A Publication of Center for Peace Advocacy and Sustainable Development (CEPASD)
An election is a formal process by which a population – an electorate chooses a representative or several individuals to administer the group’s affairs. Elections are not just the casting of votes to elect leaders, but also the active participation of the people in governance to ensure the sustenance and survival of democracy. Elections are carried out in democracies, which is a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives. In modern democracies, supreme authority is exercised for the most part by representatives elected by popular suffrage.
Elections are influential to the outlook and outcomes of a government post-election. The stability of the judiciary, the parliament, and the executives highly depends on how elections are carried out and perceived. It is argued that elections that are properly implemented and considered inclusive, free, and fair to the population set the pace for good governance – where a government fulfills the terms of the social contract with the people. Good governance is a fundamental right in a democracy and it implies transparency and accountability. It entails an administration that is sensitive and responsive to the needs of the people and it’s effective in coping with emerging challenges in society by framing and implementing appropriate laws and measures that include strict rules of accountability among other things like participatory and transparency.
Election violence manifests prior to, during, and post-election. It is a situation in which there are a lot of conflicts emanating from the conduct of elections; that must be dealt with quickly so that the situation does not lead to political and democratic instability. Research from the African context suggests that harassment and intimidation are more common than lethal violence, which occurs anyway (Straus & Taylor, 2012). Election violence disrupts free competition and undermines political participation but promotes mediocrity. Doing so creates potential disaffection, resentment, and animosity that heat up the political system.
As a major source of democratic instability, election violence manifests palpable threats of deconsolidation. Democracy and peace are, ideally, mutually reinforcing, with elections serving as the connecting cord between them i.e. they are inter-connected. (Omotola, 2010).
Trend and current outlook of election violence in Nigeria
In Nigeria, one major characteristic of every election period since the return to civilian rule in 1999, and even long before then in previous electoral regimes dating back to independence is the presence of violence by political actors pre, during, and after elections. It has become a constant feature of Nigerian politics from time past and driven into the 21st century even with the measures put in place by peace actors to reduce and eliminate such violence during these times, such as the signing of peace accords in recent elections.
Nevertheless, these commitments to peace before and after election time have been significant but never been enough. This is so, majorly because politics is seemingly the most profitable sector in Nigeria and the stakes are extremely high. Consequently, violence erupts by political gladiators and their motivated agents to manipulate the electoral process, undermine or neutralize opponents and their supporters, and performance at the poll.
With the 2023 general elections in view, stakeholders are still clamoring for a peaceful electioneering process. The facts suggest their prayer requests may need urgent answers as the threat and menace of violence that have marred elections for decades are on the rise just a few days to the election.
ACLED reported that in the 12 months preceding the 2023 elections, over 200 violent events involving party members and supporters, resulting in nearly 100 reported fatalities have been recorded. Notable, unarmed civilians have been the target of this violence with 80% of the fatalities arising from events between February 2022 and February 2023. Also, ACLED highlighted that the electoral body in Nigeria (INEC) has also been a target as 44 violent incidents have involved INEC offices and staff between January 2021 and February 2023. Election violence no doubt poses a significant threat to the 2023 general elections and to Nigeria’s democracy and good governance as a whole.
Implications of election violence to democracy and good governance in Nigeria
The employment of elections to select leaders ought to provide a nonviolent alternative to the use of force to adjudicate between rival claims to rule, and it ought to be a mechanism that allows citizens greater say over how they are governed. But in practice, these expectations often fail to conform to reality. Elections in Nigeria are fraught with violence during the campaign period, on polling day, or in the aftermath of voting.
This violence hampers effective political competition and participation. This is so that only those that pose a threat to persons become the main players. As such, the democratization process de-institutionalizes others to become mere onlookers, instead of acting as the primary stakeholders of democracy.
There are also implications for overall insecurity and its attendant effects on smooth governance and overall development. Some notable security implications include the collapse of public order, the large number of internally displaced persons (IDPs), and the militarization of the state. For example, in the aftermath of electoral violence in prior Nigerian elections, there was a collapse of public order in some volatile states which led to the deployment of the military and mobile policemen to the area. The sense and reality of insecurity pre, during, and after elections in Nigeria deters development as it scares potential investors away and halts internal socio-economic activities. The newly elected administrator also finds him/ herself more focused on handling post-election conflicts and violence instead of providing governance that will stimulate growth.
Mitigating electoral violence in the 2023 general election in Nigeria
There are a series of ways election violence could be mitigated to strengthen democratic governance in the 2023 election and subsequently. They include constitutional amendment; electoral reform; pressure from civil society groups through agenda-setting; change in the character of the elite; political education, and so on.
Positive and negative incentives must be applied to change the choices of germane actors. To ensure security, a balance between deterrence and confidence building has to be found. Restraining political parties from undertaking unwanted actions or transgressions such as ballot fraud, voter intimidation, or violence is needed. The use of domestic and international election observation missions can retrain political parties from violence.
Monitoring and education are activities that need to be carried out on a long-term basis through political education and by providing relevant actors with information about the election process, and the implications of supporting or violating that process. Political education is the conduit-pipe through which the political, cultural values and behavioral patterns of the society are operationalized to achieve political socialization. In any case, since Nigerians tend to be very religious, religious books accentuate the necessity for procurement of knowledge as an apparatus for guiding and girding against the guiles of the foe in all societies, Nigeria inclusive.
Therefore, there is a need for Nigerians to have a fore and deeper knowledge of causes, indicators, scopes, implications, and methods of controlling the phenomenon. Since education has been recognized as the launch pad of a nation-state’s growth plan, political education forms a herculean task for several agents of education in Nigeria; namely: the family; peer groups; schools; religious institutions; civil society organizations, and the fourth estate of the realm (the mass media). For schools as agents of socialization and social change, the necessity to detest all forms of violence must be integrated into our school curriculum. The political education that the pupils and students would receive will both in the short and long term deepen our political culture and socialization processes. Also, policies and programs that are based on informational interventions offer people information that can transform their behaviors, and the transformation in those behaviors can shape new conduct. For example, civic and voter education campaigns.
Political parties could profit from contesting elections without violence if they could be guaranteed that all contending parties would also abstain from violence. Given this dexterity dilemma, INEC interventions might mitigate election violence if they help parties coordinate a commitment to nonviolence through peace pacts or pledges. For example, issuing codes of conduct between political parties.
Social norms are the informal, unwritten rules that define suitable, acceptable, and mandatory actions in a community. People anticipate social rewards or antedate social punishment for upholding or flouting a norm. The electoral system needs reforms that will ensure the timely trial of electoral offenders and improve the capability of democratic institutions in ways that improve elections and democratic governance. INEC interventions can push people to adapt to a norm (nonviolent approaches to negotiating disagreements) or swerve from it (violent approaches to negotiating disagreements), for example, peace messaging and town hall discussions.
Adopting interpersonal contact is one of the most effective methods to decrease predisposition among groups who harbor hatred toward one another. These intergroup enmities include partisan political divisions. By being in contact and communicating with one another, the groups enjoy the opportunity to appreciate their differences. This boosted understanding of ‘the other’ is postulated to check stereotyping, discrimination, and prejudice between groups during elections. For example, the use of inter-party discussions and multi-party liaison committees.
Insecurity is a severe challenge to a sustainable violence-free election, especially in the face of rising societal insecurity infiltrating the polity. It should be noted however that care should be taken on the level to which the military personnel are involved in elections so that the entire process is not militarized and another problem unintentionally created. Also, post-election expressions that are capable of enflaming the public must be checked through legislation. More importantly, the INEC and other stakeholders in the electoral process in Nigeria must show a high level of commitment toward free, fair, credible, and transparent elections in Nigeria.
International Republican Institute (2021), Six Approaches To Preventing And Mitigating Electoral Violence: A Review Of Evidence From Africa
Omotola, J.S. (2008). Explaining Electoral Violence in Africa’s “New” Democracies, Revised Version of a Paper Presented at the 27th Annual Conference of the Nigerian Political Science Association (NPSA), Electoral Reform, Political Succession and Democratisation in Africa, held at Benue State University, Makurdi, Benue State, Nigeria. Pp.16-19.
Straus, S. & Charles, T. (2012). Democratization and Electoral Violence in Sub-Saharan Africa, 1990–2008, in Dorine A Bekoe (ed.) Voting in Fear: Electoral Violence in Sub-Saharan Africa. Washington, DC: USIP Press, 15–38
About the authors
⦁ Paul is a Research Fellow with CEPASD
⦁ Etukudoh Faith is a Finance Intern with the Partners for Peace in the Niger Delta and a Research Associate with Sustainability Pathways for Africa.
⦁ Yetunde is a Research Fellow with CEPASD
⦁ Sola is a Research Fellow with CEPASD
⦁ The article was compiled and edited by Dr. Chukwudi Njoku – the Capacity Building Coordinator of PIND Foundation’s Peacebuilding Program. Chukwudi is also the co-founder of Sustainability Pathways for Africa and published by Center for Peace Advocacy and Sustainable Development (CEPASD)