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The Atmosphere of Elections

The Atmosphere of Elections




Elections should ordinarily be festivals of liberal democracy; but  Nigeria’s political history has recorded episodes of elections as wars. Since 1999 the war mood has often prevailed in periods of elections.

Imagine the deployment of a security team of 35,000 comprising  policemen, security agents, soldiers and para-military personnel  to secure a state for a  gubernatorial election in which fewer than 500,000 people  voted!

The security context is pivotal to the integrity of elections in two respects. The first aspect is the state of national security  before the dates of elections. The other dimension is the violence that defines elections in some locations. To be sure, while the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has the responsibility to judiciously regulate the process for the purpose of free and fair elections, it is squarely the job of the police to provide a secure  environment for elections to take place.

Doubts have been expressed in some quarters about the feasibility of the 2023 elections in the face of  worsening state of insecurity in the country. It is, for instance, obvious that no credible elections could be conducted in ungoverned  spaces. Villagers who could not  feel secure  to go to farms should be not be expected to troop out to vote on the day of election. The public attitude towards elections especially in the last 23 years has been informed by the bloody experience of process. About 1,149 persons including INEC staff and security personnel  have been reportedly  killed in electoral violence.

A panel headed by Sheikh Ahmed Lemu was appointed to investigate the massive violence that erupted after the elections of April 2011.  An Islamic scholar, Sheikh Lemu was the first Grand Khadi and Chief Justice of Niger State. His deputy was Justice Samson  Uwaifor, a former Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.  The important report of the committee issued more than a decade is quite relevant to the situation of  Nigeria today.

The Lemu report in  2011  linked electoral violence to  the general insecurity plaguing the land as follows “The  general insecurity of life and property  in people’s houses and on the highways and kidnapping are adding fuel to the fire of public frustration and disappointment… The true state of affairs could escalate to social revolution if preventive measures are not taken in time.” The report has been ignored by consecutive administrations since 2011.

Some estimates put the number of people killed in the ensuing riots after the 2011 elections at more than 800.

In 2015, the elections were postponed for some weeks  on the ground of insecurity especially in the northeast zone of the country. Mercenaries were brought in  to fight Boko Haram terrorists in some local government areas of Borno and Yobe states and to create a safe atmosphere for elections.

The climate of insecurity at present is, perhaps,  scarier than the situation in 2015 and  2019. While the elections must hold as scheduled by INEC, the stark reality of an insecure atmosphere for a credible election should not also be ignored. Whereas in 2015 the northeast was considered as the epicentre of insurgency, other parts of the country are also insecure today for elections.

The case of the northeast is such that if elections were to be held today, it might be extremely difficult if not possible for INEC officials to be deployed for the exercise.

In some areas of the northwest  the activities of terrorists pose a categorical threat to the conduct of credible elections. In the southeast, INEC offices and police stations have been targets of attacks by elements violently opposed to the idea of elections in the zone. Policemen and members of INEC staff have been killed by these criminal gangs campaigning against elections. It is clear  that adequate security efforts would be required to keep the southeast, in particular, safe for elections given the activities of violent anti-election forces.

One of the consequences of the violence associated with elections is poor voter turnout. The apathy of the electorate is partly explained by the fact the streets and polling stations are  not considered safe enough by voters. The progressive decline in voter turnout puts the legitimacy of the mandates received during elections into question despite the fact that the results meet the requirements of the electoral laws. Beyond legalism, the basis  of participatory democracy  is diminished when a majority of the electorate is disallowed  from participating in the electoral process because of insecurity.

In 2019, only 35% of the registered voters turned out to vote. That could not  be described as a celebration of democracy. 

If declining voter turnout is caused by violence before, during after elections, it would not be out place to consider it  an issue to engage the attention of all those interested in deepening democracy. Voters should be assured of a safe environment for the process in order to enhance the  credibility of elections.

Therefore, the  police should  be able to muster the capacity to secure  the process of elections. If the Nigeria Police Force is equipped to perform its functions, the periodic  policing required during elections would be readily provided by the Force as a matter of routine.  The Nigerian state should be alert to its duty of stamping out electoral violence. 

On their part, the politicians of all parties should be conscious of the implicit  civil nature of the exercise.  Civility and not warfare should be the defining features of elections. Effective campaigns and selling of competing  ideas should be employed and not guns and cudgels.

Elections are not military affairs. It is, therefore, an aberration to deploy soldiers to the streets during elections. By deploying troops to keep peace during elections, the process is being unwittingly militarised. The electoral culture should be  deliberately demilitarised. Politicians should stop involving soldiers in a purely civil process. Soldiers have been reportedly implicated in cases of electoral malpractice. Troops have been accused of being employed by politicians to intimidate their opponents. While in power, some politicians have boasted about the use of soldiers as  instruments to overwhelm their opponents. An army officer once prevented a state governor from moving into another state at the eve of election. Given the state of insecurity, the nation would be taking a great risk by overstretching its military resources to perform the duty which the police should statutorily perform in 2023.

The demilitarisation of the electoral process should begin with  stoppage of the use of martial language when talking about elections. Constituencies should be fairly won and not “captured”  by politicians and their parties. It is only soldiers who capture territories!

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