As campaigns heat up and the elections approach, concerns are emerging over fears of violence in the country affecting prospects for the successful conduct of the polls but also the growth of specifically election related violence. It is clear that insecurity is one of the most serious concerns for voters in the country and the level of violence in many parts of the country will make it very difficult to organise election logistics and many a voter would think twice about the risk of stepping out to vote. Violent extremism by Boko Haram continues in the North East and parts of North Central Nigeria while terrorism organised by bandits has become a normal part of the political landscape in the Northwest zone. In the South East, violence associated with the separatist IPOB movement continues and the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway has become a favourite route for kidnappers. Almost nowhere is safe.
There has been good news from the security agencies in recent weeks about their invigorated attacks against armed insurgents, militants, bandits and kidnappers and numerous reports about the killing of many of the perpetrators of violence. Our hope and prayer are for more success by our police and armed forces in this battle so that insecurity will reduce to a level where successful elections can be organised. Beyond the elections, ultimately, we must return to normality in this country so that people can sleep in their houses with both eyes closed and travel around without fear of being killed or kidnapped.
A few weeks ago, a number of foreign missions issued alerts warning their citizens against traveling around the capital Abuja and even evacuating non-essential personnel. The terror alerts led to increased tension around the capital and some malls and institutions closed for some time. Although the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno and the Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor dispelled concerns over the alleged terror threat, describing the alert issued by the United States and the United Kingdom as needless and irresponsible, nonetheless concerns of Nigerians deepened.
What has been of even greater concern is the repetition of incidents of verbal and physical attacks between politicians whose intemperate language and verbal attacks on their opponents are encouraging their supporters to engage in physical violence against other candidates. Motorcades have been pelted with stones and rallies attacked by thugs. There is rising desperation among some of the contestants that this is their last chance to power and they must win by hook or crook.
There is also growing concern that in some states, certain candidates are regularly denied access to the media, rally grounds and meeting halls. Such action is illegal and it is important that the police and INEC take swift action to sanction such behaviour. In 2011, Nigeria witnessed massive post electoral violence in which over a thousand people were killed. Partly in response to that development, in 2014, a non-governmental organisation, the National Peace Committee (NPC) led by former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, and Bishop of the Catholic Church of Nigeria, Matthew Hassan Kukah. The leadership of the NPC has been recently expanded and includes the Sultan of Sokoto, HRH Sa’ad Abubakar III, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Mr. Femi Otedola, Dame Priscilla Kuye, Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, John Momoh, Idayat Hassan, Gen. Martin Agwai (rtd) and Justice Rose Ukeje (rtd). Their core mandate has been to get the political class to sign and abide by a peace accord, long before the elections.
In September 2022, ahead of the flag-off of campaigns for Nigeria’s 2023 general elections, the NPC announced that all the 18 political parties on the ballot would sign two peace accords. The first Peace Accord was signed at the International Conference Centre, Abuja on September 29. In their communique, the National Peace Committee announced that: “2023 is more than an election. It is an opportunity to serve Nigeria, to defend Nigeria and to uphold her unity and progress…Nigerians should avoid the spread of fake news and uphold the principles of tolerance, respect, civility and decency in all public and private conversations and engagements about elections and the progress of Nigeria. All political actors, especially their publicity agents and media advisers, should shun personal attacks, avoid insults and incitements; reject the spread of fake news and commit to issue-based campaigns and political rallies in the upcoming 2023 general elections”. This must be adhered to.
Meanwhile, the United Kingdom (UK) says it is watching closely all political parties, security agents or individuals that act violently or incite people through social media in the 2023 general election. The British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona Laing, stated this when she led a team to a meeting with the National Working Committee members of the Peoples’ Democratic Party earlier this week. Ms Laing said that the 2023 election is very important to Africa and the world, hence the spotlight would be on Nigeria and the UK will be watching closely. She said the UK had been really concerned about the recent events, including 52 election violence-related issues in 22 states, including an attack on the PDP convoy in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital. “That is a real concern and we want to exchange our thoughts on what you can do as a political party to ensure that the election is as peaceful as possible.” She added that: “We will also be watching closely any individual who acts violently or incites people through social media; we do have the possibility of using our visas as sanction by removing Peoples rights to visit the UK.” If our political class really values their UK visa to the extent that such a threat could make them modify their political behaviour, then we have to welcome this move.
This should also be a warning to the young Nigerians that are often used to perpetrate violence that the political bosses who fund and push them into such behaviour have their visas and are ready to check out of the country immediately the situation they have provoked gets out of hand. We all have a stake in a free, fair, credible and violence-free election so let’s ensure that is the outcome that emerges from the process.