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POST ELECTORAL VIOLENCE AND ITS THREAT TO NATIONAL PEACE AND SECURITY, A CASE STUDY OF 2019 GENERAL ELECTION IN RIVERS STATE
1.1 Background to the Study
Nigeria is a heterogeneous country with diverse and overlapping regional, religious and ethnic divisions. Nigerian culture is as diverse as its population, which is estimated to be around 200 million. After over thirty (30) years of military rule, Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999. Nigeria looked set for a return to stability and the regaining of its position in the committee of nations particularly in Africa. Wrongly so, this was not to be.
Since the 1999 to the 2019 elections, the Nigeria electoral and political landscape has fallen from par to below par and has moved from violence to greater violence. The level and magnitude of electoral and political violence has risen and the political elites has often converted poverty ridden unemployed Nigerian youths into readymade machinery for the perpetration of electoral violence. This is linked to the political system and institution that in theory, had failed in political participation and in practice has seen the political elites forming bulk of the sponsors and perpetrators of electoral violence.
An examination of the political antecedent reveals evidence of political and electoral violence in Nigeria before 2019. There were repeated scales of violence and political and/or religious rift between the Christians and Muslims on the one side in the North and South on the other side. According to Campbell, this has often resulted to sectarian violence with particular reference to the geographical center formerly called the Middle Belt and the Niger Delta (Campbell, 2010).
The pattern of violence in the former is such that cut across political, sectarian and electoral, while in the letter, the activities of the militants (so called freedom fighters) transcends just the struggle for the control of the resources to include both covert and overt participation in perpetrating electoral violence.
A general election was held in Nigeria on 23 February, 2019 to elect the President, Vice President, House of Representatives and the Senate. The elections had initially been scheduled for 16 February, but the election commission postponed the voting by a week at 03:00 am on the original polling day, citing logistical challenges in getting electoral materials to polling stations on time. In some places, the vote was delayed until 24 February due to electoral violence. Polling in some areas was subsequently delayed until 9 March, when voting was carried out alongside gubernatorial and state assembly elections.
The deaths and violence that trailed the 2019 elections on Saturday left a sour taste in the mouth. It was both demoralizing and embarrassing. This was an ordinary election that most countries organize without any violence. Before the end of voting on Saturday, media reports showed as many as 40 people could have been killed. Different sources reported that as many as 30 could have been killed in Rivers State; and one was killed in Oyo State. The dead included civilians shot by soldiers, civilians shot by political thugs, and politicians shot by political thugs and unknown assassins. One was said to be an ad hoc electoral officer recruited from the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).
In Lagos state, thugs invaded areas that are dominated by another ethnic group and destroyed electoral materials, telling the voters to go back to their states of origin to vote. In Akwa Ibom, electoral officers were abducted; many of them were members of the NYSC. An election which was supposed to be like football match, turned out to be a war in which opposing groups engaged each other in gun battles. Before the elections, there had been violence and deaths during the campaigns in some parts of the nation. Political opponents and their supporters were blamed for this. The focus of this research project is to ascertain if post electoral violence pose a threat to national peace and security in Nigeria taking 2019 election in Rivers State as a case study.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
The major problem faced by the sustenance of democracy is the existence of electoral violence. This violence negates peaceful coexistence, law and order in addition to security concerns; it militates against the consolidation of democracy, this in turn impact on the social and economic well being of the nation and creates imbalances or instances of structural violence (Galting 1969; 167 – 191) that could lead to escalated conflict as was the cause with Biafran war.