For immediate release
Distinguished members of the press. It is my pleasure to welcome you to this press conference on the assessment of the security threats to the forthcoming general elections in Nigeria. CLEEN Foundation which has been committed to the promotion of safety and security, human rights and access to justice in Nigeria consider it important to disseminate to the public through you some of its findings on the security threats to the elections. CLEEN commissioned researchers across the six geopolitical zones to examine the security situation in relation to the elections and make recommendations for the successful conduct of the elections. Some of the recommendations are critical towards minimizing the security threats for a more credible and violence-free election.
The frequent serious attacks on security agencies, installations and infrastructure in recent months are highly worrisome and condemnable. The pattern of recent attacks on security facilities and INEC infrastructure is suggestive that they are facilitated by criminals who are bent on pushing the country off the cliff. The law enforcement agencies need to take measures to prevent further attacks to boost the confidence of voters before, during and after the general elections. It is important to note that as recorded by INEC the recent voter registration has recorded the largest number of voters registered in the history of our elections and we are afraid that resources might be wasted if criminal attacks, threats and intimidation through violence and hate speeches lead to voter apathy. We are aware that this is the first time that INEC is enhancing the significant introduction of technology into the elections, and this comes with its own challenges. Surveillance and intelligence gathering are some of the sophisticated methods that law enforcement authorities must continue to sustain to tackle security challenges before, during and after the general elections. The threats to the elections need must be addressed to counter all attempts at undermining the country’s effort towards consolidating democratic governance.
CLEEN Foundation is worried over the unhealthy and divisive verbal attacks, hate speeches and criminal attacks on police, INEC offices, which if not firmly addressed may pose serious challenges to the elections, peaceful coexistence and unity of our beloved nation. From the northernmost point of the country to the southernmost tip, across the wide expanse of the east-west sweep, Nigeria is experiencing challenges of security, poverty, homelessness, joblessness and, some may even say, hopelessness. Ordinarily, political conversations and electoral campaigns should focus on the solution to these challenges.
CLEEN Foundation commissioned studies across the six geopolitical zones in Nigeria to map out key electoral risk factors peculiar to each geopolitical zones using the Election Violence Mitigation Tool (EVMT) of the Electoral Institute of INEC developed to track electoral risk factors with the potential of impacting negatively on the peaceful conduct of elections in Nigeria. The findings were complemented by secondary sources of information on public safety and security of the citizens, election-related violence across the country and attacks on INEC and security facilities.
Analysis of the Nature and Trend of Threats to the 2023 General Elections
This section highlights some of the key findings of the study. It leverages information from other secondary sources to give further insights into the findings. The study identified the following public perceptions as well as factors most likely to cause electoral violence during the 2023 general elections in Nigeria:
- Expectation of Peaceful elections:
Generally, majority of Nigerians expect the elections to be peaceful despite many of the states having a history of electoral violence. The build-up to the 2023 general election has been characterized by several factors that generated so much positive interest as well as increased tension in the polity. On the positive side, the signing of the electoral Act 2022 into law that enabled INEC to introduce the of Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) has generated a lot of public interest, especially among the youths who turned out to register in large numbers to participate in Nigeria’s forthcoming elections. The motivation for the youth seems to be their faith in technology and the promise of transmission of election results from the polling units to the INEC Result viewing (IReV) portal. These measures seem to have boosted citizens’ trust and confidence that the elections will be transparent and the belief that the votes will count towards determining the winner of the election.
- Weaponization of Poverty: There is the fear that politicians will exploit the high rate of poverty in the country to secure votes. The majority of the respondents believe that the 2023 general elections will be determined by the party with the highest financial power to buy votes on election day. The respondents’ fear over the use of money is informed by the actions demonstrated during the primaries of the political parties when delegates were allegedly induced with payments in foreign currencies.
- Vote-trading in past election
Vote buying has become a recurring problem in Nigerian elections. Political parties, in some cases and many places, induce voters with money and other material items during elections. For instance, during the 2021 gubernatorial elections in Anambra, Ekiti, and Osun States, it was alleged that the three leading political parties lured voters with N6,000 and N10,000 to vote for their candidates. The increasing rate of poverty in the country would predispose more voters to sell their votes in the coming election. As shown in Figure 1 majority of the respondents, about 47.18% believed that vote-buying would have a high impact on election security, 24.65% opined that the impact would be moderate while 7.75% were of the view that the impact would be low.
- Effect of difficult geographical terrain on election management
There are certain locations across the country with very difficult geographical terrain that would impact negatively on election management. In Anambra State, for instance, riverine locations like Anambra East and West LGAs may be difficult to access by election stakeholders and would serve as flashpoints for violence during the elections. Similarly, perceptions from the South-South region of the country also suggest that riverine areas/communities can pose a threat to the smooth conduct of the elections considering the safety of creeks and waterways where elections will be conducted. There are also border communities and communities under the influence of bandits in northern Nigeria that we are worried for due to accessibility and insecurity.
- Political Thuggery: Majority of Nigerians perceive the activities of political thugs as recipe for violence during the 2023 general elections. The formation of foot soldiers/army by political parties is an ugly development that needs to be checkmated by the security agencies to avert violence that could impede voter turnout thereby affecting the credibility of the elections and may induce voter apathy which is capable of impacting on the election day.
- Poor knowledge of the content of the 2022 Electoral Act: there seems to be to be a perception of indaequate knowledge of the electoral act. The inadequate knowledge of the Electoral Act among the public and to some extent by some of the various stakeholders on the election will most likely cause election violence. There is no intensive sensitisation on the roles of Voters, Party Agents, Security agents, Media, Civil Society Organizations and INEC on election day.
- Failure of BVAS Machine: A key factor identified as capable of triggering violence is either the failure or attempts to tamper with the Bi-Modal Verification and Accreditation machine which will hinder the smooth conduct of elections at the polling unit. The majority of the people were of the opinion that BVAS failure/malfunctioning is an easy trigger for violence. Data shows that over 70% of respondents perceived that the failure of the BVAS machine may cause/lead to a likely cause of election violence.
- Lack of Transparency in the Election Results: The study finds that any lack of transparency in the elections, accreditation, voting and declaration of results either at the polling units or other stages may lead to violence. The majority of the respondents seem to believe that most citizens know little about the INEC Results Viewing Portal (IReV) that enhances the transparency of elections.
- Misinformation/Disinformation by Social Media: The rate of misinformation and disinformation on social media is very high, especially among the youth. This is made worse by the re-echoing of the attacks by political opponents, misrepresentations of facts, ethnic profiling, demonization of persons, distortions, misinformation, disinformation and hate speeches. These pose threats to the peaceful conduct of the elections. The dissemination of fake news, deliberate distortions and hate speeches may trigger violence before, during and after the elections.
- Access to Unsecured Polling Units: The dearth of security personnel to provide security at all polling units across the country is a source of concern. Some of the polling units are situated in difficult terrains, characterized by high levels of insecurity either from the numerous bandit gangs or their terrorist/insurgent supporters. This portends a threat to electoral materials, ad-hoc staff as well as the entire election management bodies. More so, as some of the bandits and their terrorist collaborators are opposed to elections.
- Abduction of Electoral Officials and Voters: There is the fear that some desperate politicians, bad elements and bandits may attempt to abduct electoral officials either to undermine the elections or for criminal gains. Election officials could be seen as high-value targets for a bargain with politicians/parties or the government. Party officials and candidates may be targeted by kidnappers as they are expected to return home from their various places of work and business to cast their votes.
- Snatching of Election Material: The snatching of both sensitive and non-sensitive election materials in previous elections has been identified as a factor that may trigger election violence. An attempt by voters to resist thugs or desperate politicians could result in violence which may affect the fortunes of other parties/candidates leading to post-election litigation and undermining the credibility of the elections. Some of the voters may protest attempts to disenfranchise them through the snatching of sensitive and non-sensitive election materials. The risks associated with this crime is against the backdrop of the incidents of banditry, terrorism, criminal youth gangs, cults and political thuggery across the country.
- Hate/Inciting Speech: Since the commencement of electioneering campaigns, there has been increasing hate and inciting speech, by some political parties. These have been featured during town hall meetings, at campaign rallies, as well as on conventional and social media. Such unguarded outbursts by politicians can heat up the polity, incite violence and jeopardize the peaceful conduct of the elections. Campaign rallies are deviating from enlightening the voters on party manifestos and intentions into avenues for attacks, character assassination and accusations.
- Proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons: Given the security challenges in the country, there is the threat of violence during the elections as there is the proliferation of small arms and light weapons. The porous borders, inadequate security personnel and increasing rate of rural criminality have created unfettered access to unlawful arms and ammunition in all regions. These weapons are visibly seen in most of conflict-prone areas. There is every tendency that assault rifles, Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) as well as home-made weapons: guns, daggers, bows and arrows, swords, knives, cutlasses, etc. could be used to intimidate voters. Already, as pointed out by experts, political campaigns and rallies are often attended by thugs, wielding deadly locally made but sophisticated weapons.
- Activities of State and Non-State Security Actors: Militarization of the election environment could cause fear, anxiety and even intimidation of voters that are already terrorized by non-state armed groups. Moreover, most states across the country have recruited and are still recruiting local vigilantes, a move some experts view as a mechanism for the intimidation of opposition party members. Thus, the list of the potential risk factors as mentioned by experts in both the qualitative and quantitative parts of the research are numerous, but not limited to the following; youth and political thuggery, vote buying, the role of informants, politicians-bandits collaboration and access to illicit drugs.
Other risk factors identified include; Intra-party conflicts, Partiality and corruption of agencies – security, judiciary and INEC officials, Availability and use of hard drugs, Violent campaigns: Denial of campaign venues and destruction of billboards and posters.
To mitigate possible violence will require a nuanced understanding of the politics in Nigeria and respond to some of the key concerns of the people. In line with the foregoing, recommendations that would improve the credibility of elections in Nigeria include:
For Federal and State Governments
- The federal and state governments should provide a level playing ground to all political parties and contestants by ensuring that state resources are not deployed in ways that provide undue advantage to a particular candidate(s).
- The federal and state governments should provide a favourable environment for the media, CSO’s and election observers to perform their duties without fear or favour during the elections.
- Should demonstrate independence and impartiality in all phases of the election by ensuring that technology-driven electoral devices such as the Bimodal Voter Registration System (BVAS) and the Election Result Viewing Portal (IReV) are adequately deployed to enhance the credibility of the electoral process.
- Strict compliance to Section 95 (1-2) of the Electoral Act which forbids the use of political campaign slogans tainted with abusive language directly or indirectly, likely to conjure religious, ethnic, tribal or sectional feelings and the use of abusive, intemperate, slanderous or base language or insinuations or innuendos designed or likely to provoke violent reactions or emotions in political campaigns.
- We urge religious leaders to abide by the provision of Subsection 3 of the Act which emphasized that “Places designated for religious worship, police stations and public places shall not be used for political campaigns, rallies and processions or to promote, propagate or attack properties, candidates or their programs or ideologies.”
- INEC should strengthen the capacity of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security to enhance electoral security at sub-national levels.
- Transparency at all levels by granting the media, CSOs and general public all the necessary information required at every point in time about the electoral process.
- Needs to ensure adequate measures are put in place to avoid logistical hitches that would undermine the credibility of the elections. To this end, sensitive materials must be properly deployed and protected from unauthorized access. It should collaborate with stakeholders to make special arrangements to deploy materials to hard-to-reach areas with difficult topography.
- Should partner with security agencies to design and deliver the detailed capacity building on Hostile Environment Awareness Training (HEAT). The HEAT course will prepare participants – permanent staff, ad-hoc staff, and vendors, etc – to better understand and react to safety and security incidents in hostile environments.
- The electoral Commission should ensure that all registered voters collect their PVCs so as to ensure free, fair and credible elections
For State Security Agencies:
- Security units should be strengthened at the INEC offices and polling units through well-coordinated of security personnel.
- Should conduct effective joint operations to disrupt activities of groups that seek to undermine the conduct of credible elections. The importance of reliable and actionable intelligence in this direction cannot be over-emphasised.
- Should evolve a robust strategic communication posture to counter violent incentives and narratives.
- Should endeavour to be professional and transparent in their engagement with all stakeholders during the elections. Security agencies should provide equal protection and level playing ground to all contestants and voters alike to ensure that no one is unduly harassed and suppressed. Names of security personnel deployed for election duty should be visibly displayed on their uniform.
For Political parties:
- Political parties and their candidates should not just sign and commit to a peace accord but comply with its spirit and the letters.
- Political parties should encourage their candidates and supporters to shun hate speech during their campaigns.
- Agents of political parties deployed for election duties must be adequately trained on how to avoid electoral offences and equally be personally responsible for their actions during the elections.
For Media and CSOs:
- We call on the media in the spirit of Section 102 of the Act, to shun any “candidate or person or association who engages in campaigning or broadcasting based on the religious, tribal or sectional reason for the purpose of promoting, opposing a particular political party or the election of a particular candidate.”
- We encourage the media to avoid publishing or airing political adverts, advertorials and sponsored political news that seek to create hatred or incite violence; reject any material intended for publication or airing by parties, candidates and other interests that contains hateful or inciting words and messages; refrain from publishing or airing abusive editorial comments or opinions that denigrate individuals or groups on account of disability, race, ethnicity, tribe, gender or belief.
- The media should abstain from spreading fake news, misinformation and disinformation in all phases of the election. All information must be verified and fact-checked before posting
- CSOs should deepen engagement with the public by participating in the exercise of voter education, campaigning for non-violence and advocating for an increased voter turnout.
For the Citizens
CLEEN Foundation is encouraging Nigerians to conduct themselves in line with the law and come out to exercise their civic duty without bias.