Since Nigeria attained independence in 1960, violence attributed to political, ethnic and social conflicts of varying levels has been a major trend often affiliated with pre-election periods. Electoral violence across the country can be described as a distinctive and poignant strategy to limit the impact of rival parties while aiming to control the voter demographic. The unrest mainly driven by economic and social issues would trigger dissatisfaction from one or more political groups as well as agitations from citizens impacted by unfavorable conditions such as unemployment, poor governance, inflation and rampant corruption scandals increasing the likelihood of violence in the country.
Studies showed that 9.8% of the 265 total civil unrest cases were attributed to electoral violence while the 346 recorded fatalities from civil unrest cases across the 6 geopolitical zones of the country was an accumulation of data before and after the 23 February 2019 Presidential Election. Reports indicate state elections were also regarded as more violent and deadly than federal elections. This aligned with threats of insecurity which were predominant in the Southern and Northern parts of the country, with the most dangerous areas being. Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Delta, Benue, Bayelsa, Lagos, Kogi, Ogun and Kano. On the other hand, Rivers, Taraba, Delta and Abia states recorded the highest number of election-related violence.
In Nigeria, the main reasons for the increase in insecurity during the election period have been connected to the profitable nature of politics and the well-known fact of affluence embedded in political positions. There are also claims that terrorist groups and organized crime syndicates have high stakes in the processes of the electoral system as electoral governance is believed to be susceptible to external coercion or manipulation. The consistency in claims of infractions from past elections raises alarm for the safety of citizens in the upcoming February and March 2023 elections.
During the ongoing campaign and election period, an upsurge in violence has already been reported, with abduction cases on the rise and ethnic, targeted politically motivated attacks, and social violence taking center stage. From IPOB militants in the South to ISWAP terrorists in the northern zone, the fragile nature of the country’s security status poses a threat to peaceful and fair elections. Furthermore, the spike in violence may impact the polls as fear of civil unrest may cause low-voter turnout in various polling stations across Nigeria, creating a conducive environment for altering and influencing the election results. A security crisis within any given country tends to divert attention from the primary focus of higher voter turnout and transparent elections.
The unending cycle of violence is one of the recurring features of electoral history that necessitates the involvement of government security forces and governing bodies to invest in programs and initiatives that factor in conflict management initiatives while limiting the power of organized political vigilantism. These initiatives may serve as a precautionary method that could mitigate risks in the upcoming federal election scheduled for 13 March 2022 and ongoing state elections.