The April 2011 elections were heralded as the fairest in Nigeria’s history, but they were also among the bloodiest.Cornie Dufka, Senior West Africa Researcher at Human Rights at Human Rights Watch.
The 2011 general elections, acclaimed the best managed in Nigeria’s political history, also became the bloodiest. Much of what took place occurred in post-election violence. It triggered communal violence,e which spread to twelve states in Northern Nigeria. Beginning with protests by supporters of the opposition candidate Muhamadu Buhari, a northern Muslim from Congress for Progressive Change after the re-election of Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from Nigeria’s Niger Delta region. Protests turned violent and soon spread like wildfire and degenerated into sectarian killings in the northern states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Niger, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara.
Human Rights Watch estimates that aside from over 800 people killed, more than 65,000 people were displaced. Quite unlike the elections of 1999, 2003 and 2007, the general elections of 2011 had been judged the best managed ever in Nigeria for various reasons: voters register was the most accurate; adequate training and fielding of election observers; the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Atahiru Jega was well regarded and judged independent from the government; the parallel vote tabulation used by domestic observers allowed poll monitors to concurrently record the results of the election along with INEC as a means to provide a check on the official results. Additionally, ordinary citizens were encouraged to report via calls or texts any incidents of fraud or violence that they witnessed or experienced.
With all these measures in place,post-election violence still erupted, leading to the deaths of 700 people in Kaduna State alone and 100 others elsewhere. Violence has been attributed to protests against Goodluck Jonathan’s victory. Much of the mayhem unleashed on ethnic groups in Christian dominated Southern Kaduna perceived as supporters of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
Muslims reacted by burning churches, shops and homes. Rioters attacked police stations and the Ruling Party and Electoral Commission offices. In predominantly Christian dominated Southern Kaduna, mobs reacted by killing Muslims and burning their mosques and homes. Once the violence began, only soldiers succeeded in stopping it, as it was beyond police management. In the aftermath of the violence, two special commissions of inquiry were set up. Still, they had limited effects in breaking the violence cycle. Various reasons account for this as characteristic of previous ones, and their reports were not likely to be implemented. They would not end impunity for political violence. Besides, until local peacebuilding initiatives and local democratic institutions are strengthened, not much can be achieved, judging from what followed in the past.
The 2015 general elections did not give any expected respite from violence. One hundred and six people were killed in election-related violence. Sixty-two of these died in the seven months preceding the elections, while forty – four were killed in post-election violence, the bulk of which was in the first two weeks after election results were announced. Election-related violence culminated in the deaths of thirteen people in 2019. This was much lower than the figure for 2015, and nearly all took place before the election. However, several incidents did not result in fatalities, but several victims sustained injuries.
Several reasons have been adduced for this: both candidates are of Fulani ethnic origin; both are Muslims from the core north. This reality would seem to have dampened the possibility of violence taking an overtly ethnic, religious or regional dimension. By this analysis,s violence was considerably more alarming in 2011 and 2015 than in 2019. However, observers noted that Boko Haram did not seem to lead to election-related violence in the North East in 2019. That leaves much food for thought.