As the 2023 general elections approaches, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has started raising the alarm about electoral violence in the country. Every election season, Nigerians witness politically motivated violence at polling units and even elsewhere. Some of the reasons for this violence include: minimizing or neutralizing opponents, denying opponents the ability to mobilize their agents and supporters in order to perform at the poll, and to manipulate or delegitimize the process of election. The perpetrators of these acts achieve them through assassination, bombings, kidnapping, assault, or even armed attack. While the reasons for this may differ, the goal remains constant: to work in favor of the instigator, directly or indirectly.
In April 2022, INEC has announced that 1,149 Nigerians have been killed as a result of electoral violence, while the commission has suffered 42 attacks on its offices and staff. On April 16, 2022, an INEC worker, Mr Anthony Nwokorie, was killed by gunmen when he was conducting the continuous voter registration in Ihitte Uboma Local Government Area in Imo State, Nigeria. Trends of violence especially during the 2019 elections have shown that the inter-election period between federal and state polls is often violent. The 9 most violent states during election in Nigeria are Lagos, Ogun, Kano, Akwa Ibom, Delta, Benue, Bayelsa, Kogi, and Rivers, while the South-South geopolitical zone was the deadliest in 2019.
What are the causes of electoral violence in Nigeria?
The main cause of electoral violence in Nigeria is the high stakes of politics in the country. Political positions hold the key to accessing the nation’s wealth and sometimes political power. So, the competition is stiff and contenders are willing to do anything to clinch public office. In this political “game,” only the fittest survive; winners get everything while losers get nothing. Consequently, political aspirants employ different strategies which may include violence. Another reason is that state institutions are weak. In Nigeria, what it takes to control government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) is to coerce or manipulate the head. In other words, these institutions are only as strong as their heads, who are vulnerable to blackmail, kidnapping, and coercion.
This means that the systems in these institutions are almost non-existent. There have been cases where electoral officials have doctored election results and favored a party. In some cases, the victim seeks redress through armed non-state groups because security agencies have either been compromised or are powerless. Yet another reason are triggers such as hate speeches, fake news, insensitive speeches, cyber and media bullying, etc. This can push people to take the law into their own hands. Finally, Nigerians are frustrated by the state of the nation. There is poverty, inequality, illiteracy, insecurity, unemployment, corruption, inflation, and hunger in the land. Added to these is the lack of responses or insensitive and inadequate responses from the government.
All participants in the electoral process must cooperate.
Prominent figures, government agencies, NGOs, the media, and international actors in the electoral process in Nigeria must work together to promote healthy dialogue and public education among stakeholders and the masses. This will reduce the tension in notable hotspot areas for violence. Of all who are involved in the process, the Federal Government of Nigeria is perhaps one with the most difficult task. It must investigate the origin of these incidences of violence, some of which have been mentioned, and respond accordingly. In some cases, it will require strong tactical force to nip the problem in the bud. For others, it will require the wisdom of wise leaders in utilizing diplomacy and dialogue.
More effort should be put into strengthening institutions involved in the process, specifically INEC and security agencies. The electoral commission should not be politicized; so, its management should be non-partisan. Security personnel should be taught to respect human rights and treat even the suspects with dignity. Elections should also be demilitarized because elections are not state of emergency. Prominent political party heads should also play a role in cautioning, checking, condemning and sanctioning violent members. Civil society groups should demand greater accountability from all stakeholders involved as well as sensitizing the public. The media should provide genuine and balanced news to Nigerians. The Federal government should also seek help from developed countries in terms of intelligence, equipment and personnel.
Cases of violence perpetrated for the 2023 general elections.
There has been reports that traders at the popular Alaba International Market, Ojo, Lagos were attacked on Thursday, June 9, 2022 as they rally one another to register for the Permanent Voters Card (PVC). These traders shut down their businesses on Thursday, June 9, to register and collect their PVC ahead of the 2023 general elections. There was massive attendance at the registration units, mostly traders of Igbo extraction. While the exercise was ongoing, thugs armed with machetes, clubs, sticks and other weapons made to disrupt the registration process, but they were overpowered by the traders.