A United States organisation, International Republican Institute (IRI), has said the violence witnessed during the 2023 Nigeria’s general elections was worse than attacks recorded during the 2019 polls.
The organisation also noted that there were about 30 reported cases of assassination or attempted assassination of candidates or party officials, and more than 24 attacks on facilities belonging to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
IRI Resident Programme Director, Santiago Stocker, stated this, yesterday, during the public presentation of Nigeria’s Election Violence Report by an election violence monitoring and mitigation group, the Kimpact Development Initiative (KDI) in Abuja.
Stocker observed that election violence increased in almost all states when compared the last few months of 2022 with the first few months of 2023.
He said: “Much of the violence in the build-up to elections was strategic, intended to cripple the ability of opposing parties to campaign in certain states, and to disenfranchise voters through the destruction of voting materials, as well as through fear and intimidation.
“Impunity remained a major issue. Property destruction, restrictions on campaigning, and vote buying, all forms of illegal election malfeasance, paved the way for widespread violence. Governors and officials of major parties, who were complicit in such activity largely escaped unscathed.
“National peace pledges failed to halt the sharp upward trend in election violence. The stiff penalties for malfeasance and violence in the 2022 Electoral Act were largely unenforced. “The international community failed to credibly use sanctions as a deterrent to violence. And, the use of strategic election violence, often along ethnic lines, not only undermined the credibility of the 2023 elections, but will cast a long shadow over future electoral contexts.”
He noted that the risks were understood in the build-up to elections, and there were many efforts to mitigate this violence.
Stocker added: “On average, election violence increased by about 13 per cent in each state. For our six states of focus, election violence also increased, but only by about 8.5 per cent. We would like to think this was, at least, in part driven by our interventions.
Kaduna, in particular, is a state that many feared would experience significant election violence, yet defied expectations, and saw no increase in election violence from 2022 — 2023.
Presenting the report, KDI Executive Director, Bukola Idowu, said a total of 238 violence and 28 deaths were recorded during the 2023 general elections.
While 98 of the total violence occurred during the February 25 presidential elections, Idowu, disclosed that 140 were reported during March 18 governorship and state House of Assembly elections.
In total, we had about 238 cases of election violence, which is spread across the country, and not good enough and each of them have their perpetrators and then also victims, we have close to 900 victims, and the same time, reported 24 cases electoral death,” Idowu stated.
Noting that the number of violence and death stressed the need for collaboration between agencies, he urged security agencies to predicate their deployment on early warning systems.
According to him, this has proven to be one of the potent ways to mitigate electoral violence based on the findings that shows that the higher the presence of security forces in a community the lower the number of electoral violence recorded.
He also called on government to give zero tolerance to illegal proliferation of arms before, during and after the elections, saying recruitment of thugs and arming of thugs played huge contributing role in electoral violence recorded in the sample states.
Other recommendations in the report included: “The CSOs and the media need to pay close attention and hugely condemn the subtle abuse of power by incumbent government who places a restriction on political groups from using public venues for their campaigns. It is increasingly becoming a major causative factor of electoral violence.
“INEC, the Police and Federal Ministry of Justice to ensure the prosecution of electoral offenders as this will serve as deterrence to other electoral offenders. This also underscores the urgent need for the Electoral Offenses Commission.
“The independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) need to rise up to the occasion to prosecute offenders involved in vote buying and selling as this will serve as deterrent for others.
Speaking on the report, INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Outreach and Partnership Committee, Professor Kunle Ajayi, said the revelation that 238 cases of violence were recorded during the election was an improvement compared to previous polls.
He assured that the commission will continue to enhance conditions that will ensure that elections across the country is peaceful.
Ajayi stated: “I have to start by commending the organizations for this very wonderful report. I must say that the general elections, as they have reported, was relatively peaceful. According to their report, from what we know the election was generally and relatively peaceful, even more peaceful than the 2019 general elections.
“The report agrees with the report of INEC and we have to commend those who made it possible. In summary, the cases reported and tracked was more lower than that of 2019. If you also look at the number of victims recorded that was also lower compared to 2019 and that is an achievement.
“One thing you should know is that there is no way you can recorded 100 per cent when it comes to violence on election day. Those who create problems will always do so even if you bring all the whole policemen in the world to that elections but in terms of trend, we have a lower number of cases that occurred this year compared to previous elections and by implications, we’ll continue to improve on that and enhance conditions that we continue to make our elections peaceful.
On prosecution of electoral offenders, he said: “I can assure you INEC is taking the issue of electoral violence seriously.