For Nigeria to have peaceful, credible and transparent elections in 2023, the current security threats must not be overlooked, a report by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change has indicated.
According to the report released by Audu Bukarti, a senior fellow of the institute, there are additional threats in 2023, with the biggest among them being the violent activities of several non-state armed groups that seem determined to drag back the country’s vulnerable democracy.
The report stated that Boko Haram, which has attempted to disrupt past elections and has expanded its operations since the last cycle, remains a threat while others – the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and “bandit” gangs – have emerged with sophisticated and lethality that should raise concerns.
It said past experience showed that an election can be a trigger for violence, with the potential for widespread social unrest.
According to the report “this risk is heightened by the selection of presidential and vice-presidential candidates drawn from the same faith as well as the spread of disinformation on social media.”
On banditry, it said: “Violence orchestrated by organised criminal gangs has been escalating in northwest and north-central Nigeria since 2016.
“With an estimated 30,000 militias divided across 100 distinct groups, these bandits have killed more than 20,000 people in the past ten years, extorted millions of dollars in ransom and displaced millions from their homes after destroying villages.
“These gangs, who initially targeted rural communities, have also dramatically expanded their operations to encompass major towns, highways and infrastructure, such as train lines and military targets, while their methods have evolved to the use of heavy weapons, including anti-aircraft missiles and explosives.”
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The report suggested that Nigerian security, law-enforcement and intelligence agencies should use the few months left before the February election to push back violent groups and secure vulnerable communities as well as liberate those already seized.
It also said Nigerian security and law-enforcement agencies should carefully balance the need to redeploy troops and resources for election monitoring with the continued focus on containing violent groups across the country.
“The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the police should maintain impartiality; violence often starts with allegations of bias and rigging that involve the electoral body and the police.
“The reputation of INEC and, to an extent, the police, for maintaining neutrality during elections has improved over the past few cycles, but this professionalism needs to be maintained.
“The INEC should expand its voting system for internally displaced people to ensure their participation in the election. The election peace accord should be expanded and respected: The National Peace Committee’s (NPC’s) peace pact for presidential candidates should be cascaded down to candidates for governorships and parliamentary seats.
“To achieve this, the NPC should partner with credible community-based and civil-society organisations (CSOs) in each state.
Tech companies should monitor election-related fake news,” the report stated.
It maintained that peaceful, credible elections are vitally important, not just for Nigeria’s future stability, but also for the continent’s wider adoption of democratic process.
The report said, a violence-ridden voting season could undermine the progress Nigeria has made since 1999 when the country returned to democratic rule, and it will boost the forces of division and instability.
“In the months leading up to the election, Boko Haram and IPOB are likely to attack election infrastructure, materials and officials while bandits may target officials for kidnap-for-ransom.
“These groups’ activities are likely to disenfranchise millions of people who have been displaced from the villages in which they are registered to vote. It will also mean that campaigning activity and the holding of elections in villages could be compromised as a result of safety concerns,” the report said.