The recently held elections in Bayelsa State, and the widespread violence which marred it, is a low point in the democratic growth of our country, Nigeria. It was reported in the media that tens of people were killed or injured in the main election and the supplementary election which took place in the state.
Discernible also was the fact that most of the perpetrators and victims of the violence were youth who stood to gain very little from the final outcome of the election except being paid by political elites to serve as agents of destabilization. This trend is not limited to Bayelsa State but observable in many other states in Nigeria including Cross River State.
This week’s treatise will take an in-depth look at the issue of electoral violence as it impacts on the growth of democracy in our state. We will be looking at the immediate and remote causes of electoral violence, consequences and ways of curbing it for the advancement of Democracy in Cross River State.
Electoral violence with concomitant effect on the society has been the bane of Nigeria’s democratic advancement and there is the need to set in motion a machinery to curb the menace. Having established that youth play a major role in electoral violence in the state, our focus will be on this important demography and how to help achieve a change of attitude.
In many of my earlier treatises, I had made attempts to establish the definition of youth. For the purpose of this and for emphasis, I will repeat it here. Youth is defined by the Nigerian National Youth Policy (2001) as all young persons of ages 18-35 years. Youths refer to the most vibrant and resourceful demographic segment of human society.
There can be no meaningful development in any society if it fails to harness the potential of its youthful population. Despite the critical role of youth in advancement of democracy, youth have been found to be the major perpetrators of electoral violence in Nigeria. How can we successfully curb this violence and channel this energy into productive use even as we seek to build democracy in our state and nation.
International Foundation for Election Systems (2011) defines electoral violence as “any violence (harm) or threat of violence (harm) that is aimed at any person or property involved in the election process, or at disrupting any part of the electoral or political process during the election period.” Again, violence could take different forms of manifestation: it could be socio-economical, psychological, sectarian, and even political.
Electoral violence presents one of the gravest threats to advancement of democracy in Nigeria. There are several materializations of electoral violence. These include murder, arson, abduction, assault, violent seizure and destruction of electoral material. These acts of electoral misconducts are mostly perpetuated by youth in Nigeria.
There is a school of thought that suggests that violence has become part of the political culture in Nigeria such that all elections since independence are virtually violence ridden. The proponents argue that all of these elections were substantially marred by various types of violence associated with party politics and conduct of elections.
Although there is some truth in this assertion, research shows that efforts over the years by successive governments to improve the credibility of the electoral process and enlighten the electorate has resulted in reduction in violence and built up confidence in the system. This brings us to another school of thought, which asserts that electoral violence is not necessarily a culture but a reflex response from the system.
Whatever the case, these actions are often employed to alter, change or influence by force or coercion, the electoral behaviour of voters or voting patterns or possibly change or reverse electoral decision in favour of particular individual, groups or political party.
Electoral violence thus affects the credibility of the electoral system and does not allow for fair and credible elections. Of course, the importance of fair and credible elections to the advancement of democracy cannot be over emphasized.
It is imperative to note that elections are not only meant to ensure, confirm or re-affirm the legitimacy of the political (elective) office holders through a regular consent, but also to provide a fertile ground for democracy to thrive.
Curbing electoral violence thus is a key approach to advancing democracy in Cross River State. Suffice it to say that contingent upon the debilitating effect of electoral violence on the state’s political landscape, it is incumbent on us to act to curb the menace especially among the youth in the state.
Going forward, there is need to establish certain concepts clearly. First, what are the immediate and remote causes of electoral violence? Secondly, what are the consequences of electoral violence on our democracy and the development of the state and thirdly, what are the short, medium and long term strategies for curbing this electoral violence?
There is an array of causes of electoral violence which include greed; electoral abuses, rigging of elections, abuse of political power, alienation, marginalization and exclusion, poverty/unemployment, culture of impunity and corruption.
Others include lack of security, poor handling of election petition, and lack of faith in the judiciary, lack of compliance with the extant electoral law and enforcement of the enabling laws.
Nigeria’s governing elite have been widely implicated in acts of electoral violence which have occurred in the country. When closely examined, it is found that the elite are the main sponsors of the violence and commit resources to get the youth to take these risks and commit these ignoble acts.
It is intriguing to note that members of the political class responsible for instigating this plethora of violence as well as the youth who are their foot-soldiers who undermine the electoral process by perpetrating these violent acts are often not brought to book. This failure to bring to book, these electoral offenders has created room for this to continue and even to escalate.
What are the consequences of this electoral violence for our growing democracy and the stakeholders in the electoral process? The most important consequence of electoral violence is that it affects the credibility of the electoral system. This presents a major challenge to the advancement of our democracy.
The other consequence is that electoral violence leads to unnecessary loss of lives of youth and bodily harm. This leads to a reduction in human capital in the state and loss of development potentials as a result. The lives of our youth surely matter and we must make a commitment to curbing electoral violence and avoiding the loss of lives.
There are various ways that Cross River State could use to curb electoral violence and strengthen democratic governance. These include public enlightenment, political education, pressure from civil society groups, change in the character of the elite, electoral reform and enforcement of relevant electoral laws. It is our hope that this treatise offers some level of enlightenment and political education particularly for the youth in the state.
Politics marred by violence is synonymous with the politics of bitterness that would create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation, and would not allow the people to choose their leaders freely and fairly.
Such politics undermine competitive electoral politics and alienate the citizens politically; making them politically apathetic, and creating a fundamental disjuncture between the civil society and the state.
There is need then to abhor all forms of electoral violence and all hands must be on deck to eliminate the evil in our state. Our youth must learn, imbibe and internalize superior values and make a commitment to promote a new democratic culture that will ensure Cross River State advances to a higher pedestal.
Emmanuel Etim is a development consultant based in Nigeria, President of Cross River State Democracy Club
and Cross River State Youth Parliament.
Follow me on twitter: @emmanuel_etim22
Like my facebook page: www.facebook/emmanuel.etim22 or
Email me email@example.com for more information.
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