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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

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 (, 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 found at:>

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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 released today.

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 1960.

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 Takirambudde.

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 candidates."

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:

Undertake prosecutions

  • 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 out.
  • In the absence of legislation dealing specifically with political violence, offenders should be tried under existing criminal laws, including conspiracy.

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 process.
  • 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 reviewed.

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 level.

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 they observe.
  • 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.

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Date distributed (ymd): 030203
Region: West Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +security/peace+

The Africa Action E-Journal is a free information service provided by Africa Action, including both original commentary and reposted documents. Africa Action provides this information and analysis in order to promote U.S. and international policies toward Africa that advance economic, political and social justice and the full spectrum of human rights.

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