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VIOLENCE AND THE GENERAL ELECTION
Politicians should strive to play by the rules and make the elections cheerful
For decades, elections have always been a major source of insecurity in Nigerians as many of our politicians usually resort to desperate means either to access power or to retain same. The ongoing campaigns ahead of the 2023 general election provide ample illustration of such desperation. The attacks have not only been between and among politicians across partisan divides, but the personnel and assets of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) have also been at the receiving end.
The forthcoming elections present an opportunity for the nation to demonstrate to what extent it has internalised the fundamental principles of democratic engagement in the last 24 years. Over the years, many violent cults and criminal gangs have owed their origins to political campaign organisations. It is also a fact that most of these notorious criminals usually graduate from motor parks to political thuggery before eventually venturing into the more lucrative business of robbery, kidnapping, and banditry. Which is why it is always laughable when politicians declare their endless ‘wars’ against those felons considering that there is a nexus between do-or-die politics and organised crime in the country.
Part of the expected benefits of the Peace Pact recently signed by the major contenders in the forthcoming elections is decorum in the use of language during campaigns, as well as visible indications that there would be no recourse to violence on the day of voting. Despite their pledge, available evidence suggests that all is not well, in terms of solemn commitment to such ideals. That is why we enjoin these politicians to caution their supporters against the use of intemperate language and indiscreet public commentary that could inflame passions and sow the seed for violence before, during and after the elections.
The 2023 polls will come and go but the ideals of responsible citizenship will suffer if Nigerians are made to believe that there are no rules of engagement in the matter of competition for public office. The diminution of hallowed offices in the land, as well as the unnecessary bitterness and hate that would arise and linger long after the votes have come and gone, portend ill for peace and national unity. What should not be lost on critical stakeholders is that there is a thin line between the use of inappropriate language in the run up to an election and the use of physical violence during the actual election.
Despite praising the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for introducing the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and Result viewing (IReV) portal which have “boosted citizens’ trust and confidence that the elections will be transparent and the belief that the votes will count towards determining the winner of the election,” the Cleen Foundation is nonetheless worried by the increasing violence. It is perhaps in that context that one can understand the unfortunate decision to shut down universities in the country because of the “concerns expressed on the security of workers, students and properties of our respective institutions”. Yet Nigerians are voting to elect their leaders and not going to war.
To forestall a breakdown of law and order, some of the recommendations by Cleen Foundation include reliable and actionable intelligence gathering measures, robust strategic communication posture to counter violent incentives and narratives while enjoining the personnel to be deployed for the elections to be professional and transparent in their engagement with all stakeholders. Providing equal protection and level playing ground to all contestants and voters alike to ensure that no one is unduly harassed and suppressed is also important. “Names of security personnel deployed for election duty should be visibly displayed on their uniform”, Cleen suggests.
Meanwhile, we condemn the current hysteria being whipped up by politicians and their supporters. We do not believe that an election should generate the kind of desperation that we have witnessed in recent weeks, and we hold our politicians responsible for it. The greater challenge lies with the federal government whose officials must demonstrate the requisite capacity to deal with any national security threats that may arise before, during and after the 2023 polls.