The run-up to Nigeria’s 2015 Presidential election has been characterized by bellicose rhetoric, a rise in hate speech, and a worrisome footprint of election related violence.
Over a 50-day period beginning in December 2014, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has received reports of and documented over 60 separate incidents of election-related violence from 22 states spread across the six geo-politcal zones of Nigeria, resulting in which 58 persons have so far been killed and many more injured.
Separately, in the 2015 campaign season, the Commission has so far received 10 serious complaints for investigation or adjudication from political parties, NGOs, legal practitioners or private individuals, alleging election-related violence or hate speech. The pattern of violence appears to extend to all the major population centres and migration arteries and intersections linking different parts of Nigeria.
It is quite probable that many more incidents may have occurred which are not captured in the Commission’s internal monitoring or have not been reported in the media. It is possible, therefore, that the number of casualties could be more than captured in this report. This pattern and intensity of pre-election violence is atypical of Nigeria’s recent electoral history. The footprint is country-wide, with killings reported in nearly all the geo-political zones of the country.
From the information monitored and analysed by the Commission, Lagos (south-west), Kaduna (north-west) and Rivers (south-south) States present the three most worrying trends and locations predictive of a high likelihood of significant violence during the 2015 elections. These three locations also have enormous economic, political and strategic significance for Nigeria’s stability.
Every effort must be made to prevent further deterioration these three states. These developments take place at a time when Nigeria’s security services confront myriad operational challenges including an insurgency in the northeast, chronic inter-communal and ethnic conflict in the north-central, and resource militancy in the south-south of the country. Even before the 2015 elections, these conflicts necessitated deployments that now stretch the assets and capabilities of Nigeria’s security and defence forces.
These factors foreground the challenge of securing Nigeria’s 2015 elections. A widely advertised agreement reached in January 2015 between President Goodluck Jonathan of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Major General Muhammadu Buhari of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) to undertake and support peaceful campaigns has been honoured more in breach or indifference, has been poorly monitored and appears to have broken down.
If urgent steps are not taken to arrest further escalation, Nigeria’s 2015 general elections would confront a high risk of significant violence which could pose a clear and present danger to the stability of the country and its neighbours. This should not be allowed. Election violence has been defined as “any random or organized act to intimidate, physically harm, blackmail, or abuse a political stakeholder in seeking to determine, delay, or to otherwise influence an electoral process”, and includes “threats, verbal intimidation, hate speech, disinformation, physical assault, forced ‘protection’, blackmail, destruction of property, or assassination.”
Election violence can rise to mass atrocities, including crimes against humanity, which are international crimes. Election violence is also a crime under Nigerian law. It violates the rights to life, safety and security of the person and to democratic participation all recognized and guaranteed under Nigerian law. Above all, it also subverts the voluntary exercise of democratic will of the people.
In January 1966 and again in December 1983, significant election violence preceded the termination of elected civilian government in Nigeria. The 2011 general elections were marked by unprecedented election-related violence, with an official death toll of nearly one thousand persons and property valued at over 40 Billion Naira destroyed.
The violence also necessitated the postponement of voting for the governorship elections in Bauchi and Kaduna States, which experienced the worst violence. Additionally, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) reported over 55,000 persons internally displaced, although the exact numbers of affected persons is probably higher when informal displacement is taken into account.
In analyzing the post-election violence of 2011, the official investigative panel of the Federal Government, headed by Sheikh Ahmed Lemu, identified, among other major causes “inflammatory campaign utterances of politicians…. reinforced by the preaching of divisive sermons of hate and hostility in mosques and churches across the country.” No persons were held accountable for these crimes.
This replicates a pattern of lack of accountability for election-related offences dating back to the earliest elections in the territory of colonial Nigeria in 1922. In 2008, a Presidential Commission concluded that elections in Nigeria were characterised by “a prevailing atmosphere of impunity with regard to election offences” and Nigeria’s Supreme Court complained of the existence of a “political class which sees election into any position as a matter of life and death and consequently ready to do anything possible to attain the ambition.”
The responsibility to prevent election violence and ensure accountability for it lies with the Nigeria’s government and leaders, including, in particular, the leaders of the major political parties. Domestic and international laws require Nigeria and its leaders to provide effective protection against election violence and to hold those involved in it accountable.
This report and advisory explains and illustrates the relevant legal standards and their sources. These sources of law provide firms bases for holding the masterminds, perpetrators and beneficiaries of election violence to account. Should Nigeria’s institutions fail to do so, international law provides a framework for holding the leaders of the country and of the political parties personally accountable for election-related violence if they do not take immediate, firm, and decisive steps to stem the trend of hate speech, violent attacks, and preparations for violence around the February 2015 polls.
In addition to individual responsibility, Nigeria could also be held responsible under international law for failing to protect its citizens and foreign residents from electoral violence. Based on international standards and jurisprudence on state responsibility for human rights violations and individual responsibility for acts that amount to international crimes, Nigeria, its politicians and even some of its religious leaders are already toeing a dangerous line. Reports of violent incidents, fatalities, weapons movements and the spreading of hate messages have been widely recorded in the lead up to the elections.
This trend raises serious concerns amongst Nigerian citizens, but also neighbouring countries and the international community. Significant election violence in Nigeria around the 2015 elections would not only threaten the stability of Africa’s most populous country, it would also bring the region into assured turmoil. Therefore, Nigerian authorities and the international community must act immediately and together to prevent escalation of violence and related hate speech as Election Day draws closer in order to avert a foreseeable escalation of election-related violence in the country becoming a threat to regional peace and security.
It falls within the responsibility of public institutions, including, in particular, the NHRC to take steps and rally constituencies to prevent such an eventuality. This is within the substantive scope of the National Human Rights Commission under its enabling legislation. This report and advisory is issued in fulfillment of this responsibility. Through this report and advisory, the Commission desires to deploy the lessons from Nigeria’s previous experience of election-related violence, including the official reports of several Presidential-level panels that have investigated diverse aspects of elections and law enforcement in the past.
In accordance with the legal standards explained in this report and advisory, the NHRC reserves and will, where necessary, exercise the statutory duty to seek criminal indictment, punishment and accountability where there is evidence to indicate that any person or entity has been involved in election-related violence in relation to Nigeria’s 2015 elections. For this purpose, the Commission seeks the support and willing collaboration especially of Nigeria’s leaders and institutions of safety and security, Nigerian citizens and friends of Nigeria everywhere.
This report and advisory also takes account of relevant comparative and international incidents of election-related violence or other mass atrocities, including experiences from Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Rwanda, and the former Yugoslavia.
This report and advisory addresses recommendations to all Nigeria’s government, political parties, their candidates, the election management body, security agencies, and all persons and institutions with a stake in regional peace and security in Africa to take steps to ensure that Nigeria’s stability is not derailed by significant violence in the 2015 elections.
This is the EXECUTIVE SUMMARY of a pre-election report and advisory on violence in Nigeria’s 2015 general elections issued by the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria on February 13, 2015.