In Nigeria, national elections are hardly devoid of electoral violence except for 1993 between Chief MKO Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Alhaji Tofa Bashir of the National Republican Convention (NRC). It was judged most free and fair in the annals of Nigeria’s political history. That election was also the most peaceful. Ironically it was annulled by the Babangida led government.
As indicated earlier, other elections had an incidence of turbulence either in the pre-election or post-election period. However, this may not have been in all parts of the country. In other words, violence may not assume a nationwide dimension and therefore confined to some regions while others are relatively peaceful. However, their prevalence over the years lends credence to the assumption that Nigeria is a nation characterized by pervasive democratic instability.
Incidence of fraud account for electoral violence
Incidents of fraud account for electoral violence in Nigeria. It is against this background that the elections of 1999, 2003 and 2007 come under scrutiny in this discourse. First, I should point out that electoral violence or election-related violence typically includes clashes between rival political parties’ supporters, sometimes claiming fatalities. Incidents that take place at campaign events with untoward consequences are of great significance. These are often accompanied by election rigging, as was found to be very flagrant in the 1999 election that brought Chief Olusegun Obasanjo to power as President in October.
On this, the Jimmy Carter Centre, one of the foreign observers who monitored the election, noted that “it is not possible for us to make an accurate judgement about the outcome of the presidential election”. Former President of the United States Jimmy Carter after monitoring the election in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, expressed dismay over results from a particular polling booth. He witnessed the collation and the final result announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission. The total votes announced by the electoral body far outnumbered the total number of registered voters for that polling unit.
In extreme cases, such results would have caused post-election violence. However, because Nigerians were eager to rid themselves of military rule, such incidents though found to be prevalent, were ignored. The opposition party candidate Chief Olu Falae was of the exact ethnic origin as the elected candidate.
By 2003, the polity had begun to get heated up. Electoral violence led to the death of 100 people. In the 2007 election, 300 people were killed, according to the United States Institute of Peace.
In both these elections, it was inevitable to avoid violence because of age-old ethnoreligious rivalry. General Muhammadu Buhari’s emergence as the opposition party’s presidential candidate generated a lot of controversy leading to violence. According to Human Rights Watch, the 2003 election claimed 100 lives with several hundred injured. The polls had incidents of fraud as well as severe violence.
The 2007 State and Federal elections had numerous recorded cases of election rigging and acts of political jobbery. Besides poor records, as evidenced in the 1999 and 2003 elections, related problems emanating from previous elections remained unaddressed. Observers from the European Union described the 2007 elections, which brought Umaru Musa Yar’Adua of PDP, a Muslim from Northern Nigeria, to power as “among the worst they had witnessed anywhere in the world”.
Amidst the widespread violence that took place, 300 people lost their lives. Many thousands remained displaced up till the elections of 2011.