Nigeria’s 2019 Elections: Six States to Watch
Nigerian elections are high-stakes affairs often marred by street clashes and worse. As the 2019 contests approach, the risk of disturbances is particularly high in six states. The government and its foreign partners can limit campaign-related violence by enhancing security and promoting dialogue among rivals.
What’s new? As presidential, gubernatorial and legislative elections draw near in Nigeria, the risk of violence is widespread, particularly in six states where stakes are high or other conflicts fester.
Why does it matter? Nigeria’s last three elections have been deadly. More than 100 people died during and after the 2015 polls – and those were peaceful compared to the previous two. In 2019, with parts of the country in turmoil, violence could take more lives and jeopardise the country’s stability.
What should be done? The Nigerian government should move to defuse tensions, bolstering police deployments in vulnerable states and fostering dialogue between antagonists. Nigeria’s foreign partners should monitor hotspots and warn politicians of consequences for inciting violence.
Nigeria will hold national and state elections in February and March 2019. Voters will choose a president, governors for 29 of the country’s 36 states, and federal and state lawmakers countrywide. Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) faces a stiff challenge from Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which dominated national politics from 1999 to 2015. Many contests for state governor also involve high stakes, given the enormous spoils that elected office brings. Electoral politics in Nigeria is a brutal affair with a winner-take-all ethos and a history of violence, often driven by local as much as national dynamics. Already there have been incidents of violence, with some states displaying particularly troubling signs ahead of the vote. In such hotspots, the Nigerian authorities should enhance security plans; encourage rivals to pledge jointly to campaign and resolve disputes peacefully; sanction politicians using inflammatory rhetoric or inciting violence; and promote local dialogue in states suffering intercommunal strife.
Recent Nigerian elections have all been violent, the 2011 polls particularly so. More than 800 people died, as post-election protests morphed into mob attacks on minorities in twelve northern states. Even the more peaceful 2015 polls saw scores killed during campaigning and after the vote. A range of factors conspire to heighten risks of bloodshed nationwide around next year’s vote. These include the “win or die” attitude of many politicians, acrimony between the two major parties as they head into what appears likely to be a closely fought contest, widespread popular distrust of security agencies, opposition parties’ misgivings about the electoral commission’s neutrality, and the prevalence of conflict and deadly criminal violence in parts of the country. It remains uncertain how either side would respond to losing, particularly if the margin is narrow.
Risks of violence appear to be highest in six states: Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Kaduna, Kano, Plateau and Adamawa. Dynamics in each state vary, but all feature at least two of four major triggers: an intense struggle between the APC and PDP for control over states with large electorates, vast public revenues or symbolic electoral value; local rivalry between former and incumbent governors; tension resulting from ethno-religious or herder-farmer conflict; and the presence of criminal groups that politicians can recruit to attack rivals and their constituents. Local violence is not only a problem for the areas affected. It can have wider implications, with pre-election bloodshed undermining the vote’s credibility and aggravating risks of disputes, and local protests after the ballot potentially ballooning into a national crisis.
At the national level, Nigerian authorities can take a number of steps to reduce risks. The federal government should speedily release all funds that are outstanding from the allocations that the federal legislature, the National Assembly, approved for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and security agencies but that are still stuck in the bureaucracy, to let them prepare for the elections properly. Political parties should fulfil commitments their leaders have recently made to avoid inflammatory rhetoric, campaign peacefully, pursue grievances lawfully and rein in any supporters in the event of their defeat. The electoral authorities should intensify outreach to political parties aimed at winning their confidence and firm up logistical arrangements, particularly for election day. Security agencies should act professionally, ensure neutrality between all parties, and finalise contingency plans for preventing or responding to violence.
In addition to these national-level steps, the authorities should redouble efforts to prevent violence in hotspots. While policies should be tailored to each state, priorities include:
- Improving security arrangements by identifying and sanctioning politicians and groups using inflammatory rhetoric, inciting violence or plotting to perpetrate it; ensuring order at campaign rallies; strengthening inter-agency cooperation; and protecting polling centres in a non-partisan and non-threatening manner;
- Encouraging leading politicians at the state and local levels to honour commitments, already made at the national level, to campaign and pursue any grievances peacefully and lawfully (ideally, the main rivals in conflict-prone states would make joint pledges to do so in public ceremonies);
- Holding confidence-building dialogues between the local leaders of ethnic, religious and farmer-herder communities that are locked in conflict, as a way to undercut efforts by politicians to stoke divides for their own ends.
For their part, Nigeria’s international partners, through their diplomatic missions in the federal capital, Abuja, should set up a forum to coordinate their messaging, particularly to the main political contenders and electoral and security institutions. They should consider establishing an international working group, comprising prominent statespersons with sway in Nigeria, which could intervene in the event of a major crisis. Such a forum and working group helped lower tension and ensure a peaceful transition around the 2015 elections. Those sending observers should pay particular attention to hotspots. Diplomats also could warn state-level politicians, many of whom travel frequently abroad, that those responsible for inciting violence could face travel bans, asset freezes and other targeted sanctions.
Abuja/Dakar/Brussels, 21 December 2018
Nigerians go to the polls in February 2019 to elect a president and national legislators and again in March to select governors and state assembly members. With hundreds of sought-after posts up for grabs, and many races laced with communal tensions and bitter personal rivalries, the elections promise to be fiercely fought.
The election management agency, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), has 91 political parties on its register, 69 of which are presenting candidates for the presidency. But two contestants will dominate the presidential election: the All Progressives Congress (APC)’s Buhari, president since 2015, and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP)’s Atiku Abubakar (widely known as Atiku). Both Buhari and Atiku are Muslims from Nigeria’s north, which somewhat lowers the risk of bloodshed (violence during past elections has sometimes pitted Christians against Muslims; contests in which a presidential candidate from the north competes against one from the south have tended to accentuate such risks). Yet the election faces significant dangers of disruption, some familiar, others recent and more worrying.
Nigeria’s election history augurs poorly for the security of the 2019 contests. Over the eight years from June 2006 to May 2014, there were about 915 cases of election violence in the country, resulting in about 3,934 deaths, according to Nigeria Watch, a research project that monitors lethal conflict and human security. The 2007 polls were widely condemned as the most massively rigged in the country’s troubled history and saw widespread violence during the campaign and polling. The 2011 vote was cleaner, but also deadlier, with more than 800 people killed in post-election violence that targeted in particular minorities in northern cities. The most recent polls, in 2015, were peaceful by comparison; but even then, according to the National Human Rights Commission, at least 108 people were killed – 58 in pre-election violence, and another 50 or so on polling day and afterwards, as fights broke out between the major parties’ supporters in nine states.
Nigerian elections are blighted by violence in large part because they are high-stakes battles for the huge rewards of public office, and in many states also for control of power and revenues between rival ethnic and religious identity groups. Impunity is rife: attackers are rarely punished due to deficits in both political will and judicial capacity. Violence has traditionally blighted all phases of the entire election season. Before the vote, parties’ supporters clash and politicians often deploy thugs against their rivals. Around voting, those same thugs invade polling centres and snatch materials and intimidate voters. After the vote, defeated parties and aggrieved constituencies launch protests, clashing with security forces; in 2011, those clashes evolved into a major crisis across the north. Ahead of the 2019 elections, there have already been violent incidents. A number of factors heighten risks ahead.
The piecemeal release of funds for INEC and the security agencies, largely due to bureaucratic red tape, may be delaying election arrangements and could threaten the administration and security of the polls. INEC says it anticipated delays and made contingency plans, but concerns remain over its preparations for elections that will be more logistically challenging than in 2015, involving more parties, candidates and voters than the contests four years ago. Security agencies similarly claim readiness, yet as of 14 December (exactly two months before the presidential polls), the federally controlled public safety agency, the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), said it had not received funds allocated to it by the National Assembly for the elections. It needs this money to arrange for logistics ahead of elections among other expenses. Delays could thus hamper such arrangements, potentially jeopardising the security and credibility of the vote and creating grounds for violent post-election disputes.
The perceptions among opposition politicians that the security forces are partisan could also trigger violence around the polls.
The perceptions among opposition politicians that the security forces are partisan could also trigger violence around the polls. The conduct of federally controlled security agencies in recent gubernatorial elections in Ekiti and Osun states and their apparent dislike of some opposition leaders raise doubts about their impartiality. Such mistrust could fuel disputes and protests over results.
Heightened insecurity in parts of the country adds risks, too. The escalation of herder-farmer violence in the first half of 2018 has ratcheted up ethnic and religious tensions in much of the Middle Belt. Neither of the two main parties enjoys a clear edge in those areas and the campaign there is likely to be hotly contested as Middle Belt votes could swing the presidential contest. Already local politicians have stoked divisions among communities to shore up their bases. Meanwhile, the surge of attacks by Boko Haram’s Islamic State in West Africa (ISWAP) faction in the north east during the second half of 2018, and the spread of banditry in Zamfara and other north-western states, pose significant threats to the conduct of elections and integrity of outcomes in those areas.
Uncertainty over how the major political camps will respond to losing, nationally or locally, adds further to the danger. President Buhari has pledged that the vote will be free and fair, and all the major parties, on 11 and 12 December, signed a new accord sponsored by the eminent citizens’ group, National Peace Committee, committing to peaceful campaigns and respect for the results. But there is no guarantee that the parties and their supporters will respect this accord across the country, especially in areas where the vote suffers significant logistical deficiencies or is won with narrow margins.
Civil society, research and other organisations have identified risks of violence in most of the country’s 36 states. For instance, on 29 November, the Civil Society Joint Action Committee, a coalition of civil society groups, warned of likely disturbances in twenty states. That said, while problems are possible almost nationwide, concerns appear particularly high in six states, namely Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Kaduna, Kano, Plateau and Adamawa.
This report looks closely at those concerns, laying out the risk factors specific to each of the six states. It offers recommendations to both the Nigerian government and its foreign partners for mitigating the risks, both in especially conflict-prone states and nationwide. It is based on dozens of interviews with Nigerian officials, national- and local-level politicians, election monitors, diplomats, scholars and civil society leaders.
II.Rivers: Reigniting an Old Rivalry
Rivers state, in the oil-producing Niger Delta, has seen several fiercely fought elections, replete with vote buying, rigging, ballot box snatching and blocking of roads to hinder access to polling stations, as well as kidnappings and assassinations of candidates and prominent supporters. In 2015, it recorded the most election-related fatalities of any state, mostly occurring around the gubernatorial vote. On polling day, INEC reported that Rivers state witnessed almost a quarter – sixteen out of 66 – of the incidents of violence targeting polling stations, the commission’s officials, voters and election materials countrywide. Counting down to 2019, the factors fuelling the past attacks are still in place.
First, the state remains a major theatre of the national contestation between the APC and PDP, the latter of which, except for a two-year interlude, has held power in the state since 1999. In Nigeria, governors often siphon off state revenue with impunity, notably under the guise of so-called security votes. Because Rivers state, as a major oil producer, is the second highest recipient of federal fiscal transfers (after Akwa Ibom), as well as the second highest generator of internal revenues (after Lagos), it is widely believed to be a main source of PDP funding. The PDP will go to any lengths to retain control, and the APC will spare no effort to capture the state, so as to deny its chief adversary this vital revenue stream, at least for the next four years.
A second risk stems from the state’s internal politics, particularly the bitter rivalry between Nyesom Wike, the incumbent governor, and Rotimi Amaechi, his predecessor who served from 2007 to 2015. The two former allies parted ways in 2013, when Amaechi defected from the PDP to the APC. The acrimonious 2015 gubernatorial race deepened the rift, as Wike, running on the PDP ticket, defeated Amaechi’s APC candidate, Dakuku Peterside. Amaechi, now federal transport minister and Buhari’s re-election campaign chief, played a key role in drafting Tonye Cole, billionaire co-founder of Sahara Energy, one of the biggest indigenous oil and gas firms in Nigeria, as the APC’s challenger to Wike in 2019.
Until early December, the gubernatorial contest in the state seemed headed for a straight fight between Wike and Cole. Both men were approaching the polls with considerable strengths: the governor commands vast state resources and boasts grassroots support; his challenger has ample personal resources and the federal government’s backing. On 12 December, however, following a suit by an APC faction challenging the conduct of the party’s primaries in the state, the Appeal Court nullified the primaries, invalidating Cole’s governorship candidacy, as well as those of all others vying for seats in the Senate, House of Representatives and the state’s House of Assembly. Cole’s camp insists he is still in the race, as three other appeals remain before the court, aimed at overturning the primaries’ nullification. If these appeals uphold Cole’s candidacy, the risk of inter-party violence will remain high; if they fail, the APC in effect would be excluded from the campaign, and the risk may drop considerably.
As in previous elections, many [armed gangs and cults] are offering their services to politicians to intimidate opponents and rig the polls.
A third threat stems from armed gangs and cults. These groups have penetrated the state’s Emohua, Ikwerre, Khana, Ogba, Egbema, Ndoni and Ahoada local government areas. As in previous elections, many of them are offering their services to politicians to intimidate opponents and rig the polls. They could contribute significantly to election violence, particularly in remote riverine villages with little or no law enforcement – or where the overstretched federal police fear to tread.
The state government’s establishment of a new security organisation, Rivers State Neighbourhood Safety Corps Agency in March 2018, and the federal government’s clampdown on the agency’s recruits in November, may have added to the risk. The agency’s stated objective is to supply federal security agencies with intelligence to help fight crime and improve public safety. Some opposition leaders had expressed fears that members of the organisation, who feel beholden to Wike, may harass his opponents; or that the governor could deploy them to obstruct and disrupt the expected heavy deployment of federal security personnel in the state during the elections, much as the PDP and others say such deployments aided the APC’s victories in the gubernatorial elections in Ekiti and Osun states.
On 29 November, soldiers, claiming they had discovered an “illegal militia training camp”, disbanded the agency’s recruits who were being trained at the National Youth Service Corps camp at Nonwa Gbam in Tai local government area. Wike said the army’s action was politically motivated, as the high command was duly informed about the organisation and its objectives. He also said the state government would continue training the recruits. Some locals worry that the Neighbourhood Safety Corps members may clash with soldiers around the polls.
There have already been notable incidents of election-related violence. In August 2018, INEC had to suspend indefinitely a by-election in the state capital, Port Harcourt, following widespread disruption by thugs. On 11 November, gunmen abducted the APC’s organising secretary in Ikwerre local government area, Samuel Wanjoku, and another party member, Moses Ogu: a search party found Wanjoku’s dead body in a forest six days later and police later found his missing colleague alive. On 14 November, two people were killed and many wounded as about 25 gunmen attacked a PDP-organised rally in Ipo meant to educate voters about the need to collect their Permanent Voter Cards. On 16 November, assailants in Old Bakana district of Degema local government area shot at the APC gubernatorial candidate, Cole, and members of his team. The politicians escaped unhurt. PDP and APC leaders traded blame for the attacks.
Charges and counter-charges of parties acquiring guns raise the spectre of more violence. Governor Wike alleges the APC-led federal government is colluding with security agencies to disrupt the gubernatorial election, including the planting of 800 guns in order to “destabilise the state” and the use of subsequent unrest as an excuse to “mobilise security agencies to manipulate the results”. The APC counters it has uncovered an “ongoing distribution of illegally acquired arms to some PDP leaders in the various local government areas of the state”. These charges are yet to be proven, but all signs point to greater danger of violence as the Rivers state campaign heats up.
III.Akwa Ibom: Dimming Prospects for Peaceful Polls
Akwa Ibom state, also located in the oil-producing Niger Delta, has been a PDP-governed state since the return to civilian rule in 1999. In local elections on 2 December 2017, the party won in all the state’s 31 local government areas. Akwa Ibom also has a history of election-related violence, including deadly clashes between supporters of opposing parties and assassinations of candidates. Risks around the 2019 elections arise from both national and local politics.
First, the stakes are high. Akwa Ibom, like Rivers, is emerging as a major battleground in the APC-PDP battle for revenue. It receives the most federal money of any state, and it is widely believed to be a pillar of PDP finances.
A second factor is partisan rancour in the state, aggravated by the split between PDP Governor Udom Emmanuel and his predecessor Godswill Akpabio, as well as the struggle for control of the state House of Assembly. Emmanuel, a key figure in Akpabio’s state cabinet, was his anointed heir in 2015. Soon after he assumed office, however, their relationship began to sour. Some attribute the falling-out to Emmanuel’s alleged reluctance to complete some projects started by Akpabio; others say it was a dispute over control of the state machinery. At any rate, on 8 August 2018, Akpabio defected to the APC, switching his support to Nsima Ekere, who later emerged as the APC’s gubernatorial candidate. Taking along two state House of Assembly members – Idongesit Ituen, who represents his Itu state constituency, and Gabriel Toby – as well as two commissioners in Emmanuel’s cabinet, one of them Akpabio’s brother. Three other lawmakers also dumped the PDP, raising the number of APC legislators in the 26-member state House to five.
The PDP-dominated House responded by declaring the defectors’ seats vacant. Ituen sought an injunction from a federal high court in the state capital, Uyo, but it rejected his request and instead upheld a countersuit filed by House Speaker Onofiok Luke.
Amid the heated inter-party wrangling, the five embattled defectors held a session at which they “sacked” Speaker Luke and replaced him with one of their own, Nse Ntuen. That action invited a police siege of the House, ostensibly to prevent factional clashes. Two days after police lifted the siege, as directed by the federal Senate, the five defectors met again, allegedly trying to impeach Governor Emmanuel, who was backed by the majority PDP lawmakers. The five, along with some of their supporters, were battered and dispersed by a band of security personnel and thugs, led by the governor himself.
The PDP alleges that the APC orchestrated the crisis, deliberately stoking violence to provide the federal government with justification for declaring a state of emergency. This in turn would warrant postponing the vote to a later date, when the ruling party would deploy a large number of troops to intimidate voters and rig the ballot. The APC denies the charge.Whether the PDP’s claim is true or false, the developments in November signal that the state could suffer violence between the two parties’ supporters before, during and after the elections.
IV.Kaduna: New Tensions Aggravate Old Grievances
Kaduna state has a long history of lethal ethnic tensions. It was the state hardest hit by the 2011 post-election violence, accounting for about 500 of the over 800 people killed across twelve states. A number of factors make Kaduna a likely hotspot as the 2019 polls draw near, including increasing communal strife and political feuding.
Violent incidents in Kaduna – pitting ethnic rivals against one another, Christians against Muslims, herders against farmers, and bandits against community vigilantes – have killed more than a hundred since the beginning of 2018. Tensions generated by these incidents are running high and could turn ugly around the elections.
Local politics add to the risk. While 36 candidates are running for the governorship, the race appears to be largely between the incumbent APC governor, Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai, and the PDP candidate, Isa Ashiru. El-Rufai’s policies and governing style have alienated key members of his party in the state, essentially splitting the party into three factions. His feud with the state’s three senators in the National Assembly led two of them to defect – Suleiman Hunkuyi to the PDP and Shehu Sani to the People’s Redemption Party. The contest between these incumbents and el-Rufai’s preferred APC senate candidates could become violent if their supporters clash ahead of the polls.
El-Rufai’s selection of a fellow Muslim, Hadiza Abubakar Balarabe, as his running mate, has heightened tensions further. This choice is a departure from long-running tradition whereby governors choose their deputies from the other main religious group. It is also controversial because Balarabe hails from southern Kaduna, a part of the state that is predominantly Christian, and where many view his action as a deliberate affront to Christians. The governor has defended his action, arguing that he chose Balarabe strictly on her merits, as she was the best of the 32 people proposed for the job, that he had President Buhari’s approval and that the governorship is not a religious office but a means of serving the people.
But critics, mostly but not exclusively Christians, view this choice of a Muslim-Muslim ticket as insensitive, especially since religious tensions are already high. Christians fear that the ticket, if it succeeds, could create the impression that they are inconsequential in the state’s politics and thus set a dangerous precedent. However noble the governor’s intentions may have been, his choice has further polarised the electorate along sectarian lines, heightening the risk of election-day disturbances.
V.Kano: Struggle for Strategic Battleground
Kano, with an estimated 11 million people, is Nigeria’s second-most populous state after Lagos. And with over five million registered voters (again, second only to Lagos), it is an electoral prize in itself. Kano is currently under an APC government. The risks of violence around the 2019 elections stem from both national and state politics.
Located in the president’s home region – Buhari hails from neighbouring Katsina state – Kano was a theatre of post-election violence after he lost in 2011 and was key to his victory in 2015. The state is again a crucial battleground heading into 2019. On 27 July 2018, Buhari’s campaign coordinator, Amaechi, vowed that the APC would sweep the state even if the president conducts the race “on a sickbed”. Undoubtedly, Kano is pro-Buhari: the APC claims that he garnered 2.9 million votes in the state’s primaries, almost 21 per cent of his 14 million votes countrywide. Former Governor Ibrahim Shekarau’s return to the APC from the PDP on 25 November (he had defected earlier) further boosted Buhari’s chances. Current Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje has promised that the state will deliver five million votes for the president. Yet the PDP is seeking to undercut him, so as to at least reduce his margin of victory.
Another risk lies in the feud between the previous APC governor, now a PDP senator, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, and his former deputy and successor Ganduje, running for a second term on the APC ticket. While in office from 1999 to 2003 and again from 2011 to 2015, Kwankwaso and his deputy worked harmoniously together. But after Ganduje took over, their relationship deteriorated. Sources in the state say the two parted ways over control of the state apparatus, just like Emmanuel and Akpabio in Akwa Ibom state: Kwankwaso wanted to retain some authority, and Ganduje brooked no interference.
Over the last two years, the squabble intensified, resulting in several clashes between their respective supporters – known in the local Hausa language as the Kwankwasiyya and the Gandujiyya. Kwankwaso, now based in Abuja, has been unable to hold meetings, rallies or other public events in the state. His campaign called off a planned January 2018 visit when police said they could not guarantee order after one of Ganduje’s men, Commissioner for Special Duties Abdullahi Sunusi, was seen on video urging Gandujiyya to “stone” Kwankwaso if they ever saw him in Kano.Kwankwaso’s defection (along with his supporters) to the PDP has drawn the battle lines even more sharply. He is backing a PDP candidate, Abba Kabiru Yusuf, for governor. Though the Kwankwasiyya were weakened when some members switched to the APC on 25 November, they could still clash with Gandujiyya during the campaign.
VI.Plateau: Continuing Ethno-religious Tensions
Located in the Middle Belt and currently ruled by the APC, Plateau state has seen long-running tension between earlier-settled communities that consider themselves “indigenes”, and others who migrated to the region since the 19th century, whom they regard as “settlers” or even “strangers”. This dichotomy is a permanent source of animosity and insecurity in the state, sometimes degenerating into violence.
For the 2019 elections, a first risk of violence stems from the deterioration of security in parts of the state. Over the last two years, clashes have escalated between Fulani herders and Berom and Irigwe farmers. On 12 November, the Committee on Resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), set up by the state government five months prior, reported that recent attacks in the state have killed over 1,800 people and displaced more than 50,000 in Jos North, Jos South, Bassa, Riyom, Barkin Ladi and Bokkos local government areas. The raw feelings left by these killings could lead to renewed clashes around the elections.
The state is also expected to witness a ferocious gubernatorial contest involving 22 candidates, but basically setting the APC incumbent, Simon Lalong, against a PDP senator, Jeremiah Useni. Among “indigenes”, Lalong’s refusal to introduce laws banning herders from letting their livestock graze on farmland, has cast him as a Fulani “sympathiser”, diminishing his support among mostly Christian farmers (such laws are on the books in other states on the fault line, such as Benue). Senator Useni, 75, a retired army general from the small “indigenous” ethnic group, Tarok, is rallying all “indigenes” to oust Lalong.
Jos North local government area, which recorded incidents of electoral violence in 2002, 2008 and 2011, is a particular flashpoint. Locals allege that many young men from Tilden Fulani, a city in neighbouring Bauchi state, came to register for the elections in Jos North, in order to tilt the balance in the Fulani’s favour. Those who consider themselves “indigenes” are threatening to block “outsiders” from casting votes. If they follow through with this threat, the result will be bloodshed.
VII.Adamawa: Between President and Challenger
Adamawa, in north-eastern Nigeria, is one of the country’s most diverse states, with about 70 ethnic groups split among the Muslim majority and largely Christian minorities. From 2012 to 2015, the Boko Haram insurgency spilled over into Adamawa from Borno state, posing a serious challenge to the 2015 elections in the north east of the state. Since then, the insurgents have been virtually pushed out, yet the 2019 elections here could still be violent, because of the state’s symbolic importance, escalating farmer-herder conflict and growing problem with armed youth gangs.
First, at the national level, Adamawa state is strategic territory in the APC-PDP power struggle. Though under APC rule since 2015 and the birthplace of Buhari’s wife, Aisha, the state is also the home state of Atiku Abubakar. APC officials vow to retain control, for the symbolic purpose of showing that Atiku is unpopular even at home. Atiku, by the same token, sees a win in Adamawa as required if he is to credibly claim victory elsewhere in the country. His investiture on 25 November as the Adamawa emirate’s new waziri, the chief kingmaker and adviser to the Lamido (traditional ruler) of Adamawa, appears part of his effort to boost his local legitimacy ahead of the elections. Furthermore, while Buhari and Atiku both hail from the north, some of Atiku’s supporters see his candidacy as a historic opportunity to break the tradition of northern presidents hailing from Buhari’s north west, rather than the north east. Adamawa will be a key battleground between the two parties.
Secondly, at the state level, the escalation of herder-farmer conflict, particularly since late 2017, adds to risks of electoral violence. Over the last year, Numan, Demsa and Lamorde local government areas have witnessed recurrent confrontations between Fulani herders and mostly Bachama farmers, with hundreds killed, numerous villages destroyed and tens of thousands displaced, both within Adamawa and to neighbouring Gombe state. The displacement and prevailing insecurity could depress turnout in some areas. Worse, since the herders are predominantly Fulani and Muslim while farmers are ethnically diverse and in many cases Christian, the conflict has aggravated intercommunal tension across the state. There is a danger that politicians from all parties may whip up ethno-religious hostility to advance their partisan or even personal objectives.
A further risk arises from the activities of youth gangs, known locally as the Shila Boys. As during previous elections, politicians may recruit gang members – along with other unemployed youths – to intimidate opponents. In one incident before the gubernatorial primaries in October, a band of youths attacked a meeting of an APC faction that had been pushing for direct primaries, wounding several persons and damaging vehicles. A senatorial aspirant, Ibrahim Waziri, alleged that the attackers were working for Governor Mohammed Bindow, which the governor’s aides denied. The state may witness more such violence around the elections.
VIII.Mitigating Risks in Conflict-prone States
The first step toward peaceful 2019 polls is to reduce tensions at the national level. The government itself can do much in this regard, particularly by speedily releasing all funds earmarked for INEC and the security agencies. It should also avoid any act that could be construed as deploying security agencies for electoral gains, such as sending anti-corruption agencies to target opposition leaders and states. For their part, federal security agencies should strive to show professionalism and impartiality, by relating to all parties even-handedly, in all election-related actions, in order to retain or regain the parties’ trust and build confidence around the polls.
Following their 11-12 December signing of a peace accord, at the behest of the National Peace Committee, political parties and their candidates should publicly urge their supporters to stop inflammatory rhetoric, campaign peacefully, pursue grievances lawfully and remain calm in the event of their defeat. Atiku did not attend the signing of the accord on the same day as Buhari, robbing the event of the powerful symbolic message it was supposed to convey. Nonetheless, all signatories should respect the accord’s provisions.
Brewing tensions in the six states of greatest concern suggest that the authorities should make further efforts to prevent or manage local violence.
In addition to these steps, brewing tensions in the six states of greatest concern suggest that the authorities should make further efforts to prevent or manage local violence. While risks differ among states, the government ought to focus on three areas:
Improve state and local security arrangements: Security agencies, particularly the Nigeria Police Force, which is the lead agency on election security, should step up efforts to detect and manage election-related threats. On 1 November, Inspector-General Ibrahim Idris issued a “red alert” to his commissioners in all 36 states to respond proactively to challenges that may arise ahead of the elections. This step is welcome, but further action should follow.
State police chiefs should intensify monitoring aimed at identifying and pre-empting politicians or groups who may be plotting violence. They should collaborate more closely with local civil society and community-based groups that already have programs in place for such election-related monitoring. They also should review and follow the recommendations of national and international observers, particularly to maintain order at campaign rallies impartially, secure polling centres in a non-intimidating manner and manage likely public protests over election results without resorting to excessive force. For now, police (and military) responses to protesters – from members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria to pro-Biafra agitators – suggest that the force has not improved its strategies for crowd control. They should strengthen their cooperation with other security agencies under the Inter-agency Consultative Committees on Election Security, established to coordinate election security arrangements. Such coordination is presently weak in some states and barely exists in many local government areas.
Both civil society organisations and international partners have expressed serious concerns about the conduct of security agencies, particularly the police. To address this, the Police Service Commission, which is vested with oversight and disciplinary powers over all police personnel (except the inspector-general), needs to exercise those powers more effectively. Specifically, it should raise awareness of the telephone lines it dedicates to public complaints about police conduct, deploy nationwide more than the 400 monitors it fielded in 2015 and sanction any officer proven to be acting in a partisan manner.
Encourage state-level actors to commit to non-violence: The National Peace Committee, which has already committed political parties to peaceful campaigns at the national level, should further engage with state-level branches of the Inter-party Advisory Committee, the umbrella body of registered political parties in Nigeria, as well as with influential civil society groups to the same end. More broadly, it should urge major actors in all states to commit to non-violence. In some cases, such as the Kwankwaso-Ganduje feud in Kano state and the Akpabio-Emmanuel contest in Akwa Ibom state, the two committees and influential civil society actors should bring the antagonists together and get them to commit to campaign peacefully, pursue disputes without violence and call on their supporters to follow suit. A model is Sokoto state, where gubernatorial candidates have formed a Sokoto State Gubernatorial Candidates Forum and will soon sign an agreement committing them to peaceful elections. Other states should replicate their example.
Hold confidence-building dialogues: In states like Adamawa, Kaduna and Plateau, where ethnic, religious and herder-farmer tensions could contribute to election violence, institutions dedicated to peace-building at the state level, such as the Plateau Building Peace Agency and the Kaduna State Peace Commission, should urgently organise intercommunal forums for dialogue. Such forums could take place at state, local government and community levels, and could help restore a degree of trust among divided communities ahead of the elections and undercut attempts by politicians to exploit those divides for political ends.
For their part, Nigeria’s foreign partners, already supportive of the elections, ought to take further steps both to deter violence and to be prepared in the event a crisis erupts. In Abuja, they should create a diplomatic forum to coordinate messaging to President Buhari, political parties, candidates and security agencies. The statements jointly issued by European Union (EU) member states, the U.S. and the UK, following the Osun state governorship elections in September and at the commencement of the election campaigns on 18 November, are welcome steps in this regard. They should also set up a high-level international working group, spearheaded by prominent statespersons with sway in Nigeria and access to the two main presidential contenders, that could intervene in the event of a major electoral crisis.
International observers (notably from the EU, U.S. organisations, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States) as well as Nigerian civil society platforms (such as the Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room, Peace and Security Network, Centre for Democracy and Development and CLEEN Foundation) should devote particular attention and resources to potential hotspots. Nigeria’s major international partners, including the UN, EU, U.S., UK and Canada, should step up communication with key state-level politicians, particularly in the six vulnerable states identified here, and urge them to avoid violence around gubernatorial and legislative contests. They should complement these efforts with warnings to Nigeria’s politicians, many of whom travel abroad frequently, that they could well pay a price for inciting violence, such as incurring visa bans for them and their families as well as other targeted sanctions.
Nigeria’s last several elections have witnessed spates of campaign-related violence, up to and including assault and murder. The government and its foreign partners should remain vigilant in detecting threats, and proactive in heading them off, so that the 2019 contests do not see a repeat performance.
Abuja/Dakar/Brussels, 21 December 2018