Two United States-based Democracy institutions – the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and International Republican Institute (IRI) – have expressed concern about the activities of separatist groups and informal security outfits in the South-east and South-west of Nigeria, warning that they could be recipes for election violence in 2023.
An international delegation of the NDI and the IRI raised the alarm in Abuja on Saturday while presenting its second joint pre-election assessment statement on Nigeria’s approaching 2023 elections.
According to them, while the secessionist agitation by Indigenous People of Biafra might affect voter turnout because of apathy, the proliferation of regional security elements, including Amotekun in the South-west and Ebubeagu in the South-east would increase opportunities for election violence.
They observed that a major concern affecting most parts of Nigeria is insecurity driven by extremist and sectarian violence, banditry, the rise of separatist elements, and the proliferation of informal security forces.
According to them, in addition to attacks by various violent armed groups, election-related violence in Nigeria has increased significantly over the past year.
The organisations disclosed that in 2022, the country experienced more than twice the level of election violence experienced during the same period prior to the 2019 elections.
The NDI and NRI said despite most presidential candidates signing the first peace accord facilitated by the National Peace Committee, there have been at least 50 reported incidents of electoral violence, occurring across 40 local government areas in 24 states.
The institutes observed that the security challenges, if left unaddressed, could negatively impact the credibility of the elections and increase the risk of post-election violence.
The report reads, “The delegation notes consensus among stakeholders that insecurity is the primary risk factor for the 2023 elections. Nigeria is facing record levels of insecurity in 2022 and conflict has become more geographically widespread and more complex.
“Increasing banditry and attacks by Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province in the North-east and North-west threaten to undermine logistics and strain capacity to secure elections. The continuing conflict between herder militias and farming communities drives displacement and exacerbates sectarian tensions in states that are likely to be key electoral battlegrounds.
“Secessionist agitation by IPOB/Eastern Security Network in the South-east threatens to depress voter turnout. If the election is perceived to be illegitimate, the group could gain significant traction, and potentially become directly involved in post-election violence.
“The proliferation of informal security elements such as Amotekun in the South-west and Ebubeagu in the South-east further complicates security and increases opportunities for election violence and malfeasance.”
The NDI/IRI, however, commended the Independent National Electoral Commission, for the introduction of the Bimodal Voter Automated System.
The institutes warned: “If there were to be a widespread malfunction of the BVAS machines as occurred with the smart card readers in 2015, it could undermine the perceived legitimacy of the elections and spark violence.”
While saying that although Nigeria had witnessed a surge in the registration of young people, the organisations said there were still significant barriers for young people and other traditionally marginalised groups to participate in the electoral process as candidates.
According to them, the overall percentage of women running for elections has declined from 13 per cent in 2019 to 8.9 per cent in 2023, a development the NDI and IRI described as a “disappointment” for Africa’s largest democracy.
While urging INEC to clarify how underage voters, double registrations and any other criteria that would result in a voter being removed from the voter roll will be handled, they called on the commission to conduct national stress tests of the BVAS machines and the IReV system to ensure they are prepared to function effectively on election day across more than 176,000 polling units.
They said, “INEC should complete surveys of internally displaced persons camps in all states, and provide clear guidelines on the process by which IDPs, including those not living in IDP camps, will vote in the election.
“Candidates and political parties should adhere to the principles in the peace pledges facilitated by the National Peace Committee ahead of the elections, and refrain from engaging in or encouraging violence against electoral opponents. Political parties should also sign a second peace pledge to renew their commitment to peaceful elections and to sanction supporters who commit electoral offenses.
“All presidential candidates should commit publicly to accept results of credible elections while grievances arising before, during and after the elections should be channeled through the appropriate legal process.
“Security forces should proactively identify wards at high risk of strategic election violence and focus their resources on these areas.”
The assessment conducted from December 4 to 9, 2022 was built on the first assessment mission which visited Nigeria in July 2022.
The delegation included Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, Ambassador Michelle Gavin; Commissioner at the Electoral Commission of South Africa, Judge Dhaya Pillay and Programmes Director of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, Ellen Dingani.
Others were IRI Director for Africa, Gregory Kearns and NDI Deputy Director (Central and West Africa), Dr. Sophia Moestrup.