Electoral Violence in Nigeria

Electoral Violence in Nigeria
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In the political arena, election violence has remained a major feature of Nigeria’s political landscape, and a review of this problem, suggests a number of reasons: poverty, a culture of impunity by political officeholders, corruption, weak penalties for political offenders, a lack of effective governance, and small arms proliferation, amongst others. All these have the combined effects of instability and violence in the Nigerian society. Solutions to the Nigerian problem range from sustainable development, security overhaul, true electoral reforms, and anti-corruption measures.

Elections are the acceptable means of effecting changes in government in contemporary democracies. An election is “an organized event at which somebody is chosen by vote for something, especially a public office.”

Electoral is defined as relating to or involving elections, electors or voters, while violence is the use of physical force to injure somebody or damage something. Tafa Balogun, a former Inspector-General of Police once said that, “all forms of violence that emanate, at any stage, from differences in views, opinions and practices during the process of elections, could be regarded as electoral violence.” In this blog, the meanings of the terms peace, development, and security (including derivatives like human security, sustainable and human development) would be considered as given in line with peace studies literature.

Electoral violence has regularly been reported in Nigeria and manifests in the three electoral stages, namely pre-election, during election and post-election, in various forms.

Electoral violence in Nigeria has two broad dimensions: physical and psychological. Electoral violence ranges from acts of assault, arson, ballot box snatching and stuffing to murder/assassination. Electoral violence amongst other forms has reportedly claimed more than 20,000 lives in Nigeria between 1999 and 2010.

This violence negates peaceful coexistence, law and order. In addition to security concerns, it militates against the consolidation of democracy. This in turn has impacts on the social and economic well-being of the nation and creates imbalances or instances of structural violence that could lead to escalated conflict as was the case with the Biafran War.


Poverty and Unemployment

Poverty is the state of being extremely poor. lt is a situation whereby an individual cannot meet the basic needs of life. Such a person is more likely to participate in violence than a rich person in line with the relative deprivation. When the situation is compounded by joblessness the propensity for violence increases. The crumbling of nation-states in future has been attributed to demography and environmental factors. This assertion aptly captures the situation in Nigeria, where an ‘army of unemployed youth have become tools in the hands of greedy politicians for electoral violence.

Ineffective Security Operations and the Culture of Impunity

The ineffectiveness of the security outfits, especially the police, is another factor that has encouraged electoral violence. During the pre-election stage in Nigeria, a number of politicians are always murdered. The Police have been unable to get to the root of these killings. This failure seems to be creating a culture of impunity and motivation for recurrence of the crime. It could be argued that the centralized control of the police by the Federal Government contributes to the laissez-faire attitude of the police.

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This is because the Federal Government seems to tolerate the inefficiency as far as the Police do its bidding.

Weak Penalties

The criminal or penal code of a nation spells out crimes and the penalties or punishment for violators. Penalties or punishment are intended to achieve correction, retribution and deterrence. In Nigeria, there are no specific legislations against certain electoral offences, only for associated acts like arson, assault and murder. The law, for example, has no provision for the snatching of electoral boxes from polling boots (a common crime during elections).

Moreover, the penalties for acts associated with electoral violence like assault and arson, are generally weak; a few years imprisonment, at most. This has contributed to the culture of impunity and underscores the need to review the existing laws.

Poor Governance and Corruption

Poor governance and corruption are some of the causes of structural violence in Nigeria, as they exacerbate effects of poverty and make people desperate enough to seek any means including crime and violence just to survive. This situation seemed to have created a ‘runaway culture’ of tolerating corruption at all levels of government. An average of $4 billion to $8 billion per year was reportedly lost to corruption between 1999 and 2007. Corruption is closely entwined with political violence in Nigeria. Public revenues are not only stolen, but are often used to pay for the services and weapons used for electoral violence. Among others, lack of accountability and dearth of social security could be adduced for the level of corruption.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) set up to fight corruption has achieved some measures of success as a body, but more needs to be done, especially as regards former corrupt top political officeholders, who walk on our streets freely and even hide behind the curtains to manipulate the political system for their own advantage to escape being probed.

Small Arms Proliferations

Another contributory factor to electoral violence is the proliferation of small arms in the country. There were over one million illegal small arms reportedly in circulation in Nigeria as at 2004. These weapons perpetuate violent conflict and create new cycles of violence and crime. The weapons also undermine the work of humanitarian and relief organizations and militate against sustainable development. Electoral violence has also been linked to the proliferation of these arms.

Effects of Electoral Violence

Political Instability

Political instability often arises due to inability of opposition and relevant actors in governance to resolve perceived or real grievances. Electoral violence is both causative and symptomatic of political instability in Nigeria. It is symptomatic as it reflects an inchoate political system. It is also causative because it feeds the political crises that manifest regularly.

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Electoral violence, if not properly addressed, could ultimately lead to escalated violence. Political violence is incapable of building a strong, efficient and virile democratic nation (social development). It is anti-people because issues of human rights, gender equality, cultural rights and identities are often ignored or trampled upon.

These adversely affect the human security and social development of the country.


Electoral violence breeds insecurity as it is often characterized by loss of lives and property. This has been so in many parts of he county, with thousands of people killed, thousands displaced and properties worth billions of naira burnt, looted or destroyed. In addition to the insecurity, there are attendant costs like increased security votes and the resource spent on repairs of damaged infrastructure. These resources could have been better spent on human and social development and such trends that adversely affect the social and economic health of the country. It is only an assumption that development cannot occur in the absence ot peace and security. The economy suffers in an atmosphere of insecurity and political instability. This is because investors are scared due to lack of security for their investment. Direct foreign investment is thus often lost in such circumstances which have contributed to the state of underdevelopment in Nigeria. According to Clare Short, “Businesses have a strong interest in peace and security in the countries in which they are operating or where they wish to operate.”

Cycle of Violence

Another effect of electoral violence is that it has helped propagate the ongoing cycle of violence in the country. Acts of violence impact negatively on the children living in such societies. In line with the social learning theory, such children would likely end up being violent.

The ongoing violence by youths in the Niger-Delta Region of Niger (which has witnessed considerable political violence) supports this view. Moreover, acts of electoral violence are likely to result in hostile goals like the desire for revenge in political opponents which could lead to conflict escalation. This perhaps explains why almost all political parties in Nigeria are involved in electoral violence.

The Way Forward

Anti-Corruption, Economic and Social Development

Corruption affect every facet of life in Nigeria; therefore any meaningful developmental effort must incorporate anti-corruption. This could be achieved by emphasizing accountability and prosecuting former corrupt political office holders to serve as deterrence. It is also important to remove immunity clause for political office holders from the Constitution.

Equally, the International community could pressure the government to intensify the anti-corruption fight by tying future aid, assistance and cooperation to the fight against corruption. Also, the institution of a viable social security system can help checkmate corruption, as it would make people less desperate. The problems of poverty/unemployment and underdevelopment could be addressed by pragmatic steps by government towards national economic revival. This could be done through diversification of the economy, and creating a more conducive atmosphere for foreign investment by lowering corporate and industrial taxes and reviewing other hindrances like the Land Use Act, which makes personal and industrial land acquisition cumbersome. This would encourage more Direct Foreign Investment (DFD) which will boost the economy. Equally, there must be concerted efforts towards creating a peaceful and secure atmosphere for foreign and national businesses to thrive through security sector reforms.

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Security Sector Reforms

The Police have a crucial role of ensuring law and order in any society. To do this effectively, however, it must be well-trained, structured, equipped and motivated. The Nigerian Police likewise need to be restructured, re-equipped and motivated to play its role in ensuring the consolidation of Nigeria’s democracy. In addition to continuous training and equipment, the control of the Police would be more effective if it is decentralized to the people it serves (that is the state
and local government areas authorities). This would help promote individual and corporate responsibility in the Police.

There is a need for capacity building for the Police and other security agencies in the area of small arms proliferation to enable effective performance of their functions. Also, increased cooperation between the Police and other security agencies like Customs and Immigration Services would be necessary. Equally, it is important to enlighten the citizens to shun violence and embrace a culture of peace. These would help curtail the insecurity and cycle of violence prevailing.

Good Governance and Electoral Laws Reforms

The underlying problem of political instability is the lack of good governance. Hence, to resolve political instability, accountability, social justice, transparency, rule of law, gender equality and due process must guide governance and leadership. The media and civil society groups have a role in this regard especially with the passing into law, the Freedom of Information Bill, to advocate for these qualities until a desirable state is achieved. Genuine Electoral Reforms would also be necessary.

Concluding Note

The issue of conflict and violence in Nigeria are occasioned by a number of factors, which include poverty/unemployment, ineffectiveness of the operations of the security forces of impunity, weak penalties, bad governance and corruption, as well as small arms proliferation. The army of unemployed youth being used as tool for electoral violence underscores the need for a vibrant national economy. The culture of impunity occasioned by the ineffectiveness of security agencies justifies the need for security sector reforms.

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