“Nigeria is at an inflection point. Facing the worst wave of insecurity in twenty years, a five-year trend of democratic backsliding, and falling public confidence in governance and elections, and with next year’s election set to be the first open seat presidential election since 2007, the stakes are high for both Nigerians and the greater Sahel. As the United States launches its new Africa Strategy, are we prepared to do what it takes to support Nigeria at this critical time for its democracy?

“Whereas previous strategies prioritized security, trade, and development over democratization—a false tradeoff that results in poor governance and increased conflict—the new strategy emphasizes the importance of open societies and democratization. This new approach is certainly ambitious but its implementation remains an open question. The 2023 elections in Nigeria may be its first big test.

“While Nigeria’s 2019 elections failed to meet domestic or international expectations, there is some reason to hope for significant improvements in 2023. The 2022 Electoral Act includes many critical reforms and enjoys widespread support among Nigerian and international stakeholders, and the Ekiti and Osun gubernatorial elections, held earlier this summer were generally fair and peaceful—demonstrating the positive impact of these reforms.

“However, the enforcement and implementation of the new election law has been uneven and inconsistent. The Ekiti and Osun gubernatorial elections were plagued by vote buying, with little visible enforcement by authorities. Major political parties continue to violate campaign finance laws and filing deadlines with few repercussions, and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has yet to be fully funded, raising questions about its ability to meet the significant logistical challenges the 2023 election will pose. The continuous voter registration process was suspended on July 31, threatening to disenfranchise many Nigerians—especially young people— who are just starting to become interested in the election. If these issues are not addressed in a timely fashion, there could be serious risks to the integrity of the 2023 elections.

“The U.S. government has a compelling interest in ensuring that the Nigerian people are able to exercise their right to vote in free and fair elections. There are several key areas where the new U.S. strategy should be leveraged to support Nigeria’s path to democratization.”

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