- Says Electoral Violence Has Claimed 350 Lives Between 2014–2022
As the country inches towards the 2023 General elections, Nigeria’s political ruling class has been alleged of back-channel plans to circumvent the marginal improvement recorded in the country’s electoral system, in their bid to ascend to power.
At an ongoing one-week Colloquium, organized by the Conflict Research Network (CORN) West Africa, Governance and Election experts raised alarm over intensified efforts at mobilizing armed groups by politicians to disrupt the forthcoming elections and discredit the painstaking process.
CORN West Africa is a knowledge platform and academic community of scholars based in institutions, working in the field of peace, security, and political violence; with a growing network of more than 150 members across 35 institutions in West Africa.
The research think tank mobilises researchers to conduct cutting-edge research on peace, security, violent conflicts, and political violence. The research conducted by scholars within the network aims to improve policymaking in the area of peace, security and democratic governance in Nigeria and the west African region at large.
Experts at the Colloquium worried that contrary to the dictates of the Peace Accord being signed prior every election, “the Nigerian Political Class are only paying lip service to peace”, insisting that if the looming danger is not averted, it may snowball into a serious bloodbath that would plunge the country into a possible ethno-regional war similar to the 1967-1970 civil war.
Themed: “Conducting Elections in Context of Political Violence and State Fragility Research,” the colloquium provided a scholarly overview of the realities of conducting elections within the context of the Nigerian political experience marked by violence and state fragility, featuring two scholarly presentations from Dr. Timipreye Felix Allison, an expert on the roles of civil society, the election management body and political parties in the democratic process, and Prof Ukoha Ukiwo, a Professor of Political Science at the University of Port Harcourt. Dr. Tarila Marclint Ebiede, the Co-founder and Director at CORN West Africa, also gave illuminating presentation on the giant strides being made by the CSO on election and conflict across the region.
In his keynote presentation, Ukiwo, who doubles as the Technical Lead, Managing Conflicts in Nigeria (MCN), said between 2014 and 2022, 315 incidents of violence related to elections occurred in 34 states and FCT, with 350 persons killed, including 21 state actors; over 300 Civilians, four politicians, and 51 kidnapped INEC officials and ad hoc staff.
While establishing a nexus between political violence and armed violence, Ukoha explained that the democratic trajectory of the country since 1999 is instructive enough.
He said because of the fragility of the Nigerian state, elections have always been marred by heart-breaking fatalities. Record shows 200 lives were lost during the 164/65 elections; about 90 during the 1993 elections; 100 during the 1999 polls, 100 in 2003; 300 death in 2007; 800 fatalities in 2011; 100 in 2015; and about 15 fatalities in 2019.
According to him, “unfortunately, the available data does not indicate that the coming election would be devoid of violence. In fact, we have seen the trend where the political ruling class are already mobilizing armed violent groups to disrupt the election. This is their alternative to the reforms in the electoral system that has blocked the preexisting loopholes that allows them to rig the election and force themselves into power.
“All the political parties, despite signing peace accord before every election, appears they are only doing that on paper. It is like their best Public Relations Strategy, because in real terms, they are only paying lip service to the letters. Their desperation to capture power has further complicated the state fragility and incapacitation to respond to the existing risks associated with electoral violence and conflicts,” he said.
He said in the South Western Region, between 1999, the outlawed Oodua People’s Congress alone was linked to the ravaging armed and political violence that almost consumed the entire region; adding that “armed resource control agitators were linked to the election related violence in the Niger Delta during the 2003, 2007 and 2011 elections; Vigilante Groups were carpeted for the 2003, 2007, and 2007 election related violence in the South East; JAS and ISWAP held sway in North Eastern Nigeria during the 2015 and 2019 elections; and alleged unknown armed groups in South East Nigeria have been wreaking havoc since 2021.”
In his presentation, Allison acknowledged that the significant improvement in the Nigeria’s electoral systems can be linked directly to the newly signed 2022 Electoral Act, saying the document has the potential to minimize the unbridled electoral rascalities of political parties and candidates, as it blocks most of the loopholes they exploit in perpetuating malpractices that aid electoral violence.
“For instance, contrary to Section 31(5) of the Electoral Act, 2010, which granted anyone the locus standi to take a party’s candidate to court where there is suspicion of falsification in the affidavit sworn to INEC, Section 29(5) of the Electoral Act, 2022 gives only co-contestants the right to go to court. As the Section reads: ‘Any aspirant who participated in the primaries of his political party who has reasonable grounds to believe that any information given by his political party’s candidate in the affidavit or any document submitted by that candidate in relation to his constitutional requirements to contest the election is false, may file a suit at the Federal High Court against that candidate seeking a declaration that the information contained in the affidavit is false.’ This brings a degree of order that can prevent violence.
Citing section 47(3) of the 2022 Electoral Act states, which says “Where a smart card reader or any other technological device deployed for accreditation of voters fails to function in any unit and a fresh card reader or technological device is not deployed, the election in that unit shall be cancelled and another election shall be scheduled within 24 hours if the Commission is satisfied that the result of the election in that polling unit will substantially affect the final result of the whole election and declaration of a winner in the constituency concerned,” Timipreye said the previous electoral malpractices, disruptions and violence have been linked to the use of manual voter accreditation under usually false claims of Smart Card Reader failure.
He recalled that this was what led to violence in many states in the 2015 and 2019 General Elections.
“But with the BVAS, politicians and their parties may be realizing the futility of committed resources and time to violence and rigging, and the value of soliciting votes. He emphasized that the progressive use of electronic transmission of election results in the FTC Municipal Council elections, the Anambra, Ekiti and Osun Governorship Elections shows the possibilities of engendering credible electoral outcomes thereby preventing electoral violence,” he added.
Speaking earlier, while declaring the event opened, Tarila, noted that the NigeriaDecides2023 is possibly the most consequential national election in Africa that needed utmost monitoring and constructive intervention to mitigate or prevent armed violence and conflict that may sent the entire African subregion ablaze.
According to him, “as we know, Nigeria is struggling with different forms of insecurity and violent conflicts that may affect the credibility of the elections in some regions such as the North East, and North West where there are ongoing conflicts. Regions such as the South East also struggle with issues of insecurity associated with secessionists agitations. In the Niger Delta, armed groups still operate in rural communities.
“We cannot go into an election as important as the 2023 general elections without reflecting on these issues and how to limit their impact on our democratic process. Hence, the colloquium series provides this opportunity for scholars to use their research on these different forms of conflicts to inform policy makers and advocacy groups on why it is important to pay attention to these issues, what to do to overcome these issues and provide policy recommendations on how to improve Nigeria’s democracy,” he submitted.