Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The local Nigerian press has been awash with election talk for months. Now that an election schedule has been released, the country is waiting, expectantly, for the polls to occur. Questions remain as to who the final contenders will be and whether or not the nation’s electoral commission, INEC, can conduct elections within the time frame it has. An even more important topic of discussion is election-related violence. With the discovery of a cache of weapons, explosions in Abuja and other incidents,  there is a focus on Nigeria’s unfortunate dally with violence during electoral season.

Given the violence from the 2007 elections, it is not surprising that Nigerians will focus on possible violence this upcoming election season. In fact, in 2007, there was an attempt to blow up INEC’s Abuja offices. In 2010, the rhetoric surrounding political violence is undoubtedly on the rise. In April 2010, a high ranking police officer publicly advised politicians against resorting to violence. Specifically, he warned them to not stock up on weapons. In August 2010, authorities announced the deployment of the country’s anti-bomb unit to the ports and that security was increased at air and land borders . According to Hilary Okpara, the tactical squad would help prevent bombs and other weapons from entering the country for the purpose of election-related violence. Then, both an INEC official and the nation’s top anti-corruption officer admitted that politicians use kidnapping as a political tool and told citizens to prepare for an election-period increase in kidnapping incidents. This was soon followed by a Human Rights Watch report fingering police corruption as a threat to the upcoming elections.

Nigerian politicians make very good money and some of them automatically become millionaires in the local currency, Naira, by virtue of gaining their seat. Members of the National Assembly, for instance, earn $1.7 million or more. Unfortunately, a public record on exactly how much each member of the legislative body earns is unavailable, but current estimates were announced by former president Olusegun Obasanjo who criticized the National Assembly for being a financial drain on the country. Considering the financial reward, and the obvious power that results, it is understandable that some will do anything to get a political seat. One politician swallowed 100 small bags of cocaine in order to raise funds for his election campaign. And such desperation only raises the stakes of how aggressive campaigning will be. Sadly, campaign strategies include illegal activity and force youth organizations to warn politicians not to hire youths as thugs, a historically-applied ploy that arguably contributed to the rise of kidnappers, militants and thugs across the country but particularly in the southeastern part of the country which has a high level of insecurity.

All this talk about election violence is making many nervous. Despite that there is also a concern that the increased volume on this issue is actually a ploy for certain factions to gain financially. And now, the Nigerian Police Force allegedly needs N6 billion to provide security during the upcoming election season. N4.2 million of that will be needed for logistics, transporting officers and other tools that will enable officers to do their jobs, this according to the Leadership newspaper. This despite the force’s incredibly large budgetary allocation which was larger than the monies given towards health and education, for instance. As is the case with most things involving Nigerian officials, whenever financial requests such as the alleged N6 billion security fund request are made, there will be an opportunity for kickbacks for superior officers who are already accused of benefiting monetarily from the bribes collected from average citizens on a daily basis.

And months before the elections, political aspirants and others are turning up dead. On August 4th, an Edo state politician was shot to death just hours after he announced his bid to challenge an incumbent. Another local government politician was also killed in Ekiti State in August as he participated in the annual Ogun Festival parade. The local chieftain of the ruling PDP party, Umaru Tafida, lost his life on December 18th shortly after the politician he supports announced his candidacy for governor of Adamawa state. These deaths are only a few of those that have occurred in the run up to the 2011 elections in a country where politically-related assassinations are unfortunately, quite common.

There is little doubt that given the history of electoral violence, some insecurity will occur during the 2011 election season. That plus the fact that political aspirants will do practically anything to win raises the stakes immensely. Hopefully with all this talk of election violence, Nigeria will take the steps necessary to limit the insecurity and enable a peaceful electoral season, something that has not been seen in a long time.

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