BY MOHAMMED ADOKE, SAN
Elections and Electoral Violence
AS you are all aware, election is the mechanism through which citizens choose their representatives. Its centrality to democratic governance can therefore not be overemphasized. In contemporary times, the nexus between free, fair and credible elections and good governance is so strong that any attempt to subvert the process often invokes the wrath of the people. It will be recalled that part of the political upheavals we are witnessing in North Africa, the Middle East and some Gulf States are traceable to the inability of the people to freely choose their leaders.
Electoral violence generally refers to violence that is directly or indirectly connected to protest against an election. Nigeria’s post independence history is replete with accounts of incidents of electoral violence. The violence that took place during 1964-65 elections in the then Western Region (popularly referred to as the “wild, wild west”) which found expression in “operation wetie” is illustrative of the danger associated with electoral violence especially the one that culminated in the 1st Military intervention in Nigeria.
It will be recalled that subsequent elections in Nigeria’s democratic experience were also been marred by pockets of electoral violence. It is important to mention that the degree of electoral violence seem to have scaled down drastically as Nigeria continues her journey to nationhood. The post electoral violence that characterized the 2011 Presidential Election has clearly resonated the challenges of violence in our polity and the need to devise some new ways of stemming the ugly tide of events or completely eliminating same.
3. Nature or Types of Electoral Violence. Electoral violence can be classified into three broad categories namely: (a) Pre-election violence; (b) Volence during elections and;
(c) Post election violence.
Pre-election violence occurs mainly at the stage of Party Primaries, when contestants from the same political Party jostle to for tickets to become the party flag bearers. Experience has shown that at this stage, thuggery, arson, shooting and maiming are deployed to achieve a particular objective.
The pattern of violence at the election stage is not remarkably different. However, in addition to the methods mentioned above, snatching of ballot boxes and papers, kidnapping or abduction of electoral officers and party agents, forcefully preventing voters from exercising their franchise, forcing electoral officers to alter or deface results or result sheets.
The third category which is post election violence manifests in same manner as pre-election violence and usually perpetrated often times by shooting, looting, arson and wanton destruction of lives and properties usually perpetrated by members of a political party that did not win the election.
Examination of the Extant Legal Framework
The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) expressly prohibits formation of quasi-military organizations for political purposes. Section 227 of the Constitution provides as follows:
“No association shall retain, organize, train or equip any person or group of person for the purpose of enabling them to be employed for the use of display of physical force or coercion in promoting any political objective or interest or in any such manner as arouse reasonable apprehension that they are organized and trained or equipped for that purpose”
Section 81 of the Electoral Act 2010 prescribes punishment for contravention of section 227 of the Constitution. It provides that any political party or association that contravenes the provision of section 227 of the Constitution commits an offence and is liable on conviction to: (a) N500,000 for the first offence; (b) N700,000 for any subsequent offence; (c) N50,000 for everyday the offence continues.
The Act further provides that any person who aids or abets a political party in contravening section 227 of the Constitution, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N500,000 or imprisonment for a term of 3 years or both.
It is apposite to note that apart from the provisions of the Constitution already discussed, the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) is replete with provisions specifically aimed at stemming Electoral violence. Although categorized as “electoral offences”, the intention of the lawmakers is quite clear from the provisions.
The relevant provisions in this connection are as follows: (i) Section 94 – Conduct of political rallies and processions; (ii) Section 95 – Prohibition of certain conducts etc of political campaigns; (iii) Section 96 – Prohibition of use of force or violence at political campaigns; (iv) Section 119 – Disorderly behavior at political meetings; (v) Section 128 – Disorderly conduct at Election Day; (vi) Section 129 – Offences on Election Day and
(vii) Section 131 – Threatening Conducts.