2015: Taming The Culture Of Electoral Violence
SIGNS of election-induced violence are everywhere and the immediate challenge is how to avert it. This is the concern of West Africa Network for Peace-building (WANEP-Nigeria), which last week convoked a roundtable to unveil the report of a six-month monitoring and analysis of certain risk factors that have the potential to destabilise the polity and create widespread violence in the scheduled general elections.
According to WANEP, if the post election violence of 2011 were spontaneous, feelers in 2015 point at a lot of predisposing factors, working individually and collectively to implode the polity.
Introducing the subject, Ifeanyi Okechukwu of WANEP said the 2015 elections have shown to be Nigeria’s most polarized and worrisome in the history of elections in the country. Thus, necessitating an early appraisal of the situation in order for stakeholders to intervene.
He said; “For us at WANEP, this roundtable couldn’t have come at a better time. We stand at a time when Nigeria faces its most difficult challenge in its political history. I’m not sure I can remember or have read in its history where a Nigerian election is highly polarised, tensed and worrisome for its citizens and the world at large. Indeed, we are set to make history whatever the outcome of the upcoming elections. We can make history emerging stronger and unified with the capacity to consolidate our status as the giant of Africa or we can make history as the giant that failed to actualise its potentials with grave consequences for its continued existence as a nation and as a people.
“These are two sides of a coin predicated on the paradox of choices and destiny. Once a decision has been made on the basis of choice, we are forced to accept its outcome. If the choice is made on the basis of full understanding and awareness of the options available to us to make informed decision, then we benefit from the outcome, which strengthens our destiny. However if the choice is taken on the basis of ignorance, then we often find ourselves faced with the regret and nostalgia of what we should have done differently.”
In her presentation, Ms. Bukola Ilemobola Ademola-Adelehin also of WANEP highlighted the risk factors, which according to her were informed by a comparative assessment of the interacting factors of pre 2011 presidential election violence and current factors escalating tensions for 2015 elections.
According to her, a total of 21 broad based indicators that highlight observable actions that has the tendency to raise violent threats were developed as data monitoring and reporting tools to inform analysis and generate a trend or pattern. These were studied to see how they relate and are likely to reinforce the predictions of widespread violence during and after the elections. Some of these indicators include disruption of political rallies, negative and inciting statements by political actors, negative messages through the media, complaints over voter registration.
For this period, 26 states were observed, reported and analysed. They include; Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Benue, Nassarawa, Edo, Enugu, Imo, Kaduna, Kano, Kogi, Lagos, Niger, Ogun, Rivers, Sokoto, Taraba, Zamfara, Ebonyi, Oyo, Bayelsa, Jigawa, Borno, Delta, Ondo, Yobe.
Some of the incidents observed and reported include;underage voting, attack on female supporters, unresolved conflicts, disturbances of rival political rallies, misuse of light arms, hate and negative campaign messages, inciting statements by political actors, as well as, intimidation and harassment of opposition.
According to WANEP, inciting and negative statements by political actors reinforce violent emotions, just as personalized, ethnic or religious campaigns that denigrate or dehumanize fuels sentiments among supporters. WANEP analysis showed a correlation between the 2011 post election violence and the inciting statements of certain players. Proliferation and use of illegal arms, as well as unrestrained use of the media, traditional and social were also to blame for escalated violence.
The challenges of PVC distribution, physical attacks and defacing of party structures, polarisation of the polity along ethnic and political lines are also contributing factors to heating up of the polity, according to WANEP.
Knowing that it is only the intervention of stakeholders that could arrest the downward slide into violent prone 2015 elections, WANEP has recommended the followings:
• The National Orientation Agency needs to increase its public enlightenment on the culture of dialogue and peaceful participation in the electioneering processes as well as public sensitization on the negative impact of violence on human security and development in the Country
• Strict prosecution of persons who are culpable of incitement and disruption of public peace and safety
• Strict regulation of local arms production and control of cross border movement and proliferation of small arms and light weapons
• Utilize the renewed international good will provided through the Africa Union, the renewed Multi national joint military task force to address insurgency by Boko Haram in the North East of Nigeria
• Improve civil-military relations for enhanced intelligence gathering that supports the ongoing counter insurgency in the Northern region of Nigeria
• The leadership of the various security agencies should maintain non-partisanship and ensure they discharge their duties professionally. Militarization of elections as reported and expressed in the Ekiti and Osun State gubernatorial elections of 2014 should be discouraged.
• The National Broadcast Commission (NBC) should be alive to its responsibility of censoring recalcitrant media institutions to discourage the use of their platform for incitement into violence.
To the Independent National Electoral Commission:
• Conclude the distribution of Permanent Voters Card across the country and also address emerging grievances of eligible voters before the rescheduled election date
• Sustain consultation and information update of actions of the commission to all stakeholders to maintain trust and credibility of the elections
• Continue public enlightenment on voter education at the state and local government councils
• Increased engagement of the Inter-Party Committee (IPAC) to facilitate dialogue on non-violence between political leaders in an attempt to douse tension and get the commitment of these leaders to devolve peaceful engagements across all the structures of their party.
To the Political Parties:
• Discourage inciting statements and personal attacks against opposition by key officials using the platform of the party at all levels. They should strive to be conflict sensitive in their utterances forestall situation where their statements can be perceived or interpreted as incitement against public good.
To the International Community:
• With the absence of National or State level Peace Infrastructure to address tension and grievance during and after the elections, the international community especially the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS), and European Union should capitalize on the recent Abuja peace accord signed between Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and Gen. Muhammadu Buhari to identify and engage non-partisan, Nigerian and Non-Nigerian opinion leaders with the capacity to influence the leadership of the political parties to allow peaceful resolution of possible grievances that may arise from the conduct of the scheduled elections to reduce the risk of violent outbreak.
• In addition, they should continually reiterate the importance of free and fair election as well as the possible prosecution of violent perpetuators as already suggested by the International Criminal Court (ICC)
To the Civil Society Organizations and the Media:
• The civil society and the media must maintain non-partisanship and be the platform to reduce tension in the polity. Both should use their platform to educate Nigerian about the electioneering process, civic responsibilities, expectations and contribution in the event of a run off elections. This will reduce misinterpretation and false information tha t escalate violence
• Beyond the drive for profit, the media should use their medium to disseminate tolerance and non-violence in the election. Election in Nigeria is an emotive issue; the role of objective and neutral CSO/media will go a long way to mitigate possible violence.
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