Before electoral violence happens, there must be an election taking place. Elections are an essential part of a democratic system of government as it ensures a transitional civilian government. Elections in Nigeria and in Africa, in general, have been tainted with bloodshed and violence since the beginning of the 21st century.
While the occurrence of electoral violence is not peculiar to under-developed and developing nations, it is most frequent in countries with underlying political instability. Electoral violence is one of the menaces associated with a poorly run democratic society, and it is an occurrence that’s frequented time and time again in West Africa. An incredibly violent year for Nigeria was the 2007 general elections.
A democracy which is arguably the best system of government is a people-oriented governmental system. However, democracy in a society with underlying chaos, crisis and prejudices is a breeding ground for a lot of malpractices during elections when the people decide who they want to govern them.
Electoral violence can be briefly seen as a form of political violence and electoral malpractice that employs the use of threats, intimidation and force to coerce electoral support, votes, and impose the will of an individual or a party on the electorate.
Triggers of electoral violence
Certain factors trigger the occurrence of violent acts or activities during electoral processes. They include;
- Political instability
Every society with an unstable political system will always encounter unprecedented violence in whatever form of elections that takes place.
Nigeria is a melting pot of different cultures. As beautiful as this diversity is, it has its cons. Every prominent tribe in the country wants to possess bragging rights to the nation’s seat of power. Most politically inclined citizens want the seat of power to come to their state or tribe. So they resort to whatever means to accomplish their goal.
Corruption is cancer that has eaten neck-deep into the trenches of most societies in Africa. Nigeria is not exempt from this. The misappropriation and embezzlement of funds alongside the misuse of power is an attractive political vice for potential political officeholders. Gone are the days when people want to make a change or difference in their country. Now, people contest for political offices for the main purpose of enriching themselves with public funds.
Power is a drug that intoxicates and drives men crazy. The world has witnessed this intoxication in Adolf Hitler of Germany, Joseph Stalin of Russia and Benito Mussolini of Italy.
People want to clinch and retain power, so they wage war during elections against opposition parties who they view as a threat to their power. Electoral violence is executed for two main purposes; to retain power or to usurp power. Nigeria is a multi-party political system. With well over 80 active political parties, electoral violence is almost a definite guarantee between the big wigs at the top of the food chain.
Forms of electoral violence
Some of the major forms of electoral violence include:
- Physical electoral violence
This is the use of agents of electoral violence such as thugs to kill and maim members of the opposition party or parties. When it comes to the voters, they are used to physically harass or roughen up voters on the election ground to scare them into voting a particular candidate.
- Psychological electoral violence
This is the use of mind games, threats and intimidation tactics to scare voters without physical contact. Thugs can be stationed at strategic places on election grounds with concealed weapons to watch proceedings of the rival parties.
- Institutional electoral violence
This is electoral violence against electoral institutions such as INEC, and it’s electoral officers. The ballot boxes can be snatched, and the collation officers beat up in the process.
Reasons to avoid electoral violence
A government that retained or ascended to power through violent means cannot be expected to be held accountable to the electorate and the citizens of the country in general. Violence isn’t a democratic practice. A party that rigs its way into power usually becomes despotic and shows subtle disdain for the rule of law and misuse political power to suppress the citizenry to get things going their way.
Such government may also want to clinch more to power, and they will resort to whatever means to avoid transition of power to another government in the next elections. So they rig votes and wreck violence again to stay for the second term and then when their time is up, they will want to pass the baton to their chosen successors, and the cycle continues.
No well-meaning political party or government will engage in electoral malpractices unless it has selfish and ulterior motives for rising to power. Governments that come to power through electoral violence and other electoral malpractices are usually agents of bad governance.
No provision of social amenities, no delivery on promises made to the citizenry, unprecedented corruption and embezzlement of public funds, abuse of fundamental human rights and no regard for the constitution are common happenings with such governments. This is a phenomenon plaguing most societies in West Africa. It is a perennial issue that has come to stay for a while. Different governments, same issues. Same electoral violence.
Societal unrest leading to loss of lives and properties
Violence has never yielded good results for anyone concerned. Electoral violence begins a cycle that births bad governments which introduces bad policies to the society. This leads to untold hardship and increased unemployment in the country. These further give their blessings to a spike in criminal activities. Unrest and tribal tensions, which are products of electoral violence spark off killings and destruction of properties are a major reason electoral violence must be avoided.
In conclusion, nothing good comes out of acts of malpractice, particularly electoral violence, when it pertains to the decision-making process of a democratic society.
Proffered curative measures to mitigate electoral violence could include any of the following;
- Free and fair elections
- Electronic voting
- Building trust between political parties and institutions
- Mitigation of corrupt practices in political offices
- Automatic disqualification of any party adjudged to be involved in electoral violence and other malpractice acts
- The constitution of an independent and impartial electoral body
UNDERSTANDING ELECTORAL VIOLENCE TO BETTER PREVENT IT – unowas