* Offers remedies to ensure hitch-free elections
Researchers at renown public policy think-tank, Nextier, have warned that violence may mar the off-season governorship polls scheduled in Imo, Bayelsa and Kogi States this November, as a result of the outcome of the presidential, National/State Assembly, and governorship elections held earlier this year.
To check this, Nextier has canvassed for the extension of security deployments and monitoring in hotspot communities beyond election days to ensure sustained peace, law, and order.
It has also admonished the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the police to rebuild their image during the off-cycle elections by curtailing actions that question their integrity.
These recommendations are contained in Nextier Policy report titled: “Nigeria’s off-cycle elections and the impending violence,” authored by Charles Asiegbu, Senior Policy and Research Analyst, Bridge Fellow, Nigeria Economic Summit Group, NESG and Dr. Ndu Nwokolo, Managing Partner Nextier and an Honorary Fellow at the School of Government at the University of Birmingham, UK.
The report noted that off-cycle elections are held outside the regular elections calendar, as general elections take place in the same year in Nigeria as part of the country’s four-year election cycle.
However, off-cycle elections are held when a vacancy arises due to a resignation, court nullification, impeachment, or other reasons.
Following Nigeria’s recently concluded general elections, another round of elections is set for November 2023. Gubernatorial elections are scheduled to hold in Kogi, Imo, and Bayelsa States.
According to INEC, 18 political parties are fielding candidates in Kogi, 17 in Imo, and 16 in Bayelsa.
Nextier contended that given the controversies surrounding the presidential elections last February 25, there is no doubt that the outcome of the upcoming off-cycle elections will further define INEC’s reputation and legitimacy.
It argued that given the controversies that surrounded the general elections on February 25, there is no doubt that the outcome of the upcoming off-cycle elections will further define INEC’s reputation and legitimacy, adding that how violence will play out in the three states is an issue of great concern.
“Notably, pockets of violence were recorded during the general elections. However, there appears to be an uptick in violent casualties post-election. Data from the Nextier Violent Conflict Database shows that 253 casualties were recorded in February 2023, while in March and April, there were 502 and 444 casualties, respectively.
“The rising violence may impact the processes and outcomes of the upcoming off-cycle elections. As a result, it is necessary to identify the specific and intersecting violent conflict types affecting the states where elections are scheduled to occur. Political and power conflicts can also exacerbate pre-existing conflict situations and drive severe violence,” the report declared.
Nextier further said that “the outcome of the general elections will surely impact Nigeria’s off-cycle elections. However, election security depends on the readiness and sincerity of INEC and the security agencies doing their part in making November 2023 better.
“Other election participants, such as political parties, supporters, voters, and the general public, also have to play their role in maintaining a peaceful process. The likelihood of election violence may be reduced if the relevant election stakeholders consistently uphold their legal obligations.”
Concerning violence that could mar the off-cycle elections, Nextier said, “there is no definitive solution to the problem of election violence and violent conflicts.
However, significant efforts can be made to limit violence during the run-up to the off-cycle elections, theb researchers said, while offering the following recommendations:
“Security agencies should collect and use data on the most common election-related violence in the 2023 presidential elections to prepare for forthcoming off-cycle elections. A strategic approach will include sourcing data from relevant think tanks, CSO and NGOs. This data can be examined with security intelligence to understand violent issues and election-related violence better.
“Security deployments and monitoring in hotspot communities should not be restricted to election days. Such areas are equally vulnerable to pre- and post-election violence, necessitating troop deployments and adequate operational logistics to ensure peace, law, and order.
“Known offenders and harbingers of election violence should be personally cautioned and their engagements monitored during, on and after the elections. This should include the monitoring of their activities posted on social media.
“Violence frequently results from accusations of rigging and bias involving the election body and the police. The reputations of INEC and, to some degree, the police for keeping neutrality during the 2023 general elections deteriorated immensely.
“It is expected that they rebuild their image during the off-cycle elections. Any action or inaction that questions the electoral body’s integrity should be avoided. This should include how and whom it uses for its logistics, strategic communications, and its response to emergent issues.
“Developing mechanisms for early reporting, prevention, and reduction of electoral violence should be improved by civil society organisations (CSOs) and community-based organisations (CBOs).
“This method can be managed by the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, which brings together more than 60 local and national organisations to share information, anticipate problems, and take swift action. Security agencies can improve their partnership with CSOs to make the most of these systems.
“Security forces, notably the police, should be better equipped and retrained in performing their duties. Security officer(s) caught assisting or inciting violence or criminality should face sanctions.”
On its policy recommendations, it submitted that, “Security agencies should use data from think tanks, CSOs and NGOs to understand election-related violence.
“Security deployments and monitoring in hotspot communities should be extended beyond election days to ensure sustained peace, law, and order.
‘INEC and the police should rebuild their image during the off-cycle elections by curtailing or eliminating actions that question their integrity.
“INEC and the police should rebuild their image during the off-cycle elections by curtailing actions that question their integrity.
“Security forces should be retrained to perform better and punished if found assisting or inciting violence during elections.”