Beyond an Environmental Challenge: Flooding and the 2023 Elections
In what is fast becoming an annual occurrence, many parts of Nigeria experience flooding and the correlating loss of land, lives and livelihoods. Despite historically difficult incidents, the recent case of flooding appears to be the worst the country has experienced in the last decade. For weeks, mostly South-South states have been impacted by widespread flooding prompted by extreme rainfall coupled with the release of water from the Lagdo Dam in Cameroon - an exercise expected to continue until 18 November 2022.
The recent spate of flooding has left the country counting losses since early October, as over 2.5 million people are affected, out of which 1.3 million are displaced, 2,407 are injured, and 603 persons are dead across 25 states that are hard hit by the natural disaster. Flooding in Nigeria has so far been treated as an isolated environmental challenge occasioned by climate change while largely downplaying its socio-political effects and, if at all, highlighting the economic costs. However, beyond just heightening economic challenges, the effects of flooding are multidimensional, with the capacity to impact the 2023 elections in Nigeria.
What is the implication of the floods on the 2023 Elections?
Analysts, academics and policy experts have expressed concern for the herculean task of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in administering the polls with the current security challenges. However, few would have considered the effects of flooding in the successful conduct of the election. In Bayelsa State, nearly a million people in over 300 communities in the state, have been internally displaced with reported cases of deaths, including the community of former President Goodluck Jonathan. Alongside, critical infrastructures such as hospitals, bridges and telecommunications systems have been lost. The strategic East-West Road has also been occupied, which means that the state is largely cut off from the rest of the country. Bayelsa is not alone - Anambra claims a third of its state is flooded, and Kogi in the North-Central has also been affected by the floods. Each of these states is governed by a politician from a different party and shows how this crisis transcends the politicking of the day.
Despite the impact of the floods, it is clear that there is an expectation that the situation will get resolved before the elections. President Buhari left the country to attend a conference in South Korea on Sunday, and INEC’s management has not shared any plan to amend its preparations for the elections to deal with the floods. However, this would be a disaster for several reasons.
Firstly, the successful conduct of elections depends largely on the transportation of key election materials. INEC has been blamed in the past for the delay in delivering electoral materials to polling units. In some cases, this often creates distrust as some voters conclude that the elections have been rigged already. More often than not, INEC has blamed delays in this delivery to poor transportation systems. At a recent event organised by the CDD and the Open Society Initiative for West Africa, that focused on emerging issues shaping the coming elections, INEC’s Chair Mahmood Yakubu cited this as one of their greatest challenges. This is because some parts of the country are still largely inaccessible and can only be reached by motorbike and boats. In coastal states, around the South-South and near the Rivers Benue and Niger, destruction of road infrastructure by the floods could hamper preparations and even the recruitment of ad-hoc staff and the effective training and deployment of law enforcement staff.
Secondly, and perhaps more urgently, is the difficulty in effectively distributing the Permanent Voters Cards (PVC) to people in flood-affected areas. The loss of certain facilities and the displacement of residents would mean that the task of INEC to make PVCs available even tougher. It could also lead to a challenge if voters can attribute the loss of their PVCs to the floods and could lead to a challenge if many citizens are unintentionally disenfranchised. The outcome could even prove difficult in the accepted legitimacy of the elected officials.
Finally, the aftermath of the floods are likely to affect the socio-political environment in which these polls will be conducted. There is an established correlation between poverty and vote buying, which could be exacerbated by the grave reality - 76,168 hectares of farmland partially destroyed and 70,566 hectares completely destroyed. The Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development have also revealed that 90,000 homes have been partially or totally destroyed by the floods. This will likely play a role in how politicians appeal to the electorate - and if financial promises are used to get their votes.
Is there cause for optimism?
One of the major changes to the political environment is an increasing focus on the impact of climate change in Nigeria. Previous predictions and analyses had focused on the economy, security and corruption, but the current situation has shown how interwoven many challenges are. Many issues, from terrorism and clash for resources, have been traced to the impact of climate change in the country. Frontline candidates Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the APC, Atiku Abubakar of the PDP and Peter Obi of the Labour Party have joined the discourse on climate change. This welcome development will be tested when the candidates put forward solutions to the climate change-induced farmer-herder conflict and the complexities of terrorism worsened by the shrinking of the Lake Chad Basin.
Another direction is the hopeful redirection of campaigns from a clash of personalities to a more issue-driven discourse. Prior to the floods, many candidates and rallies were largely driven by party clashes and marred by campaign violence. However, candidates are now being asked about their plans for addressing the root causes of specific national challenges, including the annual floods. Hopefully, this leads to more dialogue on rehabilitating displaced persons, fixing infrastructure and providing some economic succour to flood victims. Ultimately, it is important that INEC begins making more robust preparations to ensure next year’s polls are held in a manner that does not risk affecting the legitimacy of the outcome.
Dengiyefa Angalapu is a Research Analyst at the Centre for Democracy and Development.