Speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, has said voter education and enlightenment could address apathy and increase voter turnout in the forthcoming 2023 elections.
Gbajabiamila spoke at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, on Thursday, where he presented a paper on ‘Consolidating Nigeria’s Democracy: Prospects for Strengthening Nigeria’s Electoral Systems Ahead of 2023 Elections.’
He said: “Voter education and enlightenment campaigns can help increase the rate of voter participation, getting more people to believe that there is power in the vote and that a ballot can change the course of a nation and improve the conditions of its people.”
“Enhancing citizen participation,” the Speaker said, “is also about ensuring that the nation’s diversity is reflected in the composition of its political actors. The variety of voices, perspectives and experiences can only improve the quality of debate and enhance the quality of outcomes.”
Gbajabiamila also emphasized the need to review the campaign laws of the country, especially in the area of finances for elections.
“Clearly, we need to reform our campaign finance laws and the entire system through which we fund politics and political operations in the country. This would require amendments to both the constitution and the Electoral Act.
“To be effective, such campaign finance reform legislation will impose a financial reporting mandate on candidates and campaigns and impose severe penalties on violators,” he noted.
He said that it may help clean up the flow of money into the political process, adding, “but there is a real risk that this ends up making the process more expensive by creating regulatory compliance costs.
“So, as we consider this option, we will consider others too and remain open to new ideas.”
Looking back, the Speaker outlined the steps taken by the National Assembly to ensure substantial improvement to the Nigerian electoral system, saying, “After every election cycle, the National Assembly has initiated steps to document experiences, extrapolate lessons learned and, on that basis, amend the electoral laws to plug gaps and remove bottlenecks.
“Each electoral amendment effort reflects a considered attempt to provide a more robust statutory framework for elections. From the internal party processes to the final declaration of results and even pre and post-election litigation.
“At the same time, the Independent National Electoral Commission has in the last decade shown a remarkable willingness to learn from its own mistakes, embrace new technology, engage stakeholders and take proactive action to ensure public faith in the electioneering process.
“They, and indeed the legislature, have often been helped in our joint efforts by aid and support from our international friends who understand that Nigeria’s democracy has been hard-won and deserves to be protected by all prudent and necessary means.”
He however outlined the efforts the parliament and indeed government had made towards ensuring the forthcoming elections are free, fair and credible.
“In the 2022 Appropriations Bill, the legislature has made provisions to allow both the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the security agencies to make adequate plans for these contingencies.
“And I am aware that in addition to funding issues, efforts are already underway to prepare for the unique challenges we face as we plan to deliver free, fair and credible elections across the country,” he said.
Acknowledging that democracy in Nigeria is still young and fragile, Gbajabiamila said sustaining it requires dedicated efforts as the success or failure of the 2023 elections would impact the Nigerian people, the African continent and indeed, the world.