By Abubakar Jimoh
Nigerians are gearing up for the 2015 general elections but not without fear of possible widespread political violence. In fact, some political analysts and observers have predicted pervasive violence considering a similar experience which transpired especially in most northern part of the country in 2011.
However, citizen must be optimistic that this forecast, even if it occurs, could be snappishly averted through adequate preparedness and response by the relevant agencies. At least, such brouhaha is not entirely a new circumstance to actors in especially emergency management business in Nigeria.
There is the need for voters to exercise relevant pre-emptive measures to counter the notorious prediction, which allegedly was earlier predicted by United States, saying that the world is expecting a disastrous meltdown of the Nigeria come general elections.
Just as electoral violence in transition and fragile country like Nigeria requires understanding the broader landscape of the conflict and how such can effectively managed, the ability of a country to successfully conduct non-violent elections is a vital indicator of the consolidation of its democracy and a necessary condition for free and fair citizen participation in the electoral process.
Warring about the persistent level of electoral conflict in Africa, in 2011, Prof. Jendayi Frazer, Director of the Center for International Policy and Innovation (CIPI) at Carnegie Mellon University, argued that in Africa, with its high degrees of societal and cultural diversity, and relatively weaker mediating institutions, electoral violence remains a crucial challenge that requires deeper investigation and collective action to address.
Similarly, addressing a coalition of over 60 civil society organizations in Abuja, recently on their role in ensuring electoral integrity, Former Secretary-General of the United Nations and Chairman of the Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security, Mr. Kofi Annan Annan bemoaned that many elections that were conducted across Africa within the past two decades gave democracy a bad name.
Annan urged Nigerian leaders to think about the next generation rather than focusing on winning the next election at all cost, warning them to be careful with their language to avoid post-election violence, which he described as the bane of elections in Nigeria since 1999.
The fact given by Anna alludes to the earlier observation by African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes when it revealed in 2010 that Electoral violence was a sub-category of political violence, which deserved special consideration from the policy community, noting that electoral violence had received increasing international attention in recent years due to the devastating effects of outbreaks of violence in Kenya, Zimbabwe and Afghanistan around elections.
It is on this note that we commend the effort of the National Emergency management Agency (NEMA) in collaboration with security services has step up efforts to avert electoral violence and ensure elections are peacefully held in all states. NEMA also has in place ‘Operation Ceto Maza’ involving joint military operation against humanitarian disasters across the North.
Managing and preventing electoral violence, five main strategies have been recommended by African Centre for Constructive Resolution of Dispute. These are the presence of monitors through naming and shaming mechanisms and awareness creation on rising tension; employing mediation in high tension situation to solve an ongoing election-related dispute; the legal framework and institutional design provides basis for combating impunity and for creation conditions discouraging violence; law enforcement highlights the deterring functions of security forces; voter-focused strategy emphasis the importance of long term prevention through the cultivation of democratic and tolerance in the society at large.
In its own part, International Crisis Group, a platform working to prevent conflict worldwide advised the government to heighten effort to contain the ongoing conflict in the north east and ensure elections are held in all states, particularly by strengthening security services, improving coordination with state governments and implementing regional security arrangements in concert with neighbouring countries.
The group also urged the government to publicly direct the heads of the Nigeria Police Force and other security agencies to act lawfully and impartially with all parties and individuals participating in the elections.
It has become imperative for all political candidates to avoid inflammatory rhetoric, publicly denounce violence. They must respect rules, in particular the Code of Conduct for Political Parties, pursue grievances through lawful channels, and respect party constitutions and particularly allow democratic candidate selections.
Regional, ethnic and religious leaders can organise national, regional, ethnic and inter-faith public forums to jointly and publicly commit to non-violence, and establish channels of communication and contingency plans to respond to large-scale communal violence.
Like the recent ‘Abuja Peace Accord’ signed by the Presidential candidates, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is expected to sustain efforts to build relations with all parties, particularly opposition parties, including holding constant consultations to increase confidence and ensure transparent relations with all parties, individuals and civil society.
Strengthening security strategy is essential ahead of the elections through training and retraining programmes for security personnel to understand their roles and responsibilities including capacity building to gather information, monitor developments and analyse threats before, during and after the elections. All forms of threats can be contained when security agencies neutralize relationship with all parties and apply exemplary sanctions against erring officer who fails to comply.
A famous Nigeria writer, Waziri Adio argues in support of the above in a recent piece, where he said, “…it is very important not to lose sight of the critical roles of INEC and the security forces in the conduct of credible and violence-free elections. When INEC officials arrive polling centres on time and with adequate materials, conduct elections in open and transparent manner and tally results accurately (as it did commendably in Ekiti and Osun states this year), it is easier for losers to come to terms with, and accept, their loss.
“When security agents provide the enabling environment for transparent and peaceful polls, rather than acting as partisans, this strengthens the perception of fairness and reduces the room for bad losers, and when they are positioned to act swiftly when violence breaks out, the situation can be contained. For me, averting Armageddon rests mostly on the conduct of INEC and the armed forces. And please, let’s stop parroting the line that violence is inevitable in 2015. It is not.”
In order to avert the likelihood of conflict, media must avoid live broadcasts or more general coverage of potentially inflammatory content. As recommended by Electoral Commission of Zambia, during the electoral process, media must be judiciously deployed to play three distinctive roles including watchdog, voter education and peace building. Certainly, hate speech must be understood and addressed outside of the narrow context of the media. Rather than giving attention to hate speech, media must be deployed to discourage sensationalism and promote objective, analytical reporting.
Media should be deployed as watch dog to expose errors of commission or omission by those in power in their pursuit to cling to power at all cost; alert citizens to electoral malpractices so that they may be rectified; expose manipulation of citizens through the distribution of bribes and other illegal niceties in the ongoing campaign; educate citizens through stories that adequately explain Nigeria’s socio-economic and political realities; encourage eligible registered persons to collect their Permanent Voter Card and cast their vote for the candidates of their choice during elections; expose parties and candidates that instigate or have the propensity to cause violence and alert the citizen appropriately; condemn the proliferation of defamation and hate speech in campaigns aimed at altering our national cohesion negatively; and explain to the people, the importance of their participation in all aspects of electoral process.
The media and civil society have the responsibility to strive to explain to the electorate, in clear and simple language, national, regional and universal pieces of legislation and other regulations governing the proper conduct of democratic elections; put citizens’ views to candidates and report their responses back to the citizens so that they know and understand their potential leaders; provide diverse view points and unbiased information, offer forum for debate involving political candidates and citizens to ask critical questions as related to national development projects; engage more actively with youth leaders especially in poor urban and rural areas, strengthen participatory early warning and early response systems, and raise timely alerts of possible violence.
More importantly, the ongoing presence of European Union Election Observation Mission (EOM) in the country is a welcome development. European Union has deployed observer missions for longer periods before and after the votes to independently monitor electoral process more comprehensively.
Abubakar Jimoh is the National Coordinator Youths Against Disaster Initiative (YADI)