Nigerians will head to the polls on 25 February 2023 to select a new president and national assembly, and on 11 March to select new governors and State Houses of Assembly. Current President Buhari is set to step down after serving eight years in office. He has promised free, safe, and transparent elections, but the government’s ability to deliver on this promise is in question. The three leading candidates appear to be former Lagos governor Bola Tinubu, representing the All-Progressives Congress (APC), former vice president Atiku Abubakar of the opposition the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and former governor of Anambra state, Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP). Other party candidates, however, could play an important role. As important as the winner is likely to be the way in which the contests play out, whether they are seen as free and fair and whether violence ensues.

Nigeria has already been struggling with serious insecurity, gross human rights violations and mass atrocities. Large swathes of the country are insecure, with multiple armed groups operating in the territory. According to Nigeria Security Tracker, at least 5,797 people were killed in political violence in January through July 2022. This insecurity both complicates efforts to hold free and fair elections and raises the stakes of doing so, as an inadequate process is likely to spark further violence. In parts of Kaduna State in north-west Nigeria for instance, terrorist and outlaw groups are reported to have banned election campaigns in some communities under their control, making it unlikely that the Independent National Election Commission (INEC) can safely deploy election workers or conduct elections safely in much of the state.

The outcomes of this election will also impact the region and the world. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation and is an important player in its region and the continent. Its fate is a critical indicator of the prospects of democracy – which is increasingly under threat globally. Nowhere is this more relevant than in West Africa, where a string of coups d’état have disrupted governance since 2020 and put the stability of large parts of the region in serious jeopardy. Successful elections in Nigeria will play a key role in reinforcing democracy in the region, whereas an unsuccessful process may accelerate a slide into autocracy and regional instability.

In this context, the international community has a vested interest in supporting a free, transparent and secure electoral process in Nigeria. With a mere six months to go, such engagement must be focused and is indeed overdue. This briefing is intended to lay out some of the key issues that will determine the integrity and legitimacy of Nigeria’s elections and to both inform international actors and make recommendations as to where they can have an impact.

Read full briefing here.