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Nigeria: Political Violence & Elections
Africa Policy E-Journal
February 3, 2003 (030203)
Nigeria: Political Violence & Elections
(reposted from sources cited below)
This posting contains excerpts from a press release and report on
Nigeria from Human Rights Watch, released on January 29 and
entitled "Political Violence Increasing Before Elections." The full
report is available on the HRW website at:
Another posting today contains several sections from the article on
Nigeria in Great Decisions 2003, the annual briefing book and study
series organized by the Foreign Policy Association
(http://www.fpa.org), written by
Salih Booker and William Minter of Africa Action.It was written in
November 2002 and published by the
Foreign Policy Association in January 2003.
Additional documents on Nigeria posted last year can be
Nigeria: Political Violence Increasing Before Elections
(New York, January 29, 2003) The Nigerian government is doing far
too little to prevent a wave of political violence in the
pre-election period, Human Rights Watch said in a briefing paper
In April and early May, Nigeria is planning to hold elections for
national and state office, hoping for the first successful
civilian-to-civilian transfer of power since independence in
Some Nigerian officials have publicly condemned the rising
political violence. The fifteen-page briefing paper, "Nigeria at
the Crossroads: Human Rights Concerns in the Pre-Election
Period," documents how politicians across Nigeria have used
violence as a tool to acquire or retain political support, wealth
and influence. It is based in part on research conducted by Human
Rights Watch in Nigeria in December 2002.
"A successful transfer of power means more than just keeping the
country from falling apart," said Peter Takirambudde, executive
director of the Africa division at Human Rights Watch. "It means
that voters must be protected from intimidation and violence aimed
at silencing their voices. It means that candidates must be able to
stand for office without fear of bloodshed."
Many politicians have taken advantage of rampant poverty and
unemployment to recruit young men, who intimidate and even kill
their opponents or opponents' supporters. For example, in Kwara
state, supporters of the governor and the leading gubernatorial
candidate have been in conflict, leading to the killing of a state
party chairman in August 2002 and the bombing of a newspaper
office in November 2002.
Some of the worst violence took place during the primaries of the
ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP), particularly in the
oil-producing state of Bayelsa, in the south. Politically-motivated
killings and other attacks have occurred in many other areas,
including the southeast and the southwest. In central and northern
states, some politicians have used religion and ethnicity to
galvanize political support or opposition, stirring up sentiments
that could spark further communal violence in Nigeria, as evidenced
by the so-called Miss World riots in Kaduna in November 2002.
Most of the cases of political violence remain unresolved. Although
the police have made some arrests, prosecutions are rare.
"Impunity is encouraging ruthless politicians to believe they can
continue using violence to silence their opponents," said
The Human Rights Watch briefing paper also documents the status of
preparations for elections, and makes recommendations to the
Nigerian government and the international community on how to help
prevent political violence and ensure that the elections are free
of human rights abuses.
"People in Nigeria have proven they are eager to vote and
participate," said Takirambudde. "But many may still be left out,
either because of the bungling of preparations by the electoral
commission, or because of outright intimidation and fraud by
While the Independent National Electoral Commission's (INEC)
recognition of twenty-four new political parties in December 2002
was a welcome development, INEC's January 17, 2003, announcement of
very substantial "processing fees" for each fielded candidate has
presented a new obstacle to the less established parties. In
addition, despite widespread complaints of violent intimidation and
fraud in the first voter registration exercise in September 2002,
INEC has not fully explained when and exactly how eligible voters
can appeal their exclusion from the voters' register. A short
voter registration period from January 21-23, which took place only
in centralized locations, seemed unlikely to resolve all of these
cases, and the logistics of a period of claims and objections
planned for February remain unclear. The timing of local elections,
originally scheduled for April 2002, also has yet to be finalized.
Human Rights Watch urged foreign governments and international
organizations to mobilize observer delegations at least several
weeks in advance of elections to monitor conduct in the
pre-election period when violence is likely to be most intense,
and to continue to support Nigerian groups who will undertake the
bulk of the monitoring work.
"Nigeria has emerged as a leader in international fora like the New
Partnership for African Development (NEPAD), which is trying to
emphasize the importance of good governance and respect for human
rights," said Takirambudde. "But to maintain its credibility
there, Nigeria needs to prove it is willing and able to deal with
human rights violations at home, including political violence."
Recommendations to the Nigerian Government and Political Parties:
- Government and judicial authorities should undertake prosecutions
of persons implicated in political violence whatever their
political affiliation; those prosecuted should include persons who
ordered or organized the violence as well as those who carried it
- In the absence of legislation dealing specifically with political
violence, offenders should be tried under existing criminal laws,
Oppose violence and discrimination
- Political parties and candidates should make anti- violence
campaigns an explicit part of their platform, and publicize their
anti- violence stance.
- Political contestants at all levels should refrain from invoking
religious, ethnic, or “indigene”/“ settler” status in an effort to
build support from voters, as such statements are likely to
increase ethnic tensions, especially in the pre- election period.
- Federal and state governments should publicly condemn
discrimination on the basis of “indigene” or “non- indigene” status
and work actively to prevent such discrimination.
Use police appropriately
- Federal and state government and polic e officials should ensure
that the police play a politically neutral role in maintaining law
and order during the preparations and conduct of elections. On no
account should federal or state officials attempt to use the police
as their own personal armed force.
- The government should deploy police in adequate numbers outside
polling stations to prevent violence and ensure voters’ security.
- Government and police officials should emphasize that the police
are required to protect all Nigerians, regardless of their ethnic
origin or political opinions, and that the police should never
answer to individual politicians.
- Police must not use excessive force in the event of violence
related to elections. They should arrest those suspected of
violence or electoral misconduct.
- Disciplinary action should be taken, as appropriate, against
police who take part in political violence, commit extra- judicial
executions, or perpetrate other human rights violations.
Finalize election plans
- The federal government should release adequate funds to INEC for
it to carry out its mandate to run free and fair elections.
- INEC should complete and post the register of voters and resolve
any claims or objections fairly and expeditiously.
- INEC should guarantee that the process of production and
distribution of ballots is transparent, to avoid some of the
pitfalls that occurred with the September 2002 registration
- State election officials should release a schedule for local
government elections as soon as possible.
- Following the elections, the government and National Assembly
should consider revising laws and regulations to better regulate
future elections. In particular, provisions that impede the
electoral commission’s ability to operate independently should be
Conduct elections fairly and prevent electoral fraud
- In particularly volatile areas such as the “middle belt” and the
Niger Delta where a violent response may be expected by voters
frustrated in their efforts to register or vote, officials should
redouble their efforts to ensure that citizens are treated fairly
and have an opportunity to register and vote. For example, INEC
should consider the use of mobile polling stations in areas where
there are many displaced people or where it would be difficult for
far- flung populations to reach a regular polling unit.
- INEC should be vigilant in ensuring that local party members do
not replace trained temporary staff.
- INEC should replace electoral officers who participated in
wrongdoing during the September voter registration exercise.
Provide voter education
- The government should expand campaigns to educate all citizens on
their right to vote and the procedures that must be followed to
exercise that right; in order for this education to proceed
effectively and with minimal confusion, the government and INEC
must finalize voting procedures as soon as possible.
- The government should also intensify campaigns against electoral
violence, expand public awareness of the impact of violence, and
increase education on alternatives to violence, at the grassroots
Cooperate with election monitoring groups
- INEC should encourage and cooperate to the greatest extent
possible with national and international groups seeking to monitor
elections, since observer missions may be helpful in deterring
political violence, intimidation, and fraud. INEC must clearly
establish the criteria for recognition of observer groups well in
advance of elections.
Recommendations to the International Community:
- Independent international election monitors should mobilize to
observe not only national and state elections in April and early
May, but also local elections whenever they are scheduled.
- It is crucial that such groups also monitor conduct in the preelection
period when violence is likely to be most intense.
- International election monitors must report publicly, accurately,
and candidly on their observations and strongly denounce any abuses
- Observers should disperse themselves geographically throughout
the country. Because resources may be limited, observer delegations
should coordinate with one another to ensure that a broad
distribution of observers is achieved, with a particular
concentration in locations likely to be volatile.
- Foreign governments and inter- governmental organizations should
make strong public statements emphasizing the importance of
violence- free elections to the future of Nigeria and the
legitimacy of its government.
- Before and after elections, foreign governments and intergovernmental
organizations should maintain pressure on the
Nigerian government to bring to justice the perpetrators of
political violence and other serious human rights violations.
Date distributed (ymd): 030203
Region: West Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +security/peace+
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