ELECTION VIOLENCE AND DEMOCRATIC STABILITY IN NIGERIA: THE AKWA IBOM STATE EXPERIENCE (1999-2011)
Background of the Study
Election is generally conceived as a means of a peaceful change of leadership in societies. Post and Vicars (1973: 19), define election as the “process of actualizing representative democracy, which exposes people to the experiences of competition of powere through balloting”. These cardinal features of elections have eluded the Nigerian polity as elections have been shrouded in repeated outbreaks of violence, which occurs as a result of electoral frauds that mar the legitimacy of elections and erode the stability of the political system.
Election violence could be defined as any act of violence perpetrated in the course of political activities including pre, during and post election periods; and may include any of the following acts: thuggery, use of force to disrupt political meetings and voting at polling stations, or the use of dangerous weapons to intimidate voters and other electoral actors, or to cause bodily harm or injury to any person or persons connected with the electoral process.
Nigeria’s political history reveals a longstanding trend of electoral fraud which has escalated so much so that violence is employed to ensure the smooth progress and process of rigging. Since the first election in 1922, there has been an uninterrupted case of rigging with subsequent ones being more organized that the previous ones. Between independence in 1960 and 1991, Nigeria produced only two elected governments both later overthrown in military coups (Anekwe, 2010:79). After nearly 30 years, in 1999, Nigeria made a transition to civilian rule. The 1999 elections were however blighted by wide-spread fraud and a few cases of violence; the federal and state elections in 2003 were again marred by fraud as well as serious incidents of violence that left at least a hundred people dead and many others injured. Despite the attendant rigging and manifestation of violence in the 1999 and 2003 elections, there was barely any improvement in the next elections. Observers from the European Union described the 2007 elections as the worst they had witnessed anywhere in the world. (EU Report, 2000: 14).
Despite repeated outbreaks of election violence, Federal and State Governments since 1999 have done little to address the root causes of the violence. Various Committees and Commissions of inquiry have been set up over the years to investigate cases of election violence but there is an obviours absence of an institutional and legal solution, this absence of an effective redress mechanism has only produced more violence.
1.1 Statement of Problem:
Mu’azu (2000:452) opined that in every democratic dispensation elections have come to be known and accepted as the bedrock of a stable polity as it represents an organized and peaceful transition from one rule to another. However, the basic character of elections has been defeated as conflict ridden situations have historically featured in all elections conducted in Nigeria since 1953. Consequently, issues surrounding the electioneering process potentially relate to violence and violations of the rights of the individual.
Thus, rather than serve as a means and process of exercising legitimate political rites, elections in Nigeria have turned out to be a serious political liability, causing insecurities and threatening the foundations of the country’s nascent democracy.
With unprecedented political thuggery and uncontrolled violence, characterized by wanton destruction of lives and properties, election period in Nigeria is best described as warfare (Claude, 1985:62). This problem has received considerable attention over the years because of its intensity but the policies adopted to curb this trend have not succeeded. Despite the fact that in the First Republic efforts were made against thuggery and other manifestations of violence during elections; and in the 2nd and 3rd Republics security forces were massively mobilized to maintain order before, and during elections; issues of election rigging and violence have been on the rise. This study seeks to identify this problem.
1.2 Objectives of the Study
The general objective of this research is to study election violence and Democratic Stability in Nigeria from 1999-2011 with a special focus on Akwa-Ibom State. The specific objectives are to:
- Examine the history, causes and effects of election violence in Nigeria.
- Investigate the nature, causes and effects of election violence in Akwa Ibom State from 1999-2011.
- Study the effects of election violence on democratic stability in Akwa Ibom State and Nigeria from 1999-2011.
- Highlight the role of various institutions in election violence in Akwa Ibom State.
1.3 significance of the Study
The significance of this study lies in the difference it will make in the entrenchment of democratic principles in the Nigerian Political System. Its premise is that the ability to conduct a peaceful, free and fair election would foster an atmosphere for sustainable democracy and social security in Akwa Ibom State and the rest of Nigeria.
This work is a crucial x-ray of the electoral processes and factors that trigger election violence in Nigeria with a view to exposing loopholes and making viable proposals, particularly in the light of the reduction of the allure of office and the establishment of an electoral violence tribunal.
This research is invaluable to conflict resolution and violence prevention efforts locally and otherwise.
Finally, it contributes to the advancement of knowledge as it relates to this field of study. It is hope that it will encourage further researches in this area.
1.4 Research Questions
The following research questions guided the study:
- What were the causes and effects of election violence in Nigeria?
- What were the causes and nature of violence in Akwa Ibom State during the period of study?
- What were the effects of election violence in Akwa Ibom State in the period of study?
- What was the role of different institutions in election violence in Akwa Ibom State?
1.5 Scope and Limitation of the Study
The study examined election violence in Nigeria with Akwa-Ibom State as its case study. While references were made to different epochs and scenarios around the country, particular attention was given to the period 1999-2011.
Although the area of study is all of Akwa-Ibom State, interviews were restricted to Uyo, Ikot Ekpene, and Eket because of their proximity or direct involvement with election violence. There was difficulty in getting the staff of Election Management Bodies (EMBs) such as Independence National Electoral Commission (INEC), Akwa Ibom State Independent Electoral Commission (AKISIEC), and the Police to grant interviews. Thus, oral sources used came from eye witness accounts of victims of election violence.
Methodology in history comprises the techniques and guidelines by which historians use to research and write history.
According to Lemon (1995:85), historical evidence could be gathered through a variety of ways ranging from “what is written, what is said, and what is physically preserved”. This study however, involve the use of written and oral sources as well as the inter-disciplinary approach which will be subsequently broken down.
Adams (2000:17) suggests that one of the major achievements associated with the rise of African historiography is the recognition of oral tradition as a viable source of historical data. As a source of history, oral tradition amounts to the same kind of value as other sources since it undergoes the same kind of analysis and synthesis the historian employs in the course of his research.
Oral sources were indispensable to this study bearing in mind that because of very little occurrence of spectacular election violence in Akwa Ibom State prior to 2011, there is a dearth of written materials on this subject.
Through note taking and the use of tape recorders, oral evidence was collected from people of varying occupations who have been directly affected by election violence in the State. These were carefully selected and interviewed as individuals. Among them were observers, participants and otherwise.
These sources include detailed reports by various local news papers, the weekend Pioneer; Daily Independent, as well as national newspapers relevant to the area and period of study deposited at the Pioneer Office, Uyo, Government House Press, Uyo; Nyong Essien Library Uyo, University of Uyo Library; and National Library, Calabar. It is important to state that some of the newspapers are pro-government while others are anti-government, thus, they were used with great caution because of their probable bias.
The bulk of materials (published and unpublished) used in this study are secondary sources, (especially internet materials) which shed some light on the area and period of study. They include textbooks, journals and seminars obtained from the Heritage Library, Oron, University of Uyo Library, Nyong Essien Library Uyo, National Library Calabar and from relevant websites, blogs, online journals and news.
History demands a systematic and inter-disciplinary investigation. A study such as this demands that documentary evidence, theories, concepts and methods from a broad spectrum of the social sciences be integrated to achieve a holistic analysis.
To achieve the aim of the study therefore, certain approaches and theories from the social sciences were adopted for the purpose of explaining the causes of election violence from a theoretical standpoint. Thus, a wide range of theories were examined in the course of this study.
1.7 Theoretical Framework
Since history hinges on the relationship between cause and effect, it was necessary to borrow a few theories from the social sciences which aided our analysis. It suffices to state however that it would amount to adopting a monocausal approach to a complex situation such as the phenomenon of election violence if just one theory was cited. Therefore, a number of explanatory theories were examined to form the theoretical framework if the study.
Given the focus of the subject matter of electoral violence in Nigeria in the struggle for the acquisition and consolidation of political power; the political economy approach as propounded by Karl Marx and based on Dialectical Materialism readily comes to mind.
This theory primarily focuses on material or economic aspects of society, in other words, dialectical materialism is premised on the issue of man’s inherent motivations of economic pursuits and needs. Thus, man’s fierce inclinations and struggles to acquire control and maintain political power at all cost could result in the use of violence.
The Marxist theory of political economy explains the economic aspect of causes of election violence in Nigeria, but still leaves a lot unexplained, hence, the pluralist theory. This theory posits that conflict is inevitable in a pluralist political society where various factions compete against one another for political power, which is further used to patronize members of the victorious groups (Davies, 1971: 94). It offers a partial explanation of election violence in Nigeria, where competition for political power often takes the form of ethnic rising as political parties are usually divided along ethnic lines, e.g, Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) for the West Yoruba; and Congress of Progressive Change (CPC) for the North or Hausa/Fulani). Under such conditions, conflicts and consequently violence is rather inevitable.
Also, there are psychological theories which give a clearer picture of election violence in Nigeria when complimented with the pluralist theory. Ted Gurr’s theory of relative deprivation and James Davies’ ‘J. curve’ hypothesis of unfulfilled or unsatisfied expectations create the relations deprivation gap between expectations and capabilities, or the difference between expected need satisfaction and actual need satisfaction. For instance, when people feel they have a right and capability to have something, their expectations rise; and when they are prevented from acquiring this “thing”, the result is frustration which may be expressed through violence. Many cases of election violence outbreak in Nigeria could easily be related to these theories. The wide spread cases of murder and arson in the April 2011 elections is a clear example (Claude, 1987:201).
While they give a theoretical explanation of election violence as applicable to Nigeria, the pluralist and psychological theories have not explained why politics in Nigeria is a “do or die” affair. The radical political economy framework by Claude Ake, Yolamu Barongo, Gaving Williams, Remi Anifowose and others remedies this situation. According to Claude Ake as quoted by Ikpe (2000:126), ‘the juiciness of political offices raise the premium on politics such that competition for political power becomes ruthless and normless‘. Due to the inability of the state to mediate in political conflicts as a result of excessive fractionalization of the ruling class, political competitions have turned to war situations.
The Primary focus of national wealth, the Chief access to the resource of opportunities of class formation … those who aspire to political power and the basic of class formation in political power results in an extra-ordinary premium for political power. (Diamond, 1982:661).
In this power tussle, political elites take advantage of the pluralist nature of the Nigerian society and its associate problem of ethnicity and religions diversity. These are exploited to mobilize support for the different political functions (Ikpe (2000:189). Therefore, it can be said that the pluralist nature of the Nigeria society as a source of election violence depends on elite manipulations in their quest for political power.
The cost of political power is raised so much that the end usually justified the means. A situation in which the ruling group is determined to entrench itself in power to the detriment of the opposition that also vigorously seeks power to enhance its economic and social status will inevitably result in irrational and tempestuous struggle for power that will be difficult to mediate (Ikpe, 2000:126).
The above theories all explain different aspects of the Nigeria situation. There is so much gain to be had through elections such that individuals and groups would do anything to attain this position. These results in rigging, and where the opposing group desires the same thing but realizes that they have been short-changed, they take counter-measures, usually a violent one.
1.8 Organization of the Study
This work is divided into six chapters. Chapter one is the introduction which consists the background to the study, theoretical framework, literature review amongst others. Chapter two “Election violence in Nigeria” is a trajectory of the phenomenon of election violence in Nigeria.
Chapters three and four examine election violence with a focus on the nature, causes, and effects of elections violence in Akwa Ibom Sate. Chapter five examines institutional response to election violence in Akwa Ibom Sate, elaborating the role of every actor in the electoral system.
Chapter six is the summary and conclusion.
1.9 Literature Review
The main focus of an academic research paper is to develop a new argument. Therefore it is necessary to summarize and synthesize the arguments and ideas of other authors in the field of research; to establish a picture of what this research is about. Elections in Nigeria particularly since the advent of democracy in 1999 have been the subject of scholarly writing. A critical review of scholarly work provides useful methodological insights for the study as well as a lacuna that needs to be filled.
In his book “Political Behaviour and Electoral Politics in Nigeria” and an article titled, “Rethinking Electoral Violence and Democratic Consolidation in Nigeria,” Ikpe (2007:51) opines that election violence has defied every policy put in place to check it.
This according to him is as a result of the “focus of policy strategies” on the conduct and administration of elections without an attempt to change the objectives of seeking political offices through elections. This objective of using political officer to accumulate private wealth is the reason political elites would employ every strategy including rigging, violence and ethnic solidarity to ensure electoral success. Consequently, the masses are paid to rig elections, commit thuggery (murder, arson and other acts of violence), and to sell their votes.
Ikpe’s attempts to highlight the causes of election violence in Nigeria, stretches to analyze the electoral behaviour in the 1991 election in Akwa-Ibom State. However the period under survey does not cover the time frame of this study.
Jega and Iyayi (2006:20) in their article titled “Strategies for Curbing Election Violence in the 2007 General Elections”20and “Elections, INEC and the problem of Election Mindset in Nigeria” respectively, address the depth of election violence in Nigeria and the importance of the right mindsets of individuals towards elections and democracy.
Jega and Iyayi posit that the increase in election violence in Nigeria is based on the fact that Nigerian politics has come to assume the characteristics and attributes of a “rat-race in which only the fittest, richest and filthiest survive”. In Jega’s opinion, there is no civility or decorum but crudity and unfathomable aggression and violence in the arena. This according to Iyayi is as a result of the “Zero-sum game” mindset where the winner takes all and the loser loses all. These mindsets according to the duo are particularly consequential for democracy as they shape political behaviour before, during, and after elections. They add that to change election mindsets the crucial themes that are involved in elections need to be addressed.
The above articles are more or less a generic account of the problem of election violence, with no specific case study or recommendation.
Kurfi, and Nwankwo (2000:17) adopt a practical approach to the problem of election violence in Nigeria, citing specific cases and periods. Ahmadu Kurfi in chapter three of his book: The Nigerian General Elections in 1989 and 1979discusses the use of violence and intimidation during elections; and well as the nature and machinery of pre-election, election and post election and post election violence. Agwuncha (1993: 15) in his book: Nigeria: The Political Transition and the Future of Democracy analyses events of the gubernatorial elections of 1992 which in his opinion was chaotic and a danger to national security due to a combination of vicious political intolerance and open defiance of established political rules as well as indecent conduct of political activities. Joseph (1987:90) Democracy and Prebehdal politics in Nigeria: The Rise and Fall of the Second Republic gives a preview of the 1983 elections with a view to establishing that all aspects of the electoral process in Nigeria is subject to disagreements. He narrates the causes of violence that existed in the Western part of Nigeria between the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) and the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in the 1983 elections.
These accounts by the above authors give a clear picture of the manifestations of electoral violence in the country.
Kolawole and Saidu (2008) in their articles, “Reforming Nigeria’s Electoral Administration in the Fourth Republic” and “Crises of Democracy and Nigeira’s image in the International System” all believe that the failures of the electoral system has not only affected Nigeria’s democratic process but her image in the full system. According to Kolawole, electoral administration in Nigeria is “bedeviled with contradictory legislative framework, institutional weakness, and unstable procedures, lack of technological know-how, incompetence and political manipulations. Saidu added that the “yearning of the people” during elections has been repeatedly thwarted as a result of the failures of the electoral system.
Egwemi and Tom (2008:192) also share this view. In their article “Back to 1999: The 2007 General Elections and Nigeria’s Image Crisis”, they examine the 2007 general elections image crisis in comparison to that of 1999 when Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was elected president. It has been argued that before the advent of democracy in Nigeria, Nigeria suffered an image cirisis as a result of years of Military rule. The authors argued that after 1999, Nigeria’s image was turned around as a result of the activities of President Obasanjo only to be thwarted by the massive failure of the 2007 general elections. In conclusion; they recommend a general overhaul of the electoral process in the country to avoid the mistakes of the past.
The above authors base their observations on the acts of fraud, propaganda and rigging that were observed in past elections. However there is no real mention of election violence in these articles, nor the area and period of study.
Ikujuegbe (2002:32) in his article, “Ethnic Bloc Voting and Democratization Process in Nigeria” observes that the ethnic nature of political parties has resulted in ethnic based voting or membership. Consequently, political office is sought and violence wrought to ensure that power remains perpetually in a particular ethnic group. His observation throws some light on the root causes of election violence, though election violence is also not discussed in this article.
Duru (2008:18) in his book: The Electoral Process and Democracy in Nigeria and Adamu Mu’azu in his contribution, “Organizational Co-operation in the conduct of Credible Elections in Nigeria agrees that election violence is indeed a threat to Nigeria’s nascent democracy. While Duru focuses his attention on the relationship between the electoral process and the prospects of concretizing democratic governance in Nigeria by analyzing the dynamics of electoral politics in Nigeira; Mu’azu examines the potentials of conducting credible elections in Nigeria for the consolidation of democracy. He enumerates certain features he considers important in the political system. Their observations highlight some of the effects of election violence which will be considered in this study. Yet again, specific cases are not featured.