Violence need not define Nigeria’s future

Nigeria’s presidential, parliamentary and gubernatorial elections are scheduled for 25 February and 11 March amid rising insecurity and the risk of violence across the country. We are hoping to see a peaceful election period to help promote stability, social cohesion and a smooth transition for the incoming government.

A woman casts her vote during Nigeria's 2019 presidential election.
A woman casts her vote during Nigeria’s 2019 presidential election. Photo: Commonwealth Secretariat (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Security challenges have defined the election preparation. Secessionist groups in the south-east and armed gangs in the north have contributed to a context of violence across the country. The offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) have been targeted by dozens of attacks. These risks impede the functioning of democracy by affecting voter turn-out and therefore ultimately the legitimacy of the result. An election fought amid violence also increases the risk of violence post-election.

The election campaign has seen intense rivalry and inter-party tensions between the three major presidential candidates. The ethno-cultural, religious and geographical identities of the candidates have divided the electorate. Hate speech and inciteful rhetoric have typified some of the political messaging. The conduct of the campaign raises doubts about the willingness of the different parties to accept the results.

Nigerians are facing difficult economic conditions, including high inflation, unemployment and shortages of vehicle fuel. Longstanding challenges have been compounded by the non-availability of the redenominated currency, resulting in long queues and tensions at banks and cash points. This widespread suffering has increased dissatisfaction among the electorate and raised the risk of vote buying.

With Africa’s biggest economy, vast human and natural resource wealth, and a well-developed civil society, Nigeria has limitless potential. Yet corruption, religious and social divides, and a lack of trust in institutions has left too many Nigerians facing violent conflict and uncertainty. These growing tensions and the multiplicity of conflict drivers at play pose a challenge to the people, organisations and communities working towards a peaceful future.

Secessionism, banditry, herder-farmer conflicts and interreligious tensions affect different regions in different ways, but the incoming president must represent all Nigerians. Whatever the outcome of the elections, the government and civil society should establish dialogue mechanisms to facilitate non-adversarial resolution of disputes. This should include agreements that demonstrate a commitment to respect the outcome of democratic elections and post-election monitoring. The gender divide in political representation needs to be addressed, and women survivors of violence given greater support.

Polarisation between parties, regions and religious groups is a growing challenge and the next president must prioritise reconciliation in order to move forward. The incoming government must seek to stabilise the economy and work towards equitable outcomes that see a fairer and more transparent distribution of Nigeria’s wealth and resources. Corruption is a driver of conflict and attempts need to be made to support institutions that people can put their trust in.

The next president will face many security and governance challenges and the prospect of violence is likely to continue for some time. Smooth and nonviolent elections can be the first step towards building a peaceful and prosperous future.