Insecurity threatens a credible election in Nigeria: Human Rights Watch says
ABUJA, Nigeria - Human Rights Watch has revealed that the failure of the Nigerian authorities to address accountability for past elections-related abuses and widespread insecurity across the country ,could threaten the safe conduct of the upcoming 2023 general elections .
Anietie Ewang, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch.“There is a thick veil of violence shrouding the 2023 elections that undermines people’s fundamental right to vote .It is important for the authorities to swiftly restore public confidence in their ability to hold those responsible for electoral violence accountable and ensure the safety and security of all Nigerians.”
On February 25, Nigerians will elect a new president to replace President Muhammadu Buhari, who is completing his second 4-year consecutive term, the maximum allowed. They will elect federal National Assembly members the same day and governors and state lawmakers on March 11.
The elections are set to take place against a backdrop of impunity for abuses by security forces and other actors during the previous general elections in 2019. There have also been security threats from multiple groups across the country, including violent gangs in the northwest and groups in southeastern Nigeria who have been trying to undermine the elections.
Over the years the West African economic power house have historically been fraught with violence and other abuses. The election of President Buhari in 2015, the first transition of power to an opposition party since the country’s democratic transition in 1999, was largely peaceful. But the 2019 election was marred by violence from security forces, including the army, and thugs acting on behalf of politicians.
Human Rights Watch research on the 2019 elections in Rivers state in the south and Kano in the north, both of which have a strong history of violent elections, found that pre-election tensions including clashes between supporters of major political parties and rivalry between key politicians culminated in serious violence during the elections. Military officials indiscriminately shot and killed civilians in Rivers state while political thugs and security officials attacked election officials, voters, journalists, and other observers in both states.
Under international human rights law, federal and local officials are required to take all reasonable steps to create and maintain an environment in which election officials, journalists, and civil society can operate free from violence and intimidation.
Democratic elections require the protection of freedom of expression and access to information. The United Nations special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression has issued detailed guidance on how to ensure freedom of opinion, expression, and access to information during elections.
Despite repeated calls to the Nigerian authorities to ensure justice and accountability for election-related violence, Human Rights Watch has found that there has been little progress. A committee set up by the Nigerian Army to investigate allegations of violence and killings against officers during the elections was given two weeks in March 2019 to produce its findings. Four years later, the authorities have provided no information on the committee’s work, findings, or recommendations.
In 2020, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced the prosecution of 18 people in seven states across the country for offenses during the 2019 elections, including snatching and destroying election materials, disorderly conduct, unlawful possession of ballot papers and Permanent Voters’ Cards, and vote buying at polling places on election day. It is unclear how many of these cases have concluded or led to convictions.
The commission indicated that it faces constraints in ensuring justice and accountability for electoral offenses because, while it can prosecute offenders, the authority to investigate rests with the security agencies. This has led to a lack of effectiveness in dealing with cases involving election infractions, the commission said.
Law enforcement authorities should promptly and thoroughly investigate and appropriately prosecute offenses, including violence and threats against candidates, voters, election officials, and others, Human Rights Watch said.
Earlier this year , INEC announced that it plans to move ahead with elections across the country, including in troubled areas, despite the prevailing insecurity and threats from various groups in various parts of the country.
In states including Zamfara, bandit gangs, which emerged following years of conflict between nomadic herdsmen and farming communities, have continued to carry out violent activities causing widespread displacement, among other problems. Election officials announced that adequate arrangements have been made for displaced people who now live in different areas of the state to cast votes in polling places other than those they were registered to do so in, which may remain inaccessible to them because of insecurity and other related concerns.