A former President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, will lead a team of Commonwealth election observers to Nigeria, which will be holding Africa’s largest democratic exercise later this month when it holds general elections on 25 February 2023.
Commonwealth Secretary-General, the Rt Hon Patricia Scotland KC, constituted the Commonwealth Observer Group following an invitation from Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission.
As of January 2023, an estimated 93.4 million registered voters will have the right to cast ballots for presidential and national assembly candidates in 176,846 polling units across 774 local government areas.
Announcing the group, the Commonwealth Secretary-General said:, “The Commonwealth remains a committed and reliable partner in Nigeria’s continuing journey towards peaceful democratic governance. Since 1999, we have observed all six general elections in Nigeria and the deployment of this observer group is a testament to the Commonwealth’s enduring support for the promotion of the culture, processes and institutions of democracy in Nigeria.
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“In accordance with the values and principles of the Commonwealth Charter, the work of the group seeks to promote transparency, strengthen democracy and the rule of law, and protect the right of the people of Nigeria to participate in credible, transparent and inclusive elections to shape their society.
“This month’s elections hold immense significance not just for Nigeria, but for the entire African continent and the wider democratic world.
“It is, therefore, essential that all stakeholders in Nigeria reaffirm their shared commitment to ensuring a peaceful election environment which is conducive to the free exercise of people’s franchise and in which fundamental freedoms and rights are respected.”
She also expressed her appreciation to President Mbeki for accepting her invitation to lead the group and to each observer for agreeing to undertake this important assignment on behalf of the Commonwealth.
The mandate of the group, which is independent and impartial, is to observe the preparations for the election, the polling, counting and the results process, and the overall electoral environment. The observers will assess the conduct of the process as a whole and, where appropriate, make recommendations for the strengthening of the electoral system in Nigeria.
Before deployment to different parts of Nigeria, the group will also have briefings with the electoral authorities, political parties, law enforcement agencies, the media and civil society groups representing women, youth and people with disabilities.
Upon completion of its assignment, the group will submit its recommendations in a report to the Commonwealth Secretary-General, who will forward it to the Government of Nigeria, the Independent National Electoral Commission, the leadership of political parties taking part in the elections and all Commonwealth governments. The report will be made public afterwards.
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The Commonwealth Observer Group comprises 16 eminent persons from around the Commonwealth, including politicians, diplomats and experts in law, human rights, gender equality and election administration. The full team is listed below.
The observers will be in Nigeria from 18 February to 2 March 2023. They will be supported by a staff team from the Commonwealth Secretariat led by Joshua Setipa, Senior Director of the Strategy, Portfolio, Partnerships and Digital Division.
The Commonwealth Observer Group members, in alphabetical order by country name, are:
H.E. Thabo Mbeki (Chairperson), a former President, South Africa;
Ian Browne, Deputy Chief Electoral Officer, Electoral and Boundaries Department, Barbados;
Hon. Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Botswana;
Dr Andrew Knight, Distinguished Professor, Fulbright scholar and expert in terrorism and security, Canada;
Tara Chetty, Human rights and gender expert, Fiji;
Emmanuel Akwetey, Executive Director, Institute for Democratic Governance, Ghana;
Dr Mohamed Chambas, Former United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa and the Sahel, Ghana;
Hon. Amina Mohamed, Former Cabinet Secretary for Sports, Heritage and Culture, and former Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Kenya;
Linda Bonyo, Legal and data analytics expert, Kenya;
Seabata Motsamai, Chairperson, Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organizations, Lesotho;
Rt. Hon. Martin Ngoga, Speaker, East African Legislative Assembly, Rwanda;
Hon. Sarah Flood-Beaubrun, a former House Assembly Speaker, Former Minister for Women Affairs and Former Deputy; Permanent Representative to the United Nations, in New York, Saint Lucia;
Dr. Gregory Mills, Director, Brenthurst Foundation, South Africa;
Josephine Karungi, Journalist, Uganda
Dr. Alex Vines, Director, Africa Programme, Chatham House, United Kingdom;
Kryticous Nshindano, a former Chief Electoral Officer, Zambia Electoral Commission, Zambia.