Lagos, Kano, Rivers among flashpoints as election draws closer

...Stakeholders urge governments to act

Lagos, Kano, Rivers, Kaduna, Ebonyi and Imo have been listed as the states with high violent attacks since electioneering began in October 2022.

This was contained in a report released on February 10, 2023 by the International Crisis Group (ICG), titled, ‘Mitigating Risks of Violence in Nigeria’s 2023 Elections.’

The report said: “The widespread tensions suggest that election violence could break out in many parts of the country, but the danger looms larger in some states than in others.

“These are states with the following characteristics: where the stakes are high, where long-running ethnic or religious feuds persist, where outgoing governors are seeking to install handpicked successors and where unpopular incumbents are running to be re-elected for a second term. Based partly on these criteria, but also on other factors, the risk is likely greatest in six states – Lagos, Rivers, Kano, Kaduna, Ebonyi and Imo.”

According to the ICG, several factors heighten the danger of violence.

It said: “First are persistent security challenges across large swathes of the country. These include Islamist insurgents – Boko Haram and the Islamic State West Africa Province – in the North East, bandits as well as herders and farmers at loggerheads in the North West and North Central zones, Biafra separatists in the South East and criminal gangs in the Niger Delta.

“These challenges are affecting election preparations and could disrupt the vote in many places, thus raising the risk of post-election protests that could degenerate into street clashes or worse.”

Stakeholders have lamented government and security agencies’ seeming failure to deal with the situation and bring perpetrators to face the law.

In recent weeks, various organisations have warned of looming violence in the polls, if urgent measures are not taken by the federal government and security agencies.

SBM Intelligence, a geopolitical Intelligence platform, has also warned if the insecurity threat across the country remains unchecked, it could deter people from coming out to vote. It said more Nigerians are willing to vote in 2023 general election, which is seen with the rise in Permanent Voters Card collection,

Since the commencement of electioneering, beginning with the flag-off of the presidential and National Assembly campaigns by political parties on September 28, there has been a spate of violent attacks.

These are either inter-party rivalries or attacks on the facilities and offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Last Saturday, suspected political thugs allegedly attacked supporters of the Labour Party presidential candidate, Peter Obi, in Lagos State on their way to the party’s presidential rally at the Tafawa Balewa Square.

Last November, the convoy of Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was attacked in Maiduguri, Borno State.

In Lagos State, the campaign train of the PDP gubernatorial candidate, Olajide Adediran, popularly called Jandor, was attacked during his campaign tours of Badagry, Agege and Surulere Local government Areas.

Similarly, in the last few months, many INEC offices have been burnt mostly in the South-East and South-West.

INEC is visibly worried about these ugly trends, which it said could jeopardise the general election if not tamed.

The commission had expressed worry that even as it was working hard to ensure a credible process in the forthcoming elections, there were reports of clashes among parties and their supporters in some states of the country at the ongoing campaigns.

Mahmood Yakubu, the INEC chairman, had also lamented the reported denial of access to public facilities for parties and candidates in some states of the federation.

Yakubu said those acts are not only violations of the Electoral Act 2022 but also negate the voluntary commitment by all political parties and candidates to the letter and spirit of the Peace Accord signed under the auspices of the National Peace Committee.

Yakubu had expressed worry that if no urgent and decisive steps were taken, the attacks would intensify as the election date approaches, saying: “A peaceful campaign heralds a peaceful election, hence the need to take decisive steps to stem the ugly trend.”

Speaking recently, Babagana Monguno, the national security adviser (NSA), said his office recorded 52 cases of violence across 22 states within the first three months of campaigns.

The NSA said the violent clashes at the campaigns were bad signals, warning that he and other security agencies had been given marching orders by President Muhammadu Buhari to ensure rancour-free polls.

Ladipo Jhonson, the spokesperson of the New Nigeria Peoples Party’s presidential campaign, described the violence attacks as a continuation of the intolerance exhibited by the ruling party and their members in some states, including Lagos, adding that it was dangerous for democracy.

He said: “It was no surprise when I heard of the attack on some of the supporters of the Labour Party on Saturday in Lagos, purportedly by hoodlums who support the ruling party.

“This was quickly followed by a video on social media, which showed an area of Lagos Island which had been ransacked by hoodlums apparently led by one of the party.

“The ladies in the video said they had been attacked due to the fact that they do not support a particular party.

“This deplorable behaviour is a continuation of the intolerance exhibited by the ruling party; from physically attacking (sometimes with guns) those putting up opposition party posters to pulling down the said opposition party posters and threatening residents of certain areas for not supporting the APC.

“I condemn the despicable behaviour of these touts who seem to enjoy the support of their political party.”

Kunle Okunola, a political analyst, said the rising violence shows “our polity is yet to mature and develop to address rising challenges facing the people”, adding that violence would cause voter apathy.

He said: “Political violence has been identified as one of the hindrances of the development of politics in the Third World, particularly Nigeria.

“There has never been any election cycle since 1999 that the process does not witness electoral violence either before, during or after the election. And this had really negatively affected the nature of the Nigeria state.

“The level of violence in the electoral process would be determined by how the political actors comport themselves in the face of their supporters and how they are able to mind their political language before, during and after election. The language and messages deployed by the actors often cause violence that they may not know how it will end.”

Adelaja Adeoye, a former national publicity Secretary of the Action Democratic Party, blamed the current situation on the desperation of politicians to win at all costs, adding that it could lead to low turnout in the polls if not checked.

He said: “The level of violence going on now is condemnable; it just tells you that we have not moved from where we are. If you think you are popular and you can win, why resort to violence? Nobody has a monopoly of violence; you can see what happened when the PDP faced them recently in Surulere.

“But let me say the tension in the country is also a result of government policies. People are upset and angry; my fear is that if the government doesn’t act, it may discourage people from coming out to vote. Personally, I am worried because it seems the authorities don’t know what to do or don’t want to take action.”

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