Presidential Polls: Hateful Campaigns And The Problem Of Violence

buhari-in-akwa-ibonWHETHER it was a moment contrived for the cameras or not, the picture making the rounds of President Goodluck Jonathan and his main challenger in the February 14, Presidential election, General Muhammadu Buhari, in a warm embrace, is a great tool for the prevention of violence in the 2015 electoral process.

  Jonathan, the candidate of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Buhari, the candidate of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) have by this pictured gesture sent an important message to their supporters that they (the candidates) are not sworn enemies baying for each other’s blood.

   Mainly due to the murderous scale on which it was perpetrated, the post-election violence of 2011, which resulted in the loss of hundreds of Nigerian lives, remains fresh in the minds of many citizens. That particular upheaval amounted to an assault on the democratic space, as well as the unity and stability of Nigeria. One shudders to imagine the horrific scale of violence that would have erupted in other parts of the country, had reprisals been carried out on a similar scale.

  Those gory images of irate youths hacking down fellow countrymen and women have partly fuelled the current fears about the possibility of violence during, and perhaps, after the February 2015 general elections. It is ironic that in the Nigerian context, elections, which are irreplaceable components of any democratic dispensation would be narrated, not as processes for political renewal, but as harbingers of death and destruction. 

  The tell-tale signs that these fears have a very solid basis in reality, are already manifesting in the polity. Rivers State alone has seen the bombing of an APC campaign office and attacks on party supporters commuting to attend a rally. In Plateau State, campaign buses of the President were reportedly set ablaze by unidentified youths. The politicians who never seem to learn a thing from the past, no matter the havoc wrecked by their destabilizing and volatile utterances are at it again. Across the country, hate speech, a veritable early warning indicator about possible violence in parts of the electoral terrain has become a dominant feature of 2015 electioneering.

  In this firmament of hateful political attacks, neither the ruling party nor the opposition have been able to hem in their vociferous propaganda machines. The culture of intemperate exchanges that have very little to do with the bread and butter issues that matter the most to Nigerians, has blunted whatever preachments the parties make around a campaign driven by issues.

  Nigeria’s foremost election observation and civic education coalition, the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) has been observing the pre-election environment within the context of early warning. Leveraging on the presence of one trained observer in each of the 774 Local Government Areas (LGAs), a range of issues dominating the electoral terrain are being tracked. 

  The findings from this observations are being shared with relevant stakeholders in the electoral process, especially the security agencies in a manner that would put the spotlight on the potential flash points. Serious issues like voter card buying and selling, disregard for extant laws against campaigning with government vehicles and resources, as well as the destruction of campaign materials of opponents are being spotlighted. The idea is that an understanding of these trends would help those in charge move on time to do the necessary trouble shooting before things get out of hand.

  For instance, in the second reporting period of the pre-election observation, very high and disturbing levels of hate speech were observed in 303 Local Governments. During the reporting period TMG observed widespread use of hate speech across Nigeria. According to the report, observed hate speech did not follow a clear geographic pattern, but certain states can be identified as positive and negative examples. For example, no types of hate speech were observed in Ekiti and FCT LGAs; however, in Imo, Plateau, Adamawa and Bauchi states the behaviour was more widespread.

 There is also the problem of vandalism in the electoral process, another indicator of polarized campaign environment accentuated by high levels of intolerance. A respectful campaign environment is essential for functioning democracies. When candidates and members of political parties are not secure in their person and/or their personal property is at risk of damage due to their involvement in the election process, the campaign ceases to be fair. 

  Reports by TMG observers showed a worrisome prevalence of vandalism and destruction of candidate or party property. 

  “This behaviour was observed both directly and indirectly by TMG across Nigeria, with only four states reporting no incidents. In 46 per cent of LGAs TMG observers in Ebyoni State observed (directly and indirectly) vandalism and/or the destruction of candidate or supporter property. By way of direct observation, the North Central featured 10 percent of observers directly witnessing vandalism compared to an average of 4 percent of LGAs within in the other five zones,” the report read.

  In the end, the exertions of Nigeria’s flagship election observation and civic education coalition in observing the pre-election environment would dovetail into Election Day, on February 14. On that day, TMG will be deploying its Quick Count methodology for the 2015 Presidential elections. The Quick Count is a unique way of undertaking an integrity test of the official results of elections. 

  The Quick Count methodology, also known as the Parallel Vote Tabulation, is a gold standard for verifying the accuracy of elections. TMG will verify the outcomes of the 2015 polls using this widely tested method. Processes to be assessed include; opening of polling units, voter accreditation, voting, sorting, counting, announcement of results amongst other aspects of the Election Day procedures.

  In the end, while the pre-election observation seeks to create a peaceful and fair electoral space before Election Day, the Quick Count methodology focuses on verifying the results so that all political actors can have the benefit of a second eye on the process. The projection is that with these efforts, there will not be a repeat of the kind of senseless violence that convulsed the country after the 2011 elections.

Ajanaku is Media Manager at TMG, a coalition of 462 civil society organizations


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