On February 25, Nigerians will elect a new president, with 18 candidates vying for what will likely be a challenging job. Data from the WJP Rule of Law Index 2022 shows Nigeria has experienced a decline in the rule of law for five straight years, and the country now ranks 118 out of 140 countries and jurisdictions studied.
While members of the international community are watching what happens in Africa’s most populous nation with keen interest, a Nigeria-based nonprofit organization, the Samuel Ioron Foundation, is seeking to empower more of the nation’s most vulnerable citizens to vote.
The Foundation was recognized as a finalist in the 2022 World Justice Challenge for its work protecting women from sexual exploitation in camps for internally displaced people. Now, it is conducting outreach to those same camps and other rural communities through its Vote+ project. The aim is to encourage more citizens to register, get their Personal Voters Card (PVC), go to the polls, not sell their vote, and make sure their vote is counted.
Nigeria has approximately 93 million registered voters, but in the 2019 presidential election, less than 35% of the electorate turned out. The Samuel Ioron Foundation is working to increase involvement in the political space and reduce voter apathy—particularly among women and young voters.
“Many women think their votes don’t count, so they’re not interested in voting or getting their voters card,” said the Foundation’s programs manager Dooshima. “Nigeria belongs to women as much as the men. Until everyone is involved, the right decisions might not be made.”
The project also encourages citizens to run for office, and it coaches them to protect their vote by staying at the polling location to ensure the ballot they cast is counted.
“When you see around 200 people standing their ground and saying our votes are going to count, it’s hard not to count them,” said Dooshima's colleague Sandra Osademe.
The Samuel Ioron Foundation does not tell people how they should vote, just to make the choice each individual feels is best for them.
Low confidence in elections
Diving a little deeper into the WJP Rule of Law Index data, Nigeria achieves its highest ranking in the factor that measures constraints on government powers, also known as checks and balances. While Nigeria scores better than half of Sub-Saharan African countries on this factor, it still ranks poorly globally, at 87 out of 140 countries.
Part of what is pulling Nigeria’s score down on this factor is lack of confidence in elections. The country scores well below average on the measure of whether people and experts believe the transition of power is subject to the law. That reality has Nigerians and some experts concerned about the outcome of the February 25 contest.
But the Samuel Ioron Foundation, which also runs programs in human rights, menstrual health, and ensuring equal access to education for girls, is quick to remind citizens what is at stake and that they shouldn’t hesitate to exercise their voice.
“Your vote counts,” Dooshima always tells people, “If it doesn’t, why do they rig elections?”
With vote buying or trading another major obstacle to fair and free elections in Nigeria, the Vote+ project also works to educate people on how not to fall prey to these schemes.
138 out of 140 on “Order and Security”
As elections near, a key issue for Nigerians continues to be insecurity. The data from the most recent WJP Rule of Law Index bears this out. In 2022, Nigeria ranked 138 out of 140 in order and security and the United Nations estimates that more than 3.1 million Nigerians are internally displaced. These are many of the people the Samuel Ioron Foundation is trying hard to reach.
“As the election draws closer it’s becoming more tense,” Dooshima told the World Justice Project. “The message we’re trying to pass is simple - you know what you’re looking for in a leader and the things a leader should do.”
The vote is a powerful tool for change in Nigeria and the Samuel Ioron Foundation plans to keep encouraging vulnerable citizens to embrace it.
As Dooshima says she always tells potential voters: “You deserve to have a good life, too.”
To learn more about the World Justice Challenge, contact [email protected].