On February 23, gun fires and explosions broke out in Nigeria as the delayed presidential election began. Although President Muhammadu Buhari had warned of dire consequences for those who would disrupt the voting system, violence and long hours of delays were nonetheless seen at the polling stations. President Buhari is currently vying for his second term against more than 70 challengers, particularly his main challenger Atiku Abubakar, a business tycoon and former vice president. According to the New York Times, at least 47 people were killed in the southern part of the country where the election is tightly contested.
While the national electoral commission has cited logistical reasons for the long delays in opening polling places, Buhari and another leading candidate, Atiku Abubakar, spread rumors and speculations that the commission was stalling the election so that other parties could gain the upper hand in the voting system. Regarding the death toll, Governor Wike of Rivers State in Nigeria has stated, “We shall as a government pursue justice for the families of the victims against the perpetrators of the mayhem, killings and destruction Abonema, Buguma, Degema, and other places.” Meanwhile, Clement Nwankwo, the executive director of Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, expressed concerns regarding Buhari’s message which incited violence and stated, “no election in Nigeria should cost the life of any citizen.”
There have been criticisms regarding the deployment of soldiers to allegedly provide security during the election. Mr. Nwankwo is correct in deeming this action ‘unacceptable,’ as the involvement of soldiers should not have spread fear and chaos among voters, ultimately resulting in the killing of innocent people. According to the New York Times, the soldiers were involved in the shootout in Rivers State and were responsible for blocking voters from reaching the polling stations in some areas. As urged by civil society groups in Nigeria, it should be noted that any political ruler whose actions lead to death must be held accountable and have sanctions imposed by countries like the United States and the United Kingdom. Since delays have been a recurrent problem in Nigeria’s presidential election, it must be ensured that elections are held on time to avoid confusion and doubts among voters and competitors. The national electoral commission should remain transparent, neutral, impartial and free from corruption during the elections.
Observers have noted that despite the deaths and violence, the election this year was not as bad as the previous elections. They said that irregularities and issues only occurred in very few of the thousands of polling stations and called this year’s election mostly peaceful. According to the International Crisis Group, in 2015 at least 100 people were killed in violence during and after Nigeria’s presidential election. This year’s election had been delayed for the third time in a row due to not only logistical issues but also increased political tension; the election is happening at a very crucial time, as the recent oil price crash has sent the country into an economic turmoil and a record 91 million Nigerians are reportedly impoverished.
Whether Buhari, Abubakar or any of the other 70 presidential candidates win the election or not, violence during elections should be prevented at all costs so that no citizens are hurt or killed. All delays associated with the election need not happen again and the Independent National Electoral Commission should stay transparent and impartial so that further violence among the parties and citizens can be avoided.