Fears of violence in Nigeria ahead of Saturday vote

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Fears of violence in Nigeria ahead of Saturday vote

Lagos, Nigeria – A fear of violence has gripped many in Nigeria days before the presidential and legislative elections on February 16 with at least five deaths reported so far in pre-poll clashes.

On Sunday, five members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) were shot and killed near the oil city of Warri in southeast Nigeria, with authorities calling it a revenge attack by people suspected to be from the opposition.

Clashes between APC supporters and rival contenders from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) have been reported from various places in Africa’s largest democracy.

Nigeria has a history of election violence, with analysts warning that the forthcoming vote might be one of the bloodiest in the country’s history.

In 2011, election violence claimed nearly 1,000 lives in the country’s north following the defeat of Muhammad Buhari by former President Goodluck Jonathan.

The presidential contest will see incumbent Buhari seek to win a second four-year term against former vice president Atiku Abubakar in what is expected to be a close race.

‘No different from previous polls’

“Nigerian elections have often been characterised by violence and with political tensions now further aggravated by current conflicts and deepening insecurity, there are fears that this election would be no different from the ones in the past,” Nnamdi Obasi, International Crisis Group’s senior Nigeria researcher, told Al Jazeera.

“The intensely acrimonious exchanges between the two major political parties have already resulted in many clashes, risking further violence during and after the polls,” Obasi said.

The election campaign has been dominated by politicians accusing their rivals of inciting violence. 

“The highly desperate and increasingly intolerant dispositions of both the parties signal fierce disputes over results, with protests possibly leading to further violence,” said Obasi.

A key ally of Buhari and governor of the northern state of Kaduna, Nasir El Rufai, recently warned the Nigerians abroad to not intervene in the elections.

“We are waiting for the person who will come and intervene. They will go back in body bags because nobody will come to Nigeria and tell us how to run our country,” said El-Rufai.

El Rufai’s comments drew criticism from international organisations and the opposition, heightening tensions further.

Two top officials of the PDP in Kaduna have also been arrested by security officials after they made provocative comments in their campaign rallies.

Security analyst Don Okereke told Al Jazeera that election violence will not go away soon.

“In 2015, nearly 58 Nigerians lost their lives in pre-election violence. This is a result of the do-or-die brand of politics played in Nigeria,” Okereke said.

Political infighting

The top political parties have witnessed defections of some of their leaders. The switching of party allegiance has not gone down well with their supporters, often resulting in attacks and killings.

On Monday, it took the intervention of security operatives to save President Buhari from objects hurled at the podium during his campaign rally in Abeokuta in southern Ogun state.

Factions in his party were angry over the president’s support for another candidate, as intra-party bickering exacerbates the tense political environment.

Several warnings have been issued by local and international organisations, who say they are worried over security during the elections.

Security experts are calling for measures by the government to pre-empt poll violence.

“Granted some analysts believe that deployment of soldiers for election is an aberration, but if the motive is good and the soldiers won’t be overzealous or be used to intimidate voters, especially in the opposition strongholds, then the measure could be extenuating,” Okereke said.

The Nigerian army has announced that its troops will be engaged in ensuring security of voters and electoral officials.

The opposition has questioned the plan, alleging the armed forces could be used to rig the elections.

Compromised security force

Nigerian leaders in the past have been accused of using the country’s security apparatus for their political goals.

The loyalists in the security service have often played a key role in safeguarding votes in areas considered to be the ruling party’s stronghold.

Experts are calling for caution in handling the deployment of security forces during the elections.

“The government must deploy police and other security agencies in the most vulnerable states, but in a manner that inspires confidence rather than intimidate the voters,” said Obasi.

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