2023: INEC’s new guidelines towards violence free elections

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Violence is one of the recurrent features of Nigeria’s electoral history and democratic journey since independence in 1960. The country witnessed escalated violence in the period before, during and after elections.

The country’s electoral body, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), has not hidden its fear by raising alarm ahead of February and March 2023 general elections.

There are different reasons for the violence. At times, it could be organised to minimise or neutralise opponents. Again, it is sometimes used to undermine an opponent’s ability to mobilise supporters and performance.

Another motive is to manipulate or delegitimise the electoral process. The tactics include armed attack, armed robbery, assault, ballot snatching, assassination, kidnappings and bombing.

A critical appraisal of Nigerian economy and wealth creation shows that politics is the most “lucrative” sector in the country. And the stakes are extremely high.

Holding a position in government holds the key to power, which in turn provides access to the country’s wealth. Winners gain all, and losers are sometimes left with nothing, including their followers, investment and integrity.

The result is that political actors often prepare strategies to achieve their objectives by any means, that could include violence.

Besides, Nigeria’s state institutions are weak. Those involved in electoral governance are vulnerable to coercion or manipulation. On numerous occasions in past elections, there have been allegations of infractions committed by officials of the electoral body or security agencies in favour of one party or another. This, in turn, has led to some political actors enlisting the support of armed non-state groups. These groups sometimes operate in conflict with state institutions and sometimes compete with them. In some instances, there is co-operation.

Another factor is that many Nigerians are frustrated by the economic, social and political situation in the country. People are frustrated by poverty, inequality, perceived injustice, illiteracy, youth unemployment, hunger, corruption, human rights abuse and insecurity, coupled with the lack of sensitivity and inadequate responses from the government.

The political gladiators too are not helping matters. They heat up the polity with insensitive and irresponsible speeches and actions. Hate speech, fake news and media reporting also also trigger violence.

The big question is, who is involved? Politicians and their paid agents are known to have been involved in violence against opponents and their supporters. This is sometimes done directly, mobilising thugs, or indirectly through hate speech and incitement of violence, against targeted opponents.

To perpetrate all these electoral malpractices, the players need ceaseless flow of cash. It’s in the light of this that INEC is trying to curtail their access to fund, in a way to reduce their financial muscles, thereby preventing the coming elections from being marred with violence and vote buying.

In this direction, the electoral body has issued a new guideline restricting political parties and their candidates from some activities.

The new guideline is aimed at preventing political parties and candidates from staging rallies in public institutions and worship centres. It also stated that candidates and political parties must not take donations above N50 million from sponsors.

Ahead of the 2023 general elections, INEC has warned candidates against holding their political rallies in religious worship areas and public institutions.

Apart from this, a sum of N50 million has been fixed as the maximum donation from an individual, organization or other entity to a candidate for election related matters.

The information is contained in a statement issued by INEC in Abuja through its National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye.

As a result of the new guidelines, the presidential and governorship candidates will be under the close watch of the commission, EFCC and ICPC.

Politicians are enjoined to play according to the rule of the game by abiding by the new guidelines in the best interest of our nation and posterity.

If INEC can make good its promise, by implementing all the guidelines, the issue of vote buying and sponsored electoral violence will be greatly reduced if not totally eliminated. And once again, we are going to experience another “June 12” which has been adjudged the best election so far in the history our nation, Nigeria come 2023.