Connect with us

General News

Political Violence and the 2023 Nigerian Election



Political Violence and the 2023 Nigerian Election

On 25 February 2023, Nigerians will elect a new president, vice president, and members of the National Assembly. Term limit legislation bars President Muhammadu Buhari from running for a third term, and the end of his presidency marks the longest democratic stretch since independence. Eighteen candidates are vying for the presidency, and at least 4,223 candidates are running for the 469 seats in the National Assembly.1 The presidential frontrunners include Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the incumbent All Progressives Congress (APC), Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and Peter Obi, the Labour Party (LP) candidate who has surprisingly led in the pre-election polls. Two weeks after the national election, on 11 March 2023, 28 out of 36 states will also elect a new governor, with 17 incumbent governors reaching their term limits and hence barred from re-running.

The 2023 Nigerian elections are, therefore, a watershed moment in the country’s democratic history, opening up competition for federal and state legislative positions to a wide array of candidates without a designated incumbent for those roles. The electoral contest, however, takes place against the backdrop of fierce tensions between political parties and a series of overlapping security crises that affect all regions across Nigeria and the regular conduct of elections. Candidates, election officials, and politicians have been violently targeted in the run-up to the elections. Party militias, criminal gangs, and other armed groups have engaged in violence to suppress opponents, deter rival candidates from running, and influence the electoral process. The electoral campaign has also further polarized the political and media environment, with numerous allegations against partisan outlets and political candidates refusing to attend media engagements.2 Some candidates are accused of inciting hate speech and stoking inter-communal tensions, at risk of escalating violence in a country with a long history of electoral violence since its independence in 1960.3

Since the beginning of the electoral campaign, ACLED has monitored the impact and dynamics of political violence in Nigeria through the Nigeria Election Violence Tracker, an interactive resource created in partnership with the Nigeria-based Centre for Democracy & Development (CDD). This report finds that political violence in the run-up to the 2023 election is largely in line with the levels observed before the 2019 election, increasing close to the election date. Yet, rising violence targeting party supporters and electoral officials, as well as activity by regional and criminal groups, point to possible vulnerabilities in the aftermath of the vote. This report assesses three patterns of election violence: the impact of violence between party supporters and against candidates; attacks on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) offices and staff; and the involvement of regional security outfits and criminal gangs. In the concluding section, the report identifies the risks of further violent escalation in the aftermath of the elections.

A Long History of Party Violence

The electoral process in Nigeria has coincided with a surge in violent events involving political parties, with the movement to democratic rule followed by spikes of additional insecurity every four years. Violent incidents carried out by and against supporters of political parties have spiked each election year since 1999 around national and state elections. During previous election cycles, partisan violence has escalated along ethnic and sectarian lines, resulting in multiple rounds of revenge killings. The magnitude of electoral unrest was recorded at its highest in 2011 when clashes between supporters of the then-ruling PDP and the Congress for Progressive Change – which later merged into the APC – claimed an estimated 800 lives following the election of President Goodluck Jonathan.4 Likewise, hundreds are reported to have died during the following elections in 2015 and 2019.5

Ahead of the 2023 polls, candidates and leaders of 18 political parties agreed in September 2022 to sign a peace accord committing to a peaceful campaign. According to the leader of the National Peace Committee, the accord calls on all parties to refrain from using “violence, incitement and personal insults” against opponents, which has marred electoral campaigns in recent years.6 Politicians, including agents of the state, have often been held responsible for promoting hate speech against rival candidates and ethnic and religious communities.7 In turn, the mobilization of armed militias, gangs, and state security forces at the behest of local elites is intended to depress voter turnout and maximize vote shares in key battleground constituencies.8

In the 12 months preceding the election, ACLED records over 200 violent events involving party members and supporters, resulting in nearly 100 reported fatalities. These numbers are largely in line with the run-ups to the previous two election years, with over 150 events and more than 100 reported fatalities between 2018 and 2019, and an estimated 115 events and over 90 fatalities between 2014 and 2015 (see graph below). The South East (46 events) and the South West (45) registered the highest number of violent events involving party supporters before the 2023 election, followed by the South South (38) and North Central (32) areas. Nearly one in 10 events took place in the battleground state of Osun, where both the PDP and APC have traded allegations over inciting violence against their rivals.9 Half of the violence involving party supporters in the 12 months before the 2023 election involves direct, organized attacks against civilians, followed by mob violence and abductions.

Unarmed civilians were the target of violence in around 80% of the events recorded by ACLED, accounting for approximately 75 of the nearly 100 reported fatalities arising from events between February 2022 and February 2023. Attacks against prospective candidates, party supporters, and local apparatchiks were a common occurrence during this period, including in areas where Nigeria’s overlapping security crises exacerbate threats to the physical security of politicians. In one such case, gunmen described as “bandits” killed an APC ward chairman in Kaduna state in April 2022.10 For the most part, however, these attacks remain unclaimed. Unidentified armed groups were responsible for at least half of all violence against party members in the run-up to the vote, suggesting that the perpetrators of this violence can often act with impunity.

Members and candidates of Nigeria’s biggest political parties – the APC and PDP – were among the most frequent targets of this violence. In one of the deadliest reported incidents thus far, the PDP candidate for Ideato North and South federal constituency in Imo state was killed in his residence in Akokwa community in January 2023.11 In some cases, women politicians were the victims of electoral violence. A former PDP leader in Abia state was among four people killed in Ohafia Local Government Area (LGA) in March 2022,12 while an LP leader in Kaura LGA of Kaduna state was murdered in November after gunmen raided her house.13

Disclaimer: No copyright infringement intended. All rights and credits reserved to respective owner(s).

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *