Nigeria: U.S. Government Assistance in Support of Free, Fair, and Peaceful Elections (March 26, 2015)

Peaceful and credible elections are essential to Nigeria’s development.  And as the largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria’s stability is crucial to the security and economic prosperity of its neighbors.  The United States seeks to support Nigeria’s leaders and its people in their efforts to build a multi-party democracy that addresses the aspirations of all Nigerians.  The United States has focused significant diplomatic and programmatic effort to civic and political engagement, conflict management, and improved electoral administration.  Our support to electoral processes strengthens Nigerian efforts to professionalize electoral administration, increase civic participation in electoral matters, address electoral conflict and reduce violence, increase participation of marginalized voters, and provide support to political party development.

The U.S. Government through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has assisted Nigeria with strengthening the elections process since 1999.  This includes robust support for the last general elections in 2011 and off-cycle gubernatorial elections in 2012, 2013, and 2014.  USAID assistance is co-funded with the UK Department for International Development (DFID).  From 2010 to 2015, USAID in partnership with DFID provided $68.8 million of assistance to improve performance of election management institutions, promote civic participation and political party development, track election related violence, fund international and domestic election observers, and support electoral security.  Working with Nigerian and international partners, we have also engaged diplomatically and publicly to prevent violence and increase accountability, contributing significantly to the goal of free, fair, credible, and peaceful elections in Nigeria.  Key lines of effort include:

  • Diplomatic Engagement:  The United States has engaged at the highest levels with Nigerian candidates, political party leadership, civil society, business leaders, and other prominent individuals to promote peaceful and credible elections in 2015.  Such engagement has taken the form of phone calls, private meetings, and public events in Washington, New York, and on the part of U.S. officials in Nigeria.  President Jonathan promised President Obama in September 2013 he would build on Nigeria’s democratic progress to make the elections in 2015 free, fair, and peaceful.  Vice President Biden spoke to both candidates earlier this month, stressing the need for a peaceful, free, fair, and inclusive election.  Secretary of State Kerry visited Lagos January 25 and met with both President Jonathan and Retired General Buhari, reinforcing the importance of pledging publicly to refrain from violence.  Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield has traveled frequently to Nigeria and led the U.S. delegation to the Bi-National Commission Working Group on elections in February 2014.  During a recent trip in September 2014, she met with recently returned Mandela Washington Fellowship alumni from President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), inter alia.  She will lead our diplomatic elections observation in Abuja.
  • Support to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC): U.S.-funded projects improve the quality of the elections and the competence of INEC while cultivating public confidence in the process and outcomes.  Our support includes technical assistance to improve performance of election management institutions, training of electoral officials and deployment of election materials; institutionalization of election management systems and Election Operation Support Centers (EOSCs); and design of ballots.  U.S. support has enabled INEC to implement a nationwide voter education campaign focused on voter registration and participation to ensure all citizens can exercise their right to vote.  U.S. contributions also strengthen INEC’s capacity to conduct credible elections through better coordinated security planning, a targeted communications strategy, and more effective election dispute resolution mechanisms.
  • Civic and Voter Education:  U.S. support includes funding for the production and dissemination of non-partisan voter education materials and ad campaigns.  The Electoral Empowerment of Civil Society Project has launched a get-out-the-vote and non-violence campaign for 2015 endorsed by Nigerian non-partisan celebrities. The project includes an emphasis on youth participation.  Working closely with INEC, the Nigerian Emergency Management Agency, and other relevant bodies, USAID has assisted INEC in its efforts to allow internally displaced persons (IDPs) to vote.  
  • Domestic Observers:  The Support for the Electoral Empowerment of Civil Society Project strengthens Nigerians’ capacity to observe and report on their own elections. The Project is training and deploying approximately 3,000 domestic observers for the March 2015 presidential election. These observers are trained in how to conduct parallel vote tabulation (PVT) “quick count” to independently measure the quality of election-day processes and official voting results.  In addition, a U.S. Mission Nigeria-based elections observation mission will dispatch observation teams throughout Nigeria during the general elections.
  • International Observers:  The United States is supporting National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) to conduct coordinated international electoral observation missions made up of 42 former elected officials, political and electoral experts, civil society leaders, academics, and regional experts.  These observers will deploy in locations in 16 states plus the Federal Capital Territory.  Following the election, delegation members will release preliminary statements, to include findings and recommendations, to the Nigerian public and the international community, followed by more detailed reports at a later date.
  • Elections Security: The U.S. Government has engaged the Nigerian Government, INEC, and civil society to emphasize the need for a clear and well-coordinated elections security plan, and to offer assistance. A USAID-supported elections security advisor has been deployed to directly support INEC security operations through the Support to Electoral Reforms Project.  In addition, a U.S. Department of State elections security expert visited Nigeria in fall 2014, consulted with Nigerian counterparts in the intervening months, and was embedded into the same project in mid-January to provide targeted security support. This elections security expert will return to Nigeria for Election Day.  We are also encouraging Nigerian election and security agencies to demonstrate impartiality and to improve messaging to boost perception of the election’s credibility.
  • Media: Mindful that inaccurate and sensationalist reporting may contribute to post-electoral violence, as in 2011 when an estimated 800 Nigerians were killed over the course of three days, the U.S. Government  funds programs to help professionalize the media and strengthen the reporting skills of journalists. This support is designed to help the media’s understanding and accuracy of reporting on elections and electoral processes.   The United States has also funded radio programs with political party representatives on topics of voter inclusion and accessibility and has supported training for the media on understanding and reporting on parallel vote tabulation (PVT).  The U.S. Mission has conducted intensive outreach throughout the country, resulting in widespread Nigerian press coverage of numerous speeches, round tables, and interviews on the subject of elections, particularly emphasizing the message regarding anti-violence.  The Ambassador has called upon all members of the political leadership, Nigerian government, and civil society to publicly eschew violence on many occasions, including direct discussions with the main candidates – President Jonathan and General Buhari.

The Department of State, through the Counter-Terrorism Bureau and the Africa Bureau’s Economic Support Fund (ESF), has provided funding to Arewa24, a multi-media platform, centered around a 24/7 free-to-air (FTA) satellite television channel, that creates, produces and distributes programming to the 100,000,000-plus Hausa speakers around the world.  Recent Arewa24 programming includes seven original programs on the importance of full citizen participation in non-violent elections and is intended to build a positive narrative within the Hausa-speaking community, as well as to counter violent extremist narratives.

Meanwhile, senior U.S. officials have leveraged popular media to speak directly to the Nigerian people. The White House on March 23 released a video message from President Obama to the Nigerian people highlighting the opportunity that the upcoming elections present for all Nigerians to stand together in rejecting violence and extremism, and instead show their support for a more peaceful, secure, and prosperous future. Secretary Kerry, together with British Foreign Secretary Hammond, issued the same message in an op-ed that ran in Nigerian papers earlier this month.

  • Political Parties: The U.S. Government is providing assistance to strengthen Nigeria’s political parties in becoming more inclusive and responsive to constituents’ needs.  We support political parties in their efforts to develop and communicate issue-based platforms taking into account various constituencies, including women, youth, people with disabilities and private sector advocacy coalitions in Nigeria.  Our interventions assist parties to participate in candidate debates over radio, women candidate campaign training and educational fora, party poll agent training, and the promotion of non-violence messaging into campaigns.
  • Conflict Prevention and Mitigation:  Locally recruited election observers funded by the United States in all 774 local government areas (LGAs) in the 36 states and Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria have gathered data and monitored early warning signs of electoral violence.  The ability of communities and local security services to prevent and mitigate conflict, including through early warning and early response mechanisms, will be important during the 2015 elections.  At the same time, we are supporting programs in potential hotspot areas to deter elections-related violence by strengthening linkages among diverse Nigerian actors. Strengthening theses connections enables these actors to promote constructive participation in the election, defuse political tensions, and strengthen early warning and response mechanisms.
  • Dawn in the Creeks:  U.S. Government entities have partnered on a conflict prevention and mitigation initiative to reduce the risk of destabilizing election-related violence in the Niger Delta.  A Nigerian Board of Advisors from the fields of business, civil society, entertainment and religion guide the overarching effort, which includes media, diplomatic and community-level engagement and rapid conflict response in Rivers, Delta and Bayelsa states.  The centerpiece of the media effort, reality television show Dawn in the Creeks, illustrates the effects of violence though youths’ eyes and highlights options for non-violent problem solving.  The series, now in its second season on eight national networks, aims to spark shifts in perceptions and attitudes towards violence, particularly around elections-related issues.  Participatory radio programming on many local stations complements and broadens the series’ reach and impact.  Community engagements in twelve conflict-prone Local Government Areas provide youth, community leaders, government officials, and other persons of influence with new approaches designed to address conflict through locally-based solutions. A $4.2 million grant funds the overall effort.

Youth Engagement:  The median age in Nigeria is 18; however, youth participation in elections and governance issues is negligible.  Through USAID’s Electoral Empowerment of Civil Society Project, we are supporting youth participation in political processes and the promotion of peaceful elections.  The U.S. Mission in Nigeria supports a series of political participation conferences in cooperation with youth NGOs such as Youth for Transparency International (YTI).  These USG-funded programs target politicians, human rights activists, civil society groups, youth, media and other stakeholders who are committed to social inclusion, bridging the political divide and deepening participatory democracy.  More broadly, 46 Nigerians participated in the 2014 Mandela Washington Fellowship under President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI).  We continue to partner with these and other Nigerian civil society and youth leaders supporting credible and peaceful elections.  Under the Carrington Youth Fellowship Initiative (CYFI), now in its third year of funding, Consulate Lagos provided a $10,000 grant to mobilize young women to get involved in elections.  CYFI pairs Consulate Lagos Officers in their first or second tour together with young Nigerians and mentors them on grant writing and NGO management.  CYFI helps U.S. Consulate Lagos leadership remain engaged on youth issues and focused on youth opinions.