• Monday, July 15, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

How National Orientation Agency could prevent election violence

The paradox of choice

Religion, tribal sentiments, zoning, spoilers, social divisions, post-election grievances and interparty clashes have been identified as causes of election violence in Nigeria according to the United States Institute for Peace.

In 2011, Human Right Watch reported that over 800 Nigerians lost their lives due to that year’s post-election violence. The body further affirmed that over 65,000 Nigerians were displaced across a third of the states in the country. In 2015, CLEEN Foundation reported that about 58 Nigerians were killed during the pre-election crisis of that year.

After the 2015 general election, a number of states including Cross River, Lagos, Ondo, Rivers, and Akwa Ibom, among others recorded violent incidents. These incidents came with monetary costs as in most cases, property such as cars, vans and other mobile objects running into millions of naira were destroyed. In some instances, commercial centres such as shops, boutiques and neighbourhood supermarkets were looted.

Electoral violence is a manifestation of distrust in the political processes or lack of awareness of how wrong could be corrected using the instrumentality of the law.

From 1999 to date, generation elections in Nigeria have witnessed pockets of violence in many areas of the country, caused by the do or die nature of some Nigerian political gladiators, who, despite claiming to be democrats, are not ready to submit their fate to the rule of law.

With political campaigns officially kicked off, the stage is now set for the National Orientation Agency (NOA) to play its roles so that the 2023 general elections will be one of the best ever conducted in the annals of history of this country.

The major mandate of NOA is “To consistently raise awareness, provide timely and credible feedback; positively change attitudes, values and behaviours; accurately and adequately inform; and sufficiently mobilize citizens to act in ways that promote peace, harmony; and national development.”

Areas where the electorate needs sensitisation

One of the important messages NOA must pass to the general public is the importance of keeping one’s permanent voter’s card (PVC). This is the only evidence the electoral officers would require from each voter on the Election Day to be able to vote. Without the PVC, an electorate will not be able to exercise his right to vote.

In light of the above, every citizen that has a PVC must keep it very well before that day. Nowadays, it is not only for voting that PVC is used for. The card has now become an identification tool in banks and other institutions. Consequently, for anyone who does not have an international passport, driver’s license, the PVC could perform the same functions in Nigeria today.

Another issue is for the electorate to demand manifestoes from all the aspirants. First, this shows the applicants understand the challenges before them and a better understanding of how to address those problems.

Second, if an aspirant fails to fulfil his or promises, then the electorate will have the basis to reject him and his party when another election cycle approaches. Third, each aspirant’s manifesto exposes that aspirant having the best understanding of the problem at hand, and he or she that has the most cost effective ways of solving them. What’s more, the electorate can identify areas of new opportunities when an aspirant wins since he or she is expected to implement programmes in their manifestoes.

Read also: 2023: INEC urges govt, schools to create access for PWDs voting

Election violence occurs when there is a communication gap. For instance, a candidate may be leading in an election, but as long as all the election results have not been announced, it does not mean if such candidate eventually loses, he or she is rigged out. It could be the initial results announced that put him in the lead could have come from his stronghold, and when results of the opponents are announced from his stronghold, the table could turn where the initially losing candidate, will become the eventual winner. The table could also turn if the initial results announced are not regions where most of the votes from a state usually come from. Therefore, sensitisation is needed so that people will be aware of this.

In these days of high influence of social media, NOA needs to reiterate that only the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has the mandate to announce the official election results. The INEC announcement could come from its official website and authentic social media handles. Any other results should not be taken seriously.

To prevent election violence, NAO needs to let the electorate know that they must cooperate with the security agencies on election duty, especially at the polling booths nationwide. They are there to maintain law and order, and consequently, the electorate must give them their maximum cooperation.

Political parties and their aspirants need orientation as well. They need to be careful of their choices of words, manners of communicating their programmes to the general public and the actions of their followers. Actions such as destroying opponents’ posters, billboards and preventing the opposition from holding political rallies must be highly discouraged. The ideal thing is for such actions to attract severe penalties such as heavy fines.

The spectre of tribal and religious sentiment has been raised by politicians who lost out during the primaries conducted by all the political parties. These are volatile tools that could cause humungous destruction whenever it breaks out, it is now expedient for NOA to intensify efforts towards having hitch free elections in 2023.

Above all, NOA should conduct a survey of how best to prevent election violence in known hot spots in Nigeria. This is because the factors that caused election violence in the previous election cycles might not be the same again in 2022 through 2023.

For instance, this is the first time we are having a presidential election that international election observers suggested might go into a runoff. In other words, a clear winner might not emerge during the first round. Should this prediction come to pass, this will be the first time it will be happening in Nigeria since 1999.

Election violence increases the cost of governance through extra budgetary provisions for the security agencies, and payment of compensation to victims of violence. It also discourages foreign investment inflows into the country. This is why NOA must be fully involved this time around.