The Nigerian Voter is a series that seeks to understand the motivations that drive the voting decisions of Nigerians — why they vote, how they choose their candidates, why some have never voted, and their wildest stories around elections.

In this week’s edition of ‘The Nigerian Voter’, we’ll discuss voters’ fears of election violence ahead of the 2023 elections and how these fears are entrenched in 6 election cycles of violence since the start of democratic rule in 1999. 

Nigerians are experiencing worry, fear, and anxiety, with less than 12 days to the 2023 elections on February 25, 2023.

This has resulted in harassment and beating for supporting some candidates.

One such event was during the Labour Party’s presidential candidate, Peter Obi’s Lagos Rally, on February 11, 2023. Some Peter Obi supporters were attacked by thugs with machetes and other weapons,  on their way to the Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS).

When this happened, there was a lot of public opinion on voters’ fears of election violence. Most of the accounts were terrified of harassment from thugs by the ruling All-Progressive Congress (APC).

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Well, who can blame them? Since Nigeria’s independence in 1960, there has been no moment’s rest concerning election violence, with more than 1,800 deaths. And entering democratic rule in 1999 didn’t help either.

Let’s look into the statistics here:

History of voter election violence since 1999

There was widespread violence following allegations of fraud regarding the 1999 election that ushered in the presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo. It is estimated that about 80 people died. In 2003, at least 100 people were killed during incidents of violence triggered by federal and state elections. 

In 2007, over 300 people lost their lives due to electoral violence four years later, with pre-election violence claiming more than 70 lives.

Again, in 2011, post-election violence led to the death of at least 800 people over three days of rioting in 12 states across northern Nigeria — the worst case so far in the country’s political history.

“The violence began with widespread protests by supporters of the main opposition candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, a northern Muslim from the Congress for Progressive Change, following the re-election of incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the Niger Delta in the south, who was the candidate for the ruling People’s Democratic Party,” noted Human Rights Watch.

During and after the general elections in 2015, more than 100 people lost their lives, according to the International Crisis Group. And finally, the European Union Election Observation Mission said about 150 people were killed due to violence linked to the last national elections of 2019.

Sadly, citizens are not the only ones that suffer from election violence. A closer look at the figures shows that election officials from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)

A Trend of Election Violence Against Election Officials (2019-2022)

In November 2022, the electoral commission said it had recorded 50 attacks in 15 of the country’s 36 states and the capital since 2019. It may probably have been more, as data from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), suggests that might be an estimate.

According to data from ACLED represented by Al Jazeera in December 2022, there have been more than 100 attacks associated with elections since the last elections in 2019. At least 67 of them were recorded on non-election days between January 2019 and December 2022.

But why is there election violence?

There are many reasons why election violence has risen to an all-time high since the start of Nigeria’s democracy. Some of them are:

To gain wealth and profit

Firstly, politics is the most profitable sector in Nigeria. And the stakes are extremely high. Holding a position in government holds the key to power, which in turn provides access to the country’s wealth. Winners gain all, and losers are sometimes left with nothing, including their followers, investment and integrity.

The result is that political actors often prepare strategies to achieve their objectives that can include violence.

Lack of strong state institutions

Those involved in electoral governance are vulnerable to coercion or manipulation. On numerous occasions in past elections, there have been allegations of infractions committed by officials of the electoral body or security agencies in favour of one party or another. This, in turn, has led to some political actors enlisting the support of armed non-state groups. These groups sometimes operate in conflict with state institutions and sometimes compete with them. In some instances, there is cooperation.

The frustration of Nigerian citizens

Many Nigerians are frustrated by the economic, social and political situation in the country. People are frustrated by poverty, inequality, perceived injustice, illiteracy, youth unemployment, hunger, corruption, human rights abuse and insecurity.

Added to this is the lack of sensitivity and inadequate responses of the government.

This is a major reason behind the increase in civil and militant protests and criminal violence in Nigeria.

What is the solution to electoral violence?

Here are some solutions that we feel are necessary to curb electoral violence:

More effort is also needed to build the capacity of relevant institutions. Two key ones stand out: the electoral and security agencies.

Nigeria’s electoral body (INEC) plays an important role in reducing electoral violence. The regulation of party activities and the conduct of elections should be consistent with the country’s laws and directives. And its actions should be transparent. This will strengthen stakeholders’ confidence in the institution and process of the elections.

Election security should be demilitarised. While policing can feature the armed forces in supporting roles, it is important to balance their role during elections with rule of law and respect for human rights. Suspects should be arrested, prosecuted and served justice (devoid of political influence) after a fair hearing.

Nigeria has relevant laws to curb electoral violence. The implementation and enforcement of these laws should be a priority.

INEC should also promote public education using both traditional and new media-based advocacy.

Political parties, civil society groups and media also play important roles in influencing public opinion and mobilising people. Political parties should check, and when necessary condemn and sanction their members and followers engaged in electoral violence. Civil society groups should demand greater accountability and transparency of the election process as well as educate and mobilise the public.

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