By Kehinde Akinfenwa
Electoral violence is perhaps the most pronounced challenge to Africa’s democratic resilience. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) presents to the world the latest episode of electoral antipathy in Africa. Following the provisional announcement of result of the December 30, 2018 general elections in the Sub-Saharan country, there has been civil unrest in major cities of the country, culminating into killings and arbitrary arrest. This has obviously amplified the health and economic crisis already bedeviling the country.
Historically, electoral violence has served as a dress rehearsal to many civil wars in Africa, which has shaped its socio-economic and political destiny. Nigeria is within days of its sixth quadrennial elections since the end of military rule in 1999 and having enjoyed almost twenty years of uninterrupted civilian rule, its democracy ought to have transcended beyond the quandary of political shenanigan but the habitual incidences of election-related catastrophe have not inspired such revered fecundity.
Since independence, Nigeria electoral history has been obsessed with violence. Prevalent forms of this violence exude in assassinations, arsons, violence-pruned campaigns, thuggery, election-related ethno-religious crisis, snatching of ballot boxes among others. Electoral violence is a problem that has ravaged the entire bloodstream of the country’s political system and alienates the citizens politically.
The senseless killings and destruction that trailed the 2019 primary elections in most parts of the country present a perturbing contradiction to the electoral aspiration of majority of the citizens as tension continue to rise about the general elections amidst a deeply tensed security environment and an already ailing economy. Besides, the recent wave of unguarded and incendiary remarks emanating from the country’s political elites has further enliven the palpable tension and anxiety of both local and International Electoral Stakeholders.
Aggressive languages and hate speeches between and among political parties and supporters; rumours of politically motivated attacks; violent activities of politically-charged youth; drug abuse are usually the absurdity that prelude elections in this part of the world. Although, comparative political scientists have always argued that violence is a major feature of political life everywhere around the world. But the pervasive acceptance, intensity, trends and dimensions in Nigeria’s political system is devastating and causing a great distortion to its social structure. In the face of this hostility, the fear of localized conflicts snowballing into nationwide crisis is the major concern of International Community.
The role of political elite in orchestrating and inciting election violence is well profound in our electoral landscape. In reality, they place high premium on electoral fraudulence rather than free and fair contest. The perfidious argument of them being passion-driven is ridiculous as the nation’s political memory is replete with instances of political parties circumventing electoral proceedings in the face of uncertain election outcome. Despicably, the altitude of impunity in the country has emboldened this aberration. With the flurry of crimes escorting elections in recent years, it is intriguing to note that members of the political class responsible for instigating this plethora of violence as well as their foot-soldiers who undermine the electoral process by perpetrating these violent acts are never dragged before the law. This portends that mayhem has occupied a significant portion in our electoral process.
By desecrating the very essence of democratic principle and bequeathing common perpetrators of violence the economy and political artillery of the country, a fundamental disjuncture between the civil society and the state is activated thereby allowing corruption and impunity reign supreme. This, perhaps, is the radioactive by-product
of some structural and attitudinal dislocations in our society as many of our leaders are products of violence-prone election.
Unless we improve the metrics for evaluating preventive measure and address the underlying drivers of conflict, elections will remain a flashpoint for violence and tension in the country. The argument of building up the material capacity of the security sector is only advisable in cases where a well-trained and equipped police force
presents a domestic guarantee for election security rather than a tool of manipulation in the hands of an authoritarian incumbent.
For instance, in spite of the heavy presence of security personnel in recent elections in the country, the exercise was not devoid of searing hostility as there were tenable cases of assaults and battering so much that security officers were indicted of intimidating voters. Such is the outright criminality that has come to characterize Nigeria’s politics and the extent to which officials and institutions of government accept, encourage and participate in those abuses.
Consequently, the propensity of violence increases when security officials are perceived abetting electoral injustice, thereby, incentivizing the already enraged supporters and sympathizers of the opposition. Nonetheless, election as an irreducible feature of democratic governance can sow the seeds of good governance if properly managed; it is the nexus and conduit-pipe through which a progressive society is attained where accountability, social justice, rule of law, gender equality and quality leadership is deepened.
A judicial system that is subservient to political juggernaut is detrimental to socio-political harmony and justice anywhere in the world. This assault on our collective value has permeated the legal structure of the nation, allowing series of corruption and abuse of power to blossom in governance. Therefore, a virile and independent judicial system that will dethrone enduring democratic value that would be a delight to behold and foster the development of a non-violent culture in our electoral affairs is cardinal. However, media organisations and consortium of civil society organizations have a key role to play in reducing election-related conflict dynamics and promoting a peaceful electoral environment. If given the civic space to participate and accorded the opportunity to express their objections, they bear the magic touch of ensuring that an electoral process is transparent, inclusive and peaceful by raising awareness of youths, women and other electorates to clearly understand the power repose in them in reforming governance.
Amidst the advocacy for constitutional amendment and electoral reform in curtailing the phenomenon, it is crucial to point out that the civil uncouthness of many Nigerians would definitely frustrate the essence of these legal frameworks. Better to acknowledge that abuse of electoral freedom by many citizens constitutes to the forlorn of this democratic comfort. Thereupon, a seamless civil education centered on political socialization to address the behavioral patterns of the society is imperative. By doing this, Nigerians would have a fore and deeper knowledge of causes, manifestations, dimensions and consequences of electoral crisis.
Beyond this 2019 general elections, an intensified synergy-building, networks and partnerships between peace building players, CSOs /other development partners, the private sector and Government officials that will provide an in-depth understanding of conflict prevention, management and mediation techniques. This constructive peace building initiative will overthrow the conflict suppressing system and enrich electoral stakeholders with decision- making in order to reduce the tendencies of tensions, malice and grudges among political parties, politicians and political supporters. Finally, to change the narrative of our democratic adventure, citizens must display undaunted desire to challenge fissiparous forces that war against electoral orderliness.
Akinfenwa is of the Public Affairs Unit, Lagos State Parks and Gardens Agency (LASPARK), Alausa, Ikeja