In Nigeria electoral violence, low turnout is now a trend

Quadri Yahya 

In the early hours of Friday, Dec. 16, 2022, Christopher Elehu was murdered in his hometown in Imo State.  The politician was contesting to represent his people in Onuimo local government area state constituency in the National Assembly.

His death is one in a hundred in Nigeria. 

Persons in the local area suspected that the killers were assassins hired to terminate the political ambition of Elehu. 

However, while the Police in the state said it was investigating the murder, political violence has already claimed the lives of 165 innocent people in Nigeria, according to a report by Kimpact Development Initiative, a non-governmental organisation working to advance good governance and democratic rights. 

The report covers election violence in 2022. It reveals that Nigeria recorded 339 incidents of election violence that year. 

The data released by KDI shows that Nigeria recorded 2,175 incidences of violence last year. Of the total, 1,636 were non-electoral violence incidents while 339 were electoral violence incidents.

With 99 reported incidents, Nigeria’s south-west has the highest incidences of election violence followed by south-east 77; south-south 56; north-central 54; north-west 32; and north-east 21.

On Saturday, February 25, Nigerians went to the polls to elect the successor to President Muhammadu Buhari and members of the National Assembly.

“This election is unique because we have seen a surge and awakening of young people who are interested in this election,” said Bukola Idowu, the executive director of KDI.

While in Lagos State, electoral violence and suppression of the electorate reign, Twentyten Daily captured not less than 50 cases of insecurity and electoral violence across the country. 

The violence disenfranchised an unknown number of young people in the just concluded election; and until another four years, the civic right is on hold. 

This is occurring in a country where at the dawn of the Fourth Republic, 58 million Nigerians registered to vote, but in the Presidential elections, 30 million voted, which is 52 per cent of the voters’ turnout. This increased to a whopping 69 per cent in 2003. The downfall trend started in 2015 election that brought in President Muhammadu Buhari with only 37.5 percent voters’ turnout, the 2019 general elections, recorded 28,64, 910 of the 82, 344, 107 registered voters voted, making a paltry 35 per cent and a further downfall occurred in 2023 of the 87.2 million Nigerians who collected their PVCs and were eligible to vote, only 24.97 million voted, which is equivalent to 29 percent.

The tenet of Africa’s largest democracy is not strictly adhered to as voter apathy in elections results in the emergence of a relatively popular candidate.

Voters’ apathy and Fatalities 

Partisan violence has escalated along ethnic and sectarian lines, resulting in multiple rounds of revenge killings, the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), a disaggregated data collection, analysis, and crisis mapping project explained. 

The magnitude of electoral unrest was recorded at its highest in 2011 when clashes between supporters of two parties claimed an estimated 800 lives.  Likewise, hundreds are reported to have died during the following elections in 2015 and 2019.

Killings, thuggery, and attacks on contestants and unarmed party members as well as electoral umpire’s facility have been the tales of grassroots politics all year round; and on the actual voting day, snatching of ballot boxes and suppression reign.

Unarmed civilians were the target of violence in around 80% of the events recorded by ACLED, accounting for approximately 75 of the nearly 100 reported fatalities arising from events between February 2022 and February 2023.

The violence has also cost the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission. The Commission has recorded 50 election-related violence on its facilities across 15 states. 

No fewer than 1,149 Nigerians have been killed in three years, officials said.

An ambitious politician, Mr Oyibo Chukwu was burnt to death in Enugu East some days before election day.  The suspected political killers shot five fellow democratic citizens dead inside Mr Chukwu’s car. They are yet to be apprehended. 

And the more perpetrators go scot-free, the more residents eschew voting rights.

In the concluded election, 93.4 million are registered voters, but the total votes that saw the emergence of a presidential candidate is less than 9 million. 

“Over the years, electoral violence has been on the increase,” Mr Idowu added. “It is almost impossible to have an election without violence. It is not acceptable because the election is a civic affair, not a military affair.”

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