Nigeria’s 2023 general elections, comprising the presidential, National Assembly, Gubernatorial and state houses of assembly elections greeted the citizens and the international community with an unprecedented level of electoral malpractices, incidences of violence, voter suppression, intimidations and varying degrees of physical attacks on voters and electoral officers across the nation.
Everyone conversant with Nigeria’s political history will agree to the postulations of some political analysts who argue that electoral violence and political unrest are not new to Nigerians. Under both military and civilian rule, the country has conducted ten elections that have witness cases of violence from 1979 till date. These analysts argue that Nigeria’s general elections such as the 1983,1993, 2011 and 2019 general elections were mostly characterized by widespread of electoral violence, ranging from physical attacks on voters, voter suppression, and intimidation to carting away of ballot boxes which in turn resulted in disruption of voting process.
It is worthy of note that one of the outstanding characteristics of democratic states is periodic elections organized by the state for the purpose of electing leaders that will govern the people. In same societies where “Vox Populi” really represents “Vox Dei”, elections give the citizens the power to determine who represents their interests in the various levels of government.
However, in the case of Nigeria’s elections some political analysts, argue that the mandate/choice of the people is usually trampled upon by the activities of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INECS), working under the influence of political parties from the buildup of every election to the polls.
Close watchers of political developments in Nigeria, both local and international observers have described the 2023 general elections as having fallen below what could be a standard for free and credible election. Citizens decried cases of widespread electoral violence in some states situated in mostly the southern region and part of Northern region such states as Lagos, Kogi, Borno, Kano, Imo, Kaduna, Nasarawa, Ogun, Edo, Delta, and Rivers where there were observable cases of electoral violence to the extent of holding electoral officers hostage.
On the 22nd of February 2023, the armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), a non-governmental organization specializing in disaggregated conflict data collection, analysis and crisis mapping, published a long monitored impact and dynamics of political violence in Nigeria through the Nigeria Election violence tracker - an interactive resource created in partnership with the Nigeria based centre for Democracy and development (CCD)
According to the report, political violence in the build up to the 2023 election is largely in line with the levels observed before the 2019 elections.
By Saturday, the 25th February 2023, being the date of Nigeria’s presidential and national assembly elections, Channels Television reported cases where political thugs and armed bandits were seen disrupting voting process in the southern part of Nigeria.
According to the report by Channel’s Television, the Lagos state Commissioner of Police, Idowu Owohunwa, described the situation in Lagos as “an admixture of very peaceful conduct in most parts of the state but we also recorded isolated instances of thuggery”. Idowu confirmed the arrest of some of the thugs who carried out the attacks in those areas. “We were able to stabilize the situation and rescue the INEC Officials” he said.
Away from Lagos State, Daily Post Newspaper reported that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) threatened to cancel the election results of crisis – ridden arrears during the presidential and national assembly elections in Kogi state. The report stated that Dr. Hale Longpet, Kogi Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) who spoke to News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lokoja sounded the warning, while reacting to the crisis that erupted in some areas such as Anyigba and Dekina in Kogi East, Mopa in the Kogi West and some parts of Kogi central. He noted that the polls in the affected areas were inconclusive.
The guardian newspaper in a story published on the 27th of February 2023, on electoral violence in Rivers State, the Niger Delta Region of southern Nigeria where voters protested alleged manipulation of result, noted that a statement signed by the National Chairman of the Labour Party, Julius Abure, which was made available to the Guardian newspaper in Port Harcourt, observed cases of violence in places like Obio/Akpor, Khana, Eleme, Obigbo, Rumukoro and other areas. The statement also accused the River State Governor- Nyesom Wike, of deploying soldiers and police to intimidate, harass and snatch ballot papers in polling units in his compound in Worji, where it was alleged that the Labour Party was leading the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and all progressives Congress (APC) with over 323 votes. There were also, reported cases of sporadic shootings and vandalism of commercial vehicles in some parts of the state. Different reports continued to flow around other states such as Imo, Kano, Borno, Nasarawa, Edo and Delta State.
In the early hours of Wednesday, March 1, 2023, the electoral Commission (INEC) declared Bola Tinibu, the candidate of Nigeria’s ruling Party, (APC), as the winner of Saturday’s controversial Presidential election. The declaration generated mixed reactions both in Nigeria and abroad. Some of those reactions came as verbal expressions of dissatisfaction by the citizens with the outcome of the election as well as congratulatory messages to the president-elect.
The vanguard, Nigerian Newspaper on March 5, 2023, under the entertainment news section published mixed reactions of some Nigerian entertainers to Tinibu’s victory.
The reports of electoral violence, continued during the state governorship and houses of assembly elections across Nigeria three weeks after the presidential elections, with tension growing in Nasarawa, Kaduna, Lagos, Enugu, Abia, Kano, Taraba, and Adamawa states. Voters in these states protested, recurring electoral malpractices, voter suppression and intimidations as well as alleged manipulation of results by INEC to favour perceived interests of some political candidates and their parties.
The Cable News Nigeria in a news report on March 20, 2023, described the violence unleashed on voters in some areas dominated by Igbo’s in Lagos during the governorship elections as “a well-planned scheme at voter suppression designed to achieve victory for governing APC.” There were reports of massive thuggery by hooligans attacking and assaulting voters, destroying voting materials and generally disrupting voting process.
At the time of filing that report, Cable News observed that neither the Lagos State governor Sanwo Olu nor the president-elect, Ahmed Bola Tinibu had issued any statement to condemn the attacks. Cable News alleged that their silence may have fueled speculations that the state governor and the president-elect were privy to the plans.
Reacting to the violent attacks on Igbo voters resident in Lagos State Tinibu’s Spokesman, Bayo Onunuga in a tweet on Saturday night 19th March 2023 hinted what could be described as a warning to the Igbos not to interfere in Lagos Politics. The tweet read: “Let 2023 be the last time of Igbo interference in Lagos politics. Let there be no repeat in 2027.” The tweet went further to say that “Lagos is like Anambra, Imo, any Nigerian state. It is not No Man’s Land, not Federal Capital Territory. It is Yoruba Land. Mind your business.” The Tweet has so far attracted numerous criticisms from well meaning Nigerians.
The International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) on Saturday, March 18, 2023 reported cases of electoral violence and inducement of voters by the All Progressives Congress (APC) Party agents in some polling units around Sabon Gari local government area of Kaduna state. The report stated that the ICIR had earlier reported how party agents offered money to voters in Bauchi, and Adamawa States. The same thing was observed in some other states like Nasarawa, Kano Enugu, Imo and Abia state where the ruling parties in those states continued to deploy every possible strategy to remain in power.
While the dusts raised by the declaration of election results from the presidential elections, national assembly, gubernatorial elections to that of the state houses of assembly elections have continued to grow tension in all the states in Nigeria, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has seen several petitions from the opposition parties, while the candidates that lost the election in different states and at different levels have headed to the courts challenging the election outcomes