2023: Nigerians anxiously asking for violence-free election
As political campaigns intensify and enter a crucial stage ahead of the 2023 general election in Nigeria, there are concerns among stakeholders that the wave of violence could undermine the credibility of the poll.
They are, therefore, asking the contenders to play by the rule and ensure violence-free polls.
In the last few weeks, since electioneering started, there has been an unprecedented rise in the number of violent attacks on parties’ campaign trains and also on the facilities of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Observers say it is the worst possible start– one of the highest witnessed in the last two decades.
There is increasing fear among observers that with the recent amendment to the Electoral Act, to guarantee electronic transmission of results and the use of Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), measures expected to drastically check electoral fraud and give credibility to the electoral process, politicians may be looking at the next easy way out to undermine the process.
Observers also fear that part of politicians’ desperate tactics could be to engage thugs to disrupt elections in opponents’ strongholds and scare people away from coming out to vote, which would ultimately give them advantage.
There are reports that many politicians have equally threatened to deploy violence against their opponents to aid their victory at the poll.
Although some would say it is not new, as desperation among politicians to win at all cost has been fingered to be one of the reasons for the spate of violence that have characterised elections in the country.
For example, in the 2019 presidential poll, in Okota, a town in the Oshodi/Isolo Local Government Area of Lagos State, which is a stronghold of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), several touts alleged to be members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), intimidated, wounded and scared away several PDP supporters and party members from voting.
Also, hundreds of electoral materials, including ballot papers were burned and INEC officials chased away from performing their duties in the area.
Observers had alleged that it was a calculated attempt by the ruling party to undermine the process and aid their victory. As such, there are increasing concerns that a similar situation may repeat itself in several parts of Lagos and across the country.
Despite repeated assurances to Nigerians by the INEC that it was prepared to conduct free and fair polls next year, stakeholders are still concerned about the commission’s readiness and capacity for the task ahead.
Part of the fears stems from the worsening insecurity situation across the country and the after effect it would have on conducting credible polls, especially voter turnout, security of INEC officials and election materials in several violence-prone locations.
Experts say it is not an understatement to declare that the country is currently at war against itself, with the continued spate of attacks, kidnapping for ransom and killings in several parts of the country, especially in Northern Nigeria.
Nigeria’s leading political actors and political parties have been accused of being culpable; using several measures to guarantee their success at the polls, while failing to prevent their supporters and members from engaging in violent acts.
In the last two decades, the spate of violence and hooliganism has undermined the credibility of elections in Nigeria and also frustrated efforts to deepen gender inclusion.
Last week, the Federal Government noted that the spate of violence associated with electioneering ahead of 2023 poll poses a threat to the successful conduct of the elections.
National Security Adviser (NSA), Babagana Monguno, warned politicians at the quarterly consultative meeting of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) in Abuja recently.
Represented by Sanusi Galadima, the NSA, however, said security agencies were strategising on new measures to counter the rising wave of violence in the polity.
“The NSA has observed the violent dimensions of electioneering campaigns, which characterise attacks on campaign rallies, political campaign offices as well as the passing of uncomplimentary remarks and uncouth utterances among politicians which were recently witnessed in some states.
“All these signal threats to the smooth conduct of the forthcoming elections in February,” he said.
Similarly, some days ago, the United States government threatened to sanction anyone who interferes with the democratic process or instigates violence in the 2023 general elections.
The US also said it would not shy away from applying sanctions, including visa restrictions, on those found culpable of election rigging.
Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, Rolf Olson, gave the warning at the Hubert Humphrey Fellowship Alumni Association Annual Seminar 2022 on ‘Promoting Electoral Integrity in Nigeria: Prospects and Challenges’ in Abuja.
It also supported the decision of INEC to deploy the BVAS, and electronic transmission of results from the poll.
“It never ceases to amaze me how often we see comments, claims, and assertions from people in social and traditional media about what our supposed objectives are in the elections, which candidate or party we favour; how to interpret certain statements or actions of ours in terms of what it means about our intentions are perceptions.
“In reality, I think it’s quite simple to interpret us, especially when it comes to the elections. We always try to be clear in our messages, so let me be clear here on several important points: The United States does not support any individual candidate or party in this election cycle or any other one for that matter.
“Our interest is in supporting credible and transparent elections that reflect the will of Nigerian voters, in a process that is conducted peacefully, full stop,” he said.
Parts of the challenges that have hindered the smooth conduct of elections in Nigeria in the last two decades are thuggery and hooliganism, leading to the death of hundreds of political actors and their supporters.
According to the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) report, violence, violation of ballot secrecy, and harassment of voters and journalists characterised Nigeria’s 2019 general election.
The report stated that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) worked in a porous security and politically-charged environment, making the electoral officials exposed to physical attacks and intimidation.
“The elections became increasingly marred by violence and intimidation. This harmed the integrity of the electoral process and may deter future participation.
“Around 150 people died in election-related violence during the campaign period and over the election days. INEC reported attacks on its offices, and also fatalities, abductions and sexual assault against its officials.
“There were insufficient accompanying transparency measures. Other procedural weaknesses continued, including in regards to checks and transparency in the results process,” part of the report stated.
Adelaja Adeoye, a former national publicity secretary of Action Democratic Party (ADP), said: “It is the duty of INEC and the security operatives to ensure that the electorate goes to the poll without fear of harassment.
“There must be adequate security to nip in the bud all these fears of violence because this is not the first time we are going into the election.
“It is the desperation of politicians to win at all cost that is aiding the violence and killings during and before election.
“Also, because no one is held accountable, there is impunity in the country; if the law is applied people will learn.
“You know politicians always want to move one step ahead of INEC and don’t expect to see anything less next year.”
INEC offices in Osun, Ogun and Enugu have been attacked in recent times, forcing police and other security agencies to increase security surveillance around its offices across the states.
Political thugs have also attacked or disrupted rallies of opposing parties in states like Zamfara, Borno, Kaduna, among others, leading to fears that security personnel would be overstretched during the election.
Some days ago, stakeholders in Conflict Research called the attention of security agencies to the threats posed by the various conflicts ravaging the country, urging for all efforts to ensure a violence-free 2023 general election.
Ukoha Ukiwo, a professor, who is the Technical Lead of the Managing Conflict in Nigeria (MCN) Programme, who spoke recently to the media on his findings on electoral violence, said that on-going armed conflicts by different ethnic militia groups would set the tone for electoral violence in 2023.