Avoiding electoral violence

A former Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi, has lamented that the forthcoming general election has filled him with ‘fear and trepidation’, noting that in his experience of monitoring elections, he had never been filled with this kind of fear. Akinyemi urged politicians to watch their utterances.

He said, “Since I have been monitoring elections in Nigeria, I cannot remember any elections that filled me with so much dread and trepidation as these forthcoming elections. Not even the riotous 1965 federal elections. And we all know the results.

“As a scholar in international relations, I cannot but bring to the attention of Nigerians the significance of the latest development in Venezuela where the international community, under the United States, has accorded recognition for the opposition leader as the alternative president as their reaction to what was perceived as a flawed election. This is promoting regime change by another route. This is the beginning, not the end of the Venezuelan nightmare. Nigeria should, by all means, avoid a repetition of the Venezuelan nightmare in Nigeria.

“Therefore, I appeal to the political leaders to call on their supporters to eschew violence and any undemocratic behaviour during these elections”.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has assured that all would be well, despite the reality that violence should ordinarily be expected in the run-up to elections, during elections and post-election. Before now, the United States Government had equally expressed concerns that the forthcoming general elections are likely to be marred by violence. It said the conduct of the elections could have major consequences for the democratic trajectory of Nigeria and the entire African continent. 

The U.S. warned that public disturbance that the elections would likely cause might not be “large-scale nationwide conflict” but “localised violence.” The U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs, Tibor Nagy, stated this in his presentation during the U.S. Congress hearing on the forthcoming elections. 

Nagy, a member of President Donald Trump’s administration and his lead foreign policy adviser for Africa, said the Department of State agreed with the view that the elections would serve as critical test. “I can tell you from my impressions during my travels and my previous service in Nigeria that I fear there will be some violence around these elections, as has been the case with previous elections.

“I do not anticipate large-scale nation-wide conflict, but rather localised violence. We are already seeing increased tensions and polarisation as the election approaches. We assess that politicians are turning to narratives of identity politics in an attempt to improve their popularity, with potentially serious consequences for national unity”. 

He added that the US government took the risk of any loss of human life during the elections seriously. He listed states that might experience violence during the elections by assessing potential ‘hotspots’ for violence, we look at places that are historically volatile around the elections.

“We regularly engage with civil society organisations working in these ‘hotspots’ and support their peace-building efforts. USAID programmes and our public diplomacy campaigns also support peace campaigns across the country, such as #VoteNotFight. Through our YALI Network Nigeria campaign, Nigerians have made over 10, 000 pledges to boost voter participation, reject violence and vote with integrity.” 

On expectations and concerns, Nagy stated that the US government was monitoring and messaging to mitigate a few key areas of risk that could jeopardise the process. He also listed the areas of concerns to include potential attacks on the legitimacy of the INEC and the electoral process for political gain, intimidation and partisanship by security forces, heightened insecurity, terrorist attacks on electoral institutions and violence towards voters, observers or electoral officials.

Other issues observed include the inability of sizeable number of Internally Displaced Persons or persons with disabilities to vote, voter suppression, the use of armed gangs for voter intimidation as well as widespread vote buying that challenges the quality of the electoral process. Nagy had warned that the U.S. government would be watching closely for instigators of violence or those planning to undermine the democratic process, noting that the U.S. was helping Nigeria to strengthen its democratic institutions and processes through diplomacy and robust public engagement, insisting that the U.S. does not support any candidate, but only “supports a democratic process that is free, fair, transparent, peaceful, and reflects the will of the Nigerian people.”

To avert violence in the elections, security agencies must be alive to their responsibilities by curbing any transgression. They should also shun partisanship or any compromise that could weaken them. Politicians should conduct themselves well and appeal to their supporters to be orderly. Unnecessary provocation should be avoided. The media should be ever active by monitoring events and serving as the watchdog against any form of violence, irregularity and criminality. Local and international observers should go about their tasks without constituting a clog in the wheel of process by taking sides or becoming unnecessarily over-bearing at this time. 

It is only hoped that we would truly have a violence-free poll.

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