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2023: Presence of IPOB, ESN, Amotekun may spark post-election violence –US institute

By Sodiq Omolaoye, Abuja
10 December 2022   |   4:09 am
Ahead of the 2023 general elections, an international delegation of National Democratic Institute (NDI) and International Republican Institute (IRI), have expressed concern over the activities of separatist groups...

Ahead of the 2023 general elections, an international delegation of National Democratic Institute (NDI) and International Republican Institute (IRI), have expressed concern over the activities of separatist groups and informal security outfits in the South East and South West.

The United States-based institutes specifically noted that while the secessionist agitation by Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) might depress voter turnout, the proliferation of informal security elements, such as Amotekun in the South-West and Ebube-Agu in the South-East would further increases opportunities for post election violence.

The delegation of the NDI/IRI stated these while presenting its second joint pre-elections assessment statement to journalists in Abuja on Friday.

The assessment conducted from December 4 to 9, 2022 was built on the first assessment mission, which visited Nigeria in July 2022.

The delegation included, Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, Ambassador Michelle Gavin; Commissioner at the Electoral Commission of South Africa, Judge Dhaya Pillay; Programmes Director of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, Ellen Dingani; IRI Director for Africa, Gregory Kearns and NDI Deputy Director for Central and West Africa, Dr. Sophia Moestrup.

The organisations observed that a major concern affecting most parts of the country is insecurity driven by extremist and sectarian violence, banditry, the rise of separatist elements and the proliferation of informal security forces.

According to them, in addition to attacks by various violent armed groups, election-related violence in Nigeria has increased significantly over the past years.

The organisations disclosed that in 2022, the country experienced more than twice the level of election violence experienced during the same period prior to the 2019 elections.

They noted that despite most presidential candidates signing the first peace accord facilitated by the National Peace Committee, there have been at least 50 reported incidents of electoral violence, occurring across 40 local government areas in 24 states.

The institutes observed that the security challenges, if left unaddressed, could negatively impact the credibility of the polls and increase the risk of post-election violence.

The organisations said: “The delegation notes consensus among stakeholders that insecurity is the primary risk factor for the 2023 elections. Nigeria is facing record levels of insecurity in 2022 and conflict has become more geographically widespread and more complex.

“Increasing banditry and attacks by Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) in the North East and North West threaten to undermine logistics and strain capacity to secure elections. Continuing conflict between herder militias and farming communities drives displacement and exacerbates sectarian tensions in states that are likely to be key electoral battlegrounds.

“Secessionist agitation by IPOB)/Eastern Security Network (ESN) in the South East threatens to depress voter turnout. If the election is perceived to be illegitimate, the group could gain significant traction, and potentially become directly involved in post-election violence.

“The proliferation of informal security elements – such as Amotekun in the South West and Ebube-Agu in the South East – further complicates security and increases opportunities for election violence and malfeasance.”

While commending the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the introduction of the bimodal voter automated system (BVAS), the institutes warned that, “if there were to be widespread malfunction of the BVAS machines as occurred with the smart card readers in 2015, it could undermine the perceived legitimacy of the elections and spark violence.”

Saying that although Nigeria has witnessed a surge in registration of young people, the organisations said there are still significant barriers for young people and other traditionally marginalised groups to participate in the electoral process as candidates.

According to them, the overall percentage of women running for elections has declined from 13 percent in 2019 to 8.9 percent in 2023, a development the institutes described as a disappointment for Africa’s largest democracy.

While urging the INEC to clarify how underage voters, double registrations and any other criteria that would result in a voter being removed from the voter roll will be handled, they called on the commission to conduct national stress tests of the BVAS machines and the IReV system to ensure they are prepared to function effectively on election day across more than 176, 000 polling units.

They added: “INEC should complete surveys of internally displaced persons camps in all states, and provide clear guidelines on the process by which IDPs, including those not living in IDP camps would vote in the election.

“Candidates and political parties should adhere to the principles in the peace pledges facilitated by the National Peace Committee ahead of the elections, and refrain from engaging in, or encouraging violence against electoral opponents. Political parties should also sign a second peace pledge to renew their commitment to peaceful elections and to sanctioning supporters who commit electoral offences.

“All presidential candidates should commit publicly to accept results of credible elections while grievances arising before, during and after the elections should be channeled through the appropriate legal process.

“Security forces should proactively identify wards at high risk of strategic election violence and focus their resources on these areas.”