Elections, the hallmarks of democracy; also serve the purpose of peaceful change and political legitimacy on the government.
However, the conduct of elections in Nigeria is often fraught with animosities and violence, failing in the process to satisfy the test of popular participation and legitimacy.
Electoral seasons more than anytime else reveals the fragility and soft underbelly of the Nigerian state. The country’s electoral history is replete with narratives of flawed and disputed elections that turned violent, resulting in numerous fatalities and reversing attempts at democratic consolidation.
The 2019 presidential and national assembly elections are not different from the narrative of violence and wide spread killings that has plagued the Nigerian electoral system after the assurances given by security agencies and prominent stakeholders in the build up to the elections.
It would be recalled that on December 10, 2018, the presidential candidates of the frontline political parties signed a peace pact symbolizing good faith that they would not do anything to cause violence during and after the elections.
The chairman of the National Peace Committee, former head of state, Abdulsalami Abubakar, said the committee decided to organize the peace signing in order to ensure peaceful conduct of all elections in the country.
Despite these peace building efforts, the Presidential and National Assembly election was characterized by a high level of violence and killings. And it has since been judged by pundits and some Nigerians as the “most violent” presidential election ever conducted since the reception of democratic rule in Nigeria.
This is worrisome as we strive to uphold democratic tenets and remain on the global stage as a nation that respects the rule of law and the lives of its citizens. But with the outcome of the elections, it is saddening to see that we are projecting a negative image of our country to the international community.
With killings, in Rivers, Bayelsa, Lagos, Akwa Ibom, Osun and Imo States, one will be tempted to ask how significant the deployment of security agencies to various states for the nation was.
Report issued by the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, stated that no fewer than 39 Nigerians lost their lives in the last 48 hours of the election. The situation Room also said that it had documented cases of 260 politically motivated deaths from the beginning of political campaigns in October 2018 to February 32, 2019.
Presenting his report to journalists in Abuja on Monday, the Executive Director, Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre and Convener, Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, Mr. Clement Nwankwo said, “We are however disappointed by the serious lapses observed with the conduct of the presidential and National assembly elections held on Saturday 23 February 2019. Despite the elections being conducted against a background of an earlier postponement on February 16, 2019, on grounds of logistics challenges, it still suffered from major logistic lapses.
“Additionally, the election was marred by violence, security lapses and instances of overreach. Other challenges include compromised INEC officials as well as partisan security operatives. Conduct of major political parties was disappointing”, he said.
The issue of violence and political killings, in the elections would have been averted or reduced if certain signals were adequately dealt with. The deployment of hate speeches and threats of violence that characterized the period leading to the general elections should have been properly dealt with as there seemed to be a deliberate plot to foist a culture of violence and intolerance on the polity.
This demonstration of hostility amongst political camps in the country reflects a deep-seated aversion for the fairness that underpins democracy. There is no doubt that the conduct of the electioneering process posed serious threats to lives and property.
In Taraba State, the All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential campaign according to media report, recorded no fewer than five deaths when the convoy of Governor Darius Dickson Ishaku came under heavy attack by suspected political thugs.
In Edo State, campaign posters belonging to parties were destroyed with claims and counter claims by the two major parties. In Rivers State, the war of words between the political gladiators in the state heightened tensions as residents perceived a violent electoral contest. This demonstration of intolerance among politicians heated up the polity and resulted in the violence and killings that characterized last Saturday’s Presidential and National Assembly Elections.
The proliferation of arms prior to the general elections remains one of the remote causes of the violent outcome of the elections. Since the 2003 elections, arming of supporters has become an election tool and as in previous elections, political patronage is often behind the formation of insurgent groups towards the time of elections in order to seek undue advantage over their political opponent.
The killing of an APC stalwart and former Chairman of Andoni Local Government Council, Rivers State, Mr. Monwon Etete by unknown gunmen on Saturday is a sorry pointer to the fact that the election was marred by violence and requires a genuine will and effort to tackle this issue.
With the Governorship and State House of Assembly election scheduled to hold next week, measures should be put in place to curtain incidences that may lead to violence nationwide. Security agencies need to restrategize and be very true to professionalism and in no way express a semblance of partisanship or patronage.
The commitment to peaceful polls on March 9th should not end on the table. Adequate security arrangements should be put in place to ensure that the country is not plunged into a round of crisis due to the inordinate ambition of some politicians and security contractors.
The Inspector General of Police, in collaboration with other security agencies should carryout investigations on all political actors who instigated or perpetrated violence leading to the needless loss of lives. And also deal promptly and decisively with security agents who compromise their responsibility.