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Violence During Party Primaries And What It Means For Nigeria’s Next General Elections

The thuggery that marred the recently held primary elections led to the death of at least six people.

Nigeria is preparing for its general elections, which happen every four years. But already, events suggest that they will likely be marred by armed violence as with previous elections.

Election violence occurs at different stages of the electoral process. One of the earliest times is during party primaries when political aspirants contest for a chance to represent their parties on the ballot paper. It is one of the most crucial stages for any contender, and many are unwilling to take chances. So, they engage thugs armed with dangerous weapons to disrupt political processes and intimidate voters or their opponents.

The thuggery that marred the recently held primary elections led to the death of at least six people, with Lagos, Southwest Nigeria, having the worst record. The first of the incidents occurred on May 26, when thugs disrupted the ruling All Progressives Party (APC) primaries for the Lagos House of Assembly (Alimosho constituency 1) at the Mosan-Okunola Local Council Development Area (LCDA). 

The politically-sponsored thugs were armed with guns, cutlasses, knives, and bottles, which they used to attack and chase people at the venue, preventing the election from going as planned. “Delegates, party faithful, electoral officers, security personnel were whisked out of the election premises following the outbreak,” the News Agency of Nigeria reported.

The following day, four persons were reportedly killed at the Ikotun-Igando LCDA secretariat during the ruling party’s House of Representatives primaries after thugs exchanged gunfire. 

Another death was recorded during the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) House of Representatives and House of Assembly primaries in the Ogbia area of Bayelsa, South-south Nigeria. During the APC House of Representatives primaries, one person was slaughtered in Calabar, Cross River, a state in the same region.

Violence also broke out at the Anambra East LGA secretariat in Otuocha, the venue of the Anambra North Senatorial District primary election of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). Similar incidents occurred in Osun, Oyo, Ondo, Niger, Ekiti, Nasarawa, Taraba, Imo, Delta, and Ogun states. 

One implication of such cases is that they instil fear amongst the electorate and everyone involved in the electoral process. They also lead to violating human rights, destroying valuable properties, and fostering a political culture that rewards violence instead of competence. 

“With the way the primary elections of the parties were conducted, politicians will do all in their power to ensure that they win,” observed Sodiq Ajibade, a Lagos resident who witnessed violence during a poll in Alimosho. 

“I understand that there will be apathy, particularly in places where violence was recorded during the primaries. From the level of insecurity that pervades polls, Nigerians are expecting that the 2023 general elections will be marred with weapons.” 

Voters who spoke with HumAngle said sponsoring thugs during elections fails to guarantee fairness and equality in the competition among candidates and political parties. “The result of violence during an election is that the result of the poll will not reflect the interest of the majority, but the interest of the financier of violent attacks,” said Elizabeth Chikezie.

She added, “a candidate that emerged under primary elections marred with violence will be willing to go the extra mile to ensure he or she clinches power.”

Violence has become an integral part of Nigeria’s politics. According to the Human Rights Watch, no fewer than 800 people were killed in three days of violent attacks across 12 northern Nigerian States in 2011 following the emergence of Goodluck Jonathan as president.

About 100 deaths were recorded in 2015 and 2019. This was despite candidates signing peace accords. They also denied their involvement in killings and instructions. In addition, members of the National Union Road Transport Workers (NURTW), an association that collects tolls from commercial road users, have often been exploited by politicians during elections.

The NURTW leadership makes millions from collecting transport taxes from drivers of commercial buses, tricycles, and motorcycles. Additionally, one of the perks attached to holding key positions in the association is the ability to charge politicians to organise thugs who deter the electorate from actively participating in political processes.

Also, members of ethnic militias such as the Oduduwa People’s Congress (OPC) in Lagos, Egbesu Boys or ex-militants in the Niger Delta, Bakassi Boys in Calabar, and the Sera-Suka (Cut and Stab) in Bauchi are used for political violence.

Election violence, according to Nigeria’s laws, is punishable with not more than four years imprisonment or a fine of ₦500,000 or both.

Already, the Nigerian Military has warned politicians against inciting violence as the 2023 general elections draw closer. The Chief of Defence Staff, Lucky Irabor, stressed last Thursday that any political thug caught during the electioneering period or on election day would be dealt with.

“For anyone who is looking forward to being elected, he must do it within the ambit of the provisions of the law. Because we will not in any way, stand aside and see those who perpetrate violence all because they are looking for political offices or appointive offices,” he said.

Alfred Ajayi, a political and public affairs analyst, believes that to promote future peaceful elections, Nigeria needs to make it impossible for public office holders to use political offices as avenues for wealth accumulation as well as ensure that offenders and  sponsors of violence are penalised regardless of their party affiliations. 

“This will deter the bad guys from involving in political violence and will enhance sustainable democracy. There can be no democratic election if electoral violence is prevalent. Violence limits people’s participation in the electoral process and enables the imposition of candidates. It is the greatest enemy of democracy.”

He further advised the electoral body, INEC, to establish a strong character not to be compromised because “only free and fair elections give life to democracy.”

This report was produced in partnership with HumAngle Services.

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Adejumo Kabir

Kabir works at HumAngle as the Editor of Southern Operations. He is interested in community development reporting, human rights, social justice, and press freedom. He was a finalist in the student category of the African Fact-checking Award in 2018, a 2019 recipient of the Diamond Awards for Media Excellence, and a 2020 recipient of the Thomson Foundation Young Journalist Award. He was also nominated in the journalism category of The Future Awards Africa in 2020. He has been selected for various fellowships, including the 2020 Civic Media Lab Criminal Justice Reporting Fellowship and 2022 International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ) 'In The Name of Religion' Fellowship.

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