.[10]

Voter education and political mobilization is the most prominent area with high records of youth engagement. Political parties harness the energies and intellect of youth during political campaigns and rallies. Disseminating election information and promoting issue-based electoral participation has been facilitated by young people. Initiatives like #VoteNotFight by Youngstars Foundation, #RSVP project by Enough is Enough, #Thumbpower and #ThumbItRight initiative of YIAGA, #GoVote by Co-creation Hub do not only target young voters but they are driven by youth. These enhanced the level impact as peer-to-peer was effective in reaching out to youth.

Compared to other forms of youth participation, the turnout of young voters for elections and turnover of youth candidates by political parties have been very low.[11] Low youth specific voter education and the inability of political leadership to deliver on campaign promises discourages youths from active engagement in elections.

According to the Nigerian constitution, the age qualification to run for the office of the President office is 40, Senate 35, House of Representatives 30, Governors 35 and state assembly is 30 years.[12] Segments of the young people are hence constitutionally restricted from running for these offices. In addition the age threshold for electoral commissioners is 40 years. This poses is an impediment to youth participation in electoral politics and election management. Other challenges of effective youth participation in Nigeria includes; the dearth of strategic youth organizing platforms within political parties, the absence of a coherent INEC youth engagement strategy, high cost of running political campaigns, the politicization and interference of youth platforms and student bodies by government institutions and political parties, and limited platforms for political mentoring and intergenerational dialogue.

III. EMB entry points

The functions of INEC are enshrined in the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended). These are the two main legal framework for Nigerian elections. Although all elections are regulated by legal frameworks, an election management body creates an enabling environment for the actualization of youth political interests and exercise of franchise through its operations. In line with the principles underpinning election management, EMBs engagement with youth enhances inclusiveness and accountability in electoral processes.

Whilst lacking a coherent and elaborate strategic framework or strategy for youth engagement,  INEC streamlines its engagement with youth throughout the electoral cycle.

Pre-election period activities

Based on its statutory mandate as set out in the Electoral Act 2010, the INEC is duty bound to undertake effective voter and civic education.[13] Three key activities in this regards warrants attention: First, the INEC has established civic education clubs in high schools. This activity has aimed to educate young people who are mainly first time voters on their voting rights and the imperatives of civic participation. Second, in 2014, INEC introduced a new initiative tagged INEC Youth Ambassadors. In conjunction with youth organizations like the Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement (YIAGA), the commission identified young celebrities and influencers as youth ambassadors taksed with the responsibility of conducting voter education. The ambassadors utilized their platforms and existing relations with youth to disseminate voter education and messages of non-violent.[14] Third, social media has been increasingly used by INEC to communicate with youth. In the context of its Citizens Contact Centre for voter education, incident reports and complaints resolution, INEC has established social media channels – especially twitter, Facebook – in addition to ´traditional media platforms like radio and television,´ dedicated hotlines and the INEC’s website. In addition, INEC has also launched the ‘MyINEC’ mobile app to enhance access to election information by young voters.[15]

INEC’s youth engagement is two-pronged i.e is promoting youth participation in voting and mainstreaming youth in its organisational setup. In terms of voter registration, INEC engages in activities to mobilize unregistered voters to register to vote. The commission also enlightens young voters – especially students – on inter-state transfer of voter register. As mentioned above, the voter registration exercise is managed by members of the NYSC who themselves are under 30 years of age. ,

Other relevant activities in the pre-electoral period include consultations, training and campaign monitoring. When it comes to consultation, the commission has hosted several consultative town hall meetings and national summit with young people. These programs haveprovided a platform for the commission to enlighten young people on its programs and policies whilst also harnessing youth inputs/feedback.[16] On training, the commission trains members of the NYSC members that has been recruited as INEC ad hoc staff for voter registration and polling station services on the rudiments of election management. The commission also trains duly accredited civil society groups on election observation.[17] The INEC is responsible for campaign monitoring and more specifically for ensuring compliance with campaign finance laws. Given that youth candidates are economically disadvantaged, INEC’s role in levelling the playing field contributes indirectly to enhance the chances of youth candidates to effectively contest in elections.

Election period activities

Election Day operations are mainly managed by young people at the polling units and results collation centres. Elections at the polling station are administered by the NYSC members. Students of tertiary institutions also constitute part of the ad hoc staff recruited by the EMB to conduct the election. As polling officials, they are responsible for the collation and announcement of polling unit results.[18] By virtue of this responsibility, young people can contribute to the credibility of an election if they perform their duties in a professional and transparent manner.

Through the instrumentality of the election situation room and citizens contact centre, INEC enjoins citizens’ observers to share incident reports in their polling units using social media platforms. Young people and citizens observers share real-time election updates with INEC. This facilitates rapid response to critical incidents and it  influences the policy direction of the electoral commission.

Post-election period activities

The post-election period avails INEC with the opportunity to audit and review its engagement in the elections. The INEC engages youth organizations in in-depth research analysis to investigate the motivations and impediments on youth participation. Research tools like focus group discussions, surveys and interviews are used by the commission for data collection. For example, INEC conducted a post election analysis on its engagement with youth. The findings, recommendations and trends analysis of such studies could form the impetus for electoral reforms and improved youth participation in the electoral process. Post-election conferences and stakeholder review meetings were convened by the electoral commission in the aftermath of the 2015 general elections. The review meeting amongst other things assessed the level of youth participation and their contribution to the success of the elections. One major gap identified in the conference was the low engagement of young politicians and party youth leaders by the election commission in the build up to the elections. The commission was urged to develop an comprehensive program that builds the capacity of youths to effectively participate in elections as voters, party candidates, election observers etc. Facilitating opportunities for knowledge building and advocacy on voluntary/legislated quotas for marginalized youth was among the key recommendations forwarded to the commission.

IV. Youth in election administration: INEC-NYSC collaboration

Several complexities are inherent in the administration of elections in a country like Nigeria with its vast voting population. The INEC requires over 700,000 personnel to adequately manage the conduct of elections.[19] With its 15,000 permanent staff[20] and the inability to accommodate more, due to limited budget, the need to recruit ad hoc staff for voter registration and polling station services is critical.

In the past, ad hoc staff were drawn from government institutions and private individuals who had no definite records or verifiable addresses. The use of ad hoc staff was characterized by various electoral malfeasance which undermined the integrity of elections[21] Defaulting ad hoc election officials could not be held accountable due to poor documentation and unverifiable addresses.[22] Following the conduct of the 2007 general elections,[23] INEC resolved to engage young people under the NYSC scheme in the conduct of by-elections and re-run/supplementary elections. The first engagement of NYSC members as polling clerks in the conduct of elections began in 2008.[24]

The NYSC scheme is a program of the Federal Government of Nigeria created in the aftermath of the Nigerian civil war as a post-conflict reconstruction, rehabilitation and rebuilding initiative of the government. Established in 1973,[25] the NYSC scheme seeks to enhance youth development and promote national integration and unity among youths. The program is exclusive for graduates of tertiary institutions who are under 30 years of age.[26]

In 2010, INEC and the NYSC officially signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) formalizing its partnership to deploy corps members for election-related activities. As clearly enunciated in the INEC MOU the engagement of the services of NYSC members for election conduct was adjudged to be satisfactory. Furthermore, the policy to sustain the deployment of youth corp members is attributed to the level of professionalism and neutrality displayed by the youth during elections. The internal disciplinary mechanism of the NYSC program serves as checks on the conduct of youth corp members .[27] An approximate 375,268 NYSC members have engaged as election officials between 2008 and 2015 election cycle.

How does it work?

The recruitment of youth corps members is handled by the NYSC. Interested youth corps members voluntarily sign up to be engaged in election administration through an online application process managed by the INEC.[28] For the 2015 elections, 186,000 interested youth corp members applied to be election staff at the close of registration.  Youth corp members mainly constitute the polling team which includes the Presiding Officer (PO) and Assistant Presiding Officers (APO). During voter registration, the youth corp members serve as registration officers. The staff of NYSC are also deployed for supervisory roles during electoral duties in which youth corp members are involved[29].

INEC is responsible for youth corp members training and deployment. All youth corp members are trained by INEC before deployment for any election activity. The training is conducted by the training department of the electoral commission at the NYSC camps in states across the federation. INEC is responsible for the deployment of youth corp members to respective polling units and voting centres in line with its operational plans for elections.[30]

Although the NYSC members voluntarily sign up to participate in election administration, different categories of allowances are provided by INEC to cover costs incurred during training and elections. Cumulatively, each NYSC member is entitled to $179 as INEC standard payment for election officers.[31]

In line with conventional practice, all election officials are duly insured by the electoral commission throughout the period of their engagement.     

In terms of discipline and accountability, all corps members engaged in electoral duties are subject to the direction, control and supervision of both NYSC and the electoral commission during the timeline of the engagement. The corps members are also bound by the code of conduct for election officials and the NYSC by-laws.[32]

What are the results?

Institutionalization of democratic elections: The professional conduct and patriotism exhibited by corps members involved in managing elections at the polling units has improved the integrity of elections in Nigeria. This is exemplified with the acceptability of electoral outcome and decline in post-election litigation. In the 2007 elections, there were 1,290 petitions, in 2011, 732 petitions and in 2015, 611 petitions were received.[33] In separate reports, domestic and international observers acknowledge that the 2011 and 2015 elections were successful due to the immense contributions of the youth corps members.[34] INEC also acknowledges that its engagement of youth in election administration has been satisfactory and productive.

Promotes youth participation: Mainstreaming youth in election administration is one strategic methodology of enhanced youth participation in the electoral processes. It goes beyond traditional EMB approaches towards increasing youth turnout in elections. This initiative expands the civic space and opens opportunities for young people to participate in the electoral process.

Restoring confidence in youth: INEC’s engagement of youth in election administration has restored the confidence of public institutions in the competency and capabilities of youth. It underscores the fact that youths are resourceful partners in deepening democratic development if given the opportunity.

Instilling the values of volunteerism, patriotism and citizenship: The program has exposed young people to the values and benefits of volunteerism. Volunteering for election administration enhances community building and active citizenship. Participants of this program express delight and fulfilment for contributing to good governance and credible elections through voluntary national service.

Reducing the costs of elections: By voluntarily subscribing to participate as adhoc election officials, the corps members reduce election expenditure that would have been incurred by the electoral commission if she opts to recruit substantive staff to manage elections. 

Building a culture of leadership: Engaging youth in election administration develops a culture of leadership and democracy in young people. Through the trainings and field activities, the corps members build leadership competencies like; innovative thinking, team building, emotional intelligence, effective communication and customer service, computation and report writing etc.

V. Challenges and lessons learned from INEC-NYSC collaboration

Disenfranchisement: Nigeria’s electoral law stipulates that voters can only vote where they registered. However, there is a provision that permits transfer of voter registration details. These two provisions negatively impact on the participation of election officials, security agencies and medical staff working on Election Day. The deployment plan of the electoral commission makes it impossible for election officials to exercise their franchise. Out of the 630,000 ad hoc officials recruited and deployed by INEC for the 2015 elections, 120,000 of them were youth corp members.[35] So, as result of this initiative meant to substantially engage youth in election, a large number of youth are prohibited from at elections.

Untimely and inadequate training: The failure of the electoral commission to commence early training of election officials, especially the youth corps members, compromises their ability to effectively manage Election Day operations. The number of days apportioned for training of ad hoc officials is grossly inadequate to sufficiently equip the corps members with capacity to fulfil their duties.[36] There is a need to adopt a more practical approach to learning when conducting training for election officials.

Poor welfare and logistics: Over the years, the program has been fraught with poor welfare and logistics, and delay in the payment of allowances and stipends, leading to several threats of boycott by the NYSC members.[37]

Poor communication and information-sharing: The centralization of information poses a challenge to corps members seeking real time information whilst on election duty. Corps members have had to navigate the bureaucracies and inconsistencies associated with information-sharing[38].  

Insecurity and violence: Lack of adequate security makes corps members vulnerable to intimidation and violence. In the aftermath of the 2011 Presidential election, 11 corps members were killed by an angry mob in Bauchi state.[39] In 2015, corps members were also subjected to different degrees of physical assault. This discourages prospective corps members from engaging in election administration[40].

Economic determinism: Whilst some corps members are driven by patriotism and civic consciousness in participating in the election administration, some NYSC members are driven by economic benefits. In some instances, NYSC members are inclined to bribery and compromise by politicians and candidates always willing to compromise election officials to rig elections in their favour.[41]

Lack of a coherent follow up structure: There is no adequate follow up with corps members engaged in election management most especially in the post-election era. This deprives the electoral commission of the opportunity to harness useful feedback and inputs into its processes. Ex-corps members who participated in past elections could, for example, constitute a technical volunteer base for future elections.

VI. Recommendations

Recommendations for INEC:

  • Electoral reform: The legal regime for elections should be amended to enhance youth participation and deepen electoral integrity and accountability. Specifically, the laws should be reviewed to reduce the age criteria for elected officials and electoral commissioners with adequate representation of young women and men and persons with disability. Such a reform should guarantee the right of Election Day workers to vote and allow for independent candidacy, electronic voting and diaspora voting.
  • Capacity development: INEC should  improve youth capacity to engage the electoral process through innovative and educative civic programs like leadership trainings, democracy clubs, arts and music concerts, mentorship dialogues, internships and exchanges. Special attention should be paid to young women and young persons with disability in the design and implementation of such civic initiatives. The commission should partner with other organizations like educational institutions, government agencies civil society groups in this regard.
  • Institutionalize electoral volunteerism: There is a need to sustain the culture of electoral volunteerism as a means of enhancing youth participation and deepening electoral democracy. INEC should develop a policy that seeks to expand the scope of electoral volunteerism across the spectrum of the electoral cycle as voter and civic education is an important aspect of elections that requires many volunteers. This can serve as a base for recruiting election staff for future election activities.
  • Electoral offences prosecution: Prosecuting electoral offenders will reduce electoral impunity. This will in turn boost the confidence of youth corp members involved in election management to report incidences of electoral fraud and malpractices.  .

Recommendations for EMBs considering to step up their engagement with youth:

  • EMB youth engagement strategy: EMBs should be encouraged to develop a youth policy or youth engagement strategy to serve as a framework or roadmap for its engagement with youth. This will promote sustainability, increase impact and productivity of EMB activities aimed to promote youth participation in the electoral processes.
  • Engaging youth in electoral administration: EMBs ought to consider possibilities for including youth in the management of electoral processes. The collaborative framework set up by INEC and NYSC can be used as an example, but EMBs embarking on such a process must carry out appropriate planning to mitigate challenges such as inter-institutional partnership frameworks, contractual issues and training to mention a few.

VII. About the author(s)

Samson Itodo

Samson heads of one Nigeria’s foremost youth think tanks on democratic governance and citizens participation, the Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement (YIAGA). YIAGA is a youth non-profit promoting democratic governance and youth participation in Africa through research, capacity development and policy advocacy. He was the pioneer National Coordinator of the Youth Alliance on Constitution & Electoral Reform (YACORE), the first Youth coalition on constitution and electoral reform in Nigeria.  Itodo started as a student union activist at the University of Jos where he held several leadership positions. He was chairman Student Representative Council (SRC) at the Nigerian Law School, Abuja.  A lawyer by profession, Itodo has in the last ten years worked on widening civic space for youth in Nigeria and Africa at large.

He is a co-founder of Amplified Online Radio; a pan African youth talk and music radio station. He is an on air personality on Nigeria Info FM has appeared on local and international media stations such as AIT, Channels, NTA, BBC, Wazobia FM and RFI etc.

He has facilitated and presented papers in many conferences locally and internationally.  His interests span democracy, rule of law and constitutionalism, youth development and elections. He has facilitated the development of policy documents on electoral reform, constitutional review, open governance and youth participation. Samson has a decade experience in working on elections. He has led election observation teams to Ghana, United States of America and South Africa. He has also initiated several voter and civic education projects aimed at increasing youth participation in the electoral process. Samson is the co- editor of African Youth Journal of Democracy, an annual publication of the Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement (YIAGA) and National Endowment for Democracy (NED).


[1] Professor Abubakar Momoh, The Electoral Reform Process: Challenges and Prospects, September 2009

[2] Umaru Musa Yar’adua, Presidential Inauguration Speech, May 29, 2007

[3] National Human Rights Commission Report Stop Impunity Report, 2014

[4] Electoral Reform Committee Full Report, 2010

[5] 1999 Constitution (First Alteration) Act 2010

[6] National Youth Policy, 2009

[7] Jennifer Ehidiamen, Nigerian Youth Celebrate Social Media as Tool for Successful Elections, Agora Elections Portal, April 29, 2015http://agora.nigeriaelections.org/readMore/212/
nigerian_youth_celebrate_social_media_as_tool_of_successful_election

[8]  Innocent Chiluwa, ‘Occupy Nigeria 2012: A Critical Analysis of Facebook Posts in the Fuel Subsidy Removal Protests

[9] Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Report of the Registration and Election Review Committee, 2012; Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Report on the 2011 General Elections, 2013

[10] Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement (YIAGA), Youth Observatory Report on Ekiti and Osun Elections, October 2014

[11] Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement (YIAGA), Youth Candidacy Report, 2015

[12] Sections 131, 65, 177, 106 of the 1999 Constitution As Amended

[13] Section 2 of the Electoral Act 2010 As Amended

[14] Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) National Pre-election Youth Summit Report, January 2015

[15] Interview with Commissioners and senior staff of the voter education department of INEC

[16] Independent National Electoral Commission, Activity Report 2011-2014

[17] Interview with Senior Staff of the operation department of INEC

[18] INEC Election Management System Project Report, July 2015

[19] INEC Report of the 2015 General Elections, July 2015 (Unpublished)

[20] Interview with Commissioners and senior Staff of INEC

[21] Memoradum of Understanding between INEC and NYSC

[22] Ibrahim, Jibrin and Garuba, D. Governance and Institution-Building in Nigeria: A Study of the Independent National Electoral Commission  (Abuja: Center for Democracy and Development, 2008)

[23]  The 2007 general elections were manifestly the worst in Nigerian electoral history. The election was characterized by massive rigging, violence and voter intimidation. Both international and domestic observers noted that the election fell short of international standards for election conduct

[24] Kogi State Governorship Re-run election held on Saturday, March 29, 2008. 5,851 NYSC members were engaged as polling clerks

[25]  Decree 24 of 22nd May 1973. The Decree was later replaced by Decree 51 of 16th June 1993

[26] National Youth Service Corps Act Cap 84, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004

[27] News Agency of Nigeria Interview with Brig. Gen Johnson Olawumi, Director-General of NYSC http://www.dailyschoolnews.com.ng/nysc-members-will-be-electoral-officers-during-2015-elections-nysc-inec/

[28] Interview with members of the INEC/NYSC committee

[29] Memorandum between INEC and NYSC, 2013

[30] Ibid

[32] INEC and NYSC, Memorandum of Understanding, November 2010

[33] Ibid

[34] European Union Election Observation Mission Report, 2011

[35] Ibid

[36] Interview with NYSC members

[37] Ad-hoc staff threaten to boycott polls, Nigerian Pilot Online, April 8, 2015 http://nigerianpilot.com/ad-hoc-staff-threaten-to-boycott-polls/

[38] Interview with NYSC members

[39] Presidential Committee on the 2011 Electoral Violence Report, 2011

[40] Ibrahim Shehu Harris, Assessing the participation of the  youth corps members in the 2015 Electoral Processes Pg. 11

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