FEATURE ARTICLE

Sunday, January 20, 2019
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CURBING ELECTORAL VIOLENCE IN NIGERIA

lectoral violence has become an integral part of the electoral process in Nigeria. The trend has kept evolving. At the nascent era of this democracy, the most prominent feature of electoral violence was ballot box snatching and the deployment of muscular and armed political thugs by politicians to intimidate opponents and voters.

There have been efforts in the past and even in the present times to check this menace which has assumed a monstrous status. Part of the present efforts is the training of security agencies on the best standard practices of policing an electoral process.

Recently, Centre for Law Enforcement Education in Nigeria (CLEEN) held a two-day sensitisation workshop for police officers in the Southeast in Aba on election security management for the forthcoming general elections . The workshop was not restricted to Enyimba city as it took place in other regions of the country.

The workshop provided a great opportunity for experience sharing and robust interactins on the bast way to reduce electoral violence to its barest minimum in the fortcoming elections.The Executive Director of the group, Benson Olugbuo (PhD), who set the tune of the discussions through an address read by one of the project managers, Mrs Chigozirim Okoro, the group reminded the police that the forthcoming general elections present an opportunity for Nigerians and the international community to measure and rate the standard of the Nigerian police, adding that "we expect the police to be professional in handling the elections".

" As the country prepares for general elections in a few days from now, there is the likelihood that some part of the country will experience some electoral violence as we have seen in the past," Olugbuo explained.

The group said it conducted a nationwide survey between October and December last year. The essence of the survey was to identify electoral risks that are likely to affect the 2019 general elections to enable election stakeholders, including INEC, security agencies and civil society organizations deploy appropriate responses.

While the survey examined potential security threats to the 2019 general elections across the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, it was identified that vite buying is the foremost of the fourteen factors that could generate tension or electoral violence.

Another factor identified by majority of the respondents across the 36 states that could generate electoral violence is the citizen's disaffection with government either on economic considerations or policy grounds.Also, political parties, religious extremists, cultists,and other armed groups, conduct of security agents, hate speech, drug abuse, exclusion of certain groups on the bases of age, gender and religious identity, media partisanship, were other actors likely to cause electoral violence.

In his address, Abia Resident Electoral Commissioner, Dr.Joseph Valentine Iloh, represented by Barr.Chidi Nwaubani, Senior Legal Officer,observed that "through intensive , extensive ,and aggressive mobilisation and sensitisation of the people of Abia, voter apathy was removed and a total number of registered voters in the state currently 1,933,974.

According to Iloh," It is interesting to inform our distinguished participants that Abia State registered a total number of 579, 799 after the continuous voter registration that was suspended in August,2018".

"This impressive figure placed Abia State 3rd in the whole federation after Lagos and Rivers State, respectively. This achievement was as a result of all stakeholders, including the mass media.

The commission therefore appealed to police officers who will be involved in the elections to help ensure a peaceful atmosphere,promising that the elections will be conducted according to rules and regulations governing the elections.

The commission further made disclosures that are heartening, which include the training of all election personnel who will participate in the elections. The trainees include the commission's permanent staff of different categories and ad-hoc personnel from federal establishments and youth corps members; regular meetings between the commission and security agencies to ensure a peaceful election in the state; intensive training of the security agencies for the purpose of peaceful elections in Abia.

It was disheartening to note that as at 4th January that a total of 536,338 permanent voter's cards were still awaiting collection by registrants at the 17 local government INEC offices. This issue demands urgent attention.

It will be recalled that a recent survey was conducted by CLEEN Foundation, to assess electoral risk factors in the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) ahead of the forthcoming general elections with a view of identifying early warning signals that could assist relevant stakeholders, especially INEC, security agencies and civil society organizations to deploy appropriate responses. The following factors constituted the background of the research: the 2019 general elections will mark the sixth vote since the reintroduction of democracy in 1999; the elections will follow the country's first peaceful transition of power to an opposition party; the elections will feature huge number of political parties; and the security environment is tense ahead of the elections.

The electoral risk factors identified are vote buying, godfaherism, hard drugs, hate speech, history of electoral violence, politicians, cult activities. Others are problematic party primaries, farmer/herders crisis, violent campaigns, ethnicity/religious crisis, insurgency, agitation, militancy.

The survey result shows that the top five actors with the most likelihood of causing electoral violence are party thugs(4.06),political parties (3.99),INEC(3.79), religious extremists, cultists, other armed groups (3.79),and security agents (3.78).

Also, the survey reveals that vote buying is the foremost of the fourteen risk factors that could generate tension or electoral violence.

The pertinent question is now that these factors have been identified, how do we mitigate them to ensure a reduced or free and fair general elections. Recent elections in Anambra, Osun and Ekiti states allegedly revealed that vote buying is becoming a dangerous trend in the electoral process which if not put at bay portends dangerous signal and has the capacity of eroding serious effortsto ensuring a decent electoral process. The efforts are more deployed by the opposition who have less capacity to mobilise voters.On this note, voters, should desist any temptation to mortgage their conscience and future for a plate of yam porridge.

On the hand, it is time to walk the talk. We cannot rely only on assurances from security agencies and INEC of improvements in their operations in the forthcoming elections, more so,these assurances have been received in the past. These assurances should be backed by concrete actions. All forms of partisanship should be discouraged. It is then that the bodies will be able to diffuse the impression that they are aprons tied to the strings of the ruling party at the centre.

The youths should also desist any efforts by the politicians to engage them in political thuggery. The irony is that those engaging you in political thuggery have their children cooling off in comfort homes overseas.

The integrity of Nigeria as an indivisible entity is at stake with the forthcoming general elections and all hands should be on the deck to ensure that the elections are peaceful.


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