Growing violence awakens global interest in Nigeria election; US, UN wary
Growing violence and hates speeches ahead of the 2019 general elections have ignited more vigilance from the United States and United Nations with the US mulling more support to Africa’s oil rich nation on how to make the polls less violent.
The world also fears that obvious partisanship by security agencies during the polls may escalate the violence to bloody realms.
In just two rallies of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) the nation has witnessed a harvest of violence with party faithful shot dead by party men taking out a revenge on the other. The culture of electoral violence in some parts of the country, particularly the south, is fuelled by the reliance of party chieftains on notorious miscreants and lawless folks otherwise known as Area Boys to win elections.
The mushrooming of pockets of cells of Area Boys has also led to factionlisation of the gangster groups some of whom have introduced cultic activities into their operations and practice.
In the Lagos, a hugely cosmopolitan and boisterous city, there has been delineations in areas of operations and influence of Area Boys with occasional rivalries resulting in violence and ultimately death.
As the elections approach, these cells of Area Boys have again gained relevance as recruits for violence by the politicians. The result is already showing in bloody rallies. This has kindled global interest in Nigeria’s polls.
The United States for instance has dubbed Nigeria’s upcoming national elections “a critical test of democracy” in the country and the region, and expressed concern at reports of intimidation and partisanship by government security forces.
U.S. deputy ambassador Jonathan Cohen told a U.N. Security Council meeting on West Africa that the Trump administration is also concerned about heightened insecurity in Nigeria, the inability of disabled and displaced people to vote, “and the risk that widespread vote buying could challenge the integrity of the electoral process.”
He urged Nigerian authorities, political parties, civil society and community leaders to address these risks and ensure that the Feb. 16 elections are free, fair and peaceful.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is seeking a second term. The main opposition challenger is veteran politician Atiku Abubakar, but Oby Ezekwesili, a former World Bank vice president who led the global campaign to free Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram extremists, is also among scores of other candidates running.
The winner will lead Africa’s biggest crude oil producer and the continent’s most populous country.
The recent surge in attacks by Boko Haram extremists and the offshoot Islamic State West Africa Province has caused alarm in Nigeria and posed a major challenge for Buhari. He took office in 2015 vowing to fight corruption and to defeat Boko Haram, which split after one faction pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.
Cohen said the United States continues to support Nigeria’s goal of free, fair, transparent and peaceful elections “that reflect the will of the Nigerian people.”
“Twenty years since the country’s return to democratic rule, the upcoming elections provide Nigerians with an opportunity to shape the future of their country and further solidify its place as a democratic leader in Africa,” he said.
Cohen said the U.S. is helping Nigeria strengthen its democratic institutions and process “through diplomacy, robust public engagement — including with youth and civil society — and democracy and governance programs.”
Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the U.N. envoy for West Africa and the Sahel, told the Security Council that “tensions are high” ahead of Nigeria’s Feb. 16 presidential and parliamentary elections and March 2 state assembly elections.
But he said “prospects for peaceful and credible elections have been increased” after many political parties signed a National Peace Accord on Dec. 11, committing to hold a peaceful vote.
By Aliu Momodu with Agency reports