Lecture Presented to Imo Network Group.
Topic: Imo Youths and Election Violence, What Can Be Done.
Date: Friday, 28th April 2017.
Time: 7pm, Nigerian Time.
Thanks for finding me worthy to present this topic. I do not know the criteria, you used to select me, but whatever formula that you people adopted to choose me, I remain humble and grateful to have been chosen to speak on this topic. Election violence is a major threat to our democracy, national security, Nigerians, and especially the youths. Electoral violence is as old as Nigeria. Almost every election since Nigerian independence has elements of violence. Suffice it to say that the youths of today have not known any other system, except elections with violence. This paper will look at the definition of electoral violence, origin of electoral violence in Nigeria, Imo youths and election violence, why Imo State youths are vulnerable, and what can be done. This lecture would be short and straight to the points.
Definition of Election Violence:
There are no easy definitions of what constitutes electoral violence, as it could happen before, during and after elections. However, let’s look at this definition. “Acts or threats of coercion, intimidation, or physical harm perpetrated to affect an electoral process or that arises in the context of electoral competition. When perpetrated to affect an electoral process, violence may be employed to influence the process of elections, such as efforts to delay, disrupt, or derail a poll, and to influence the outcomes, the determining of winners in competitive races for political office, or to secure approval or disapproval of referendum questions”. https://researchandadvocacyunit.wordpress.com/2013/03/11/what-is-election-violence/ However, I will add that electoral violence happens at different stages of the electoral processes, such as the time of voters registration, when some electoral workers, are bullied, harassed, coerced etc to influence electoral register, through to the time of campaigning for votes, actual voting, the announcements of results and even during court cases for aggrieved politicians. Having defined election violence above, let’s look at its origin in Nigeria.
Origin of Election Violence in Nigeria:
The history of electoral violence in Nigeria started in 1964 at the defunct Western Nigerian Regional election. Since then, it has become a reoccurring decimal in almost every election with severe consequences. The 1964 Western Nigerian Regional election was marred with irregularities, discrepancies, and rigging. There were calls for the boycott of this election then, by some politicians. There were serious allegations of electoral malpractices, which thus resulted in violent protests, destruction of properties, breakdown of law and order, bloodshed and mass murder. It was estimated that over 2,000 people were killed during this violence.
As a result of this violence, then Western Nigeria, was nicknamed wild, wild west. The resultant effects of this crisis, led to the first military intervention in Nigerian politics. Typical of anything in Nigeria, when it starts, it doesn’t end. Since 1964 till date, every other elections (1983, 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015) have all been associated with electoral violence. The only exception was the 1993 general election, which was acclaimed to be the freest and fairest election in Nigeria.
Imo Youths and Election Violence:
Violence during elections are mainly perpetrated by the youths. They are at the front lines. As a young boy, I personally witnessed electoral violence at my village in Imo State, during the 1983 general election. It was orchestrated then by the youths. From 1964, till date, all the violence has mainly been carried out by the youths, who act under the influences of the politicians. They are financed, encouraged and monitored by the politicians, who use them to start, and escalate violence. The youths are the readymade weapons at the disposal of politicians, who incidentally do not even have the interests of the youths. Youths are simply exploited, used and dumped after each electoral violence.
Daily Trust online news media of April 12, 2005 reported that, Governorship and State House of Assembly election in Imo State was marred by violence. They reported that 3 people were shot and killed by solders while trying to escape with ballot boxes, at Onuimo Local Government Area. There were incidences of ballot box snatching at Ohaji/Egbema, Oru West, and Oguta Local Government Areas. Detailed number of casualties, shootings, and deaths arising from electoral violence in Imo State from 1983 to 2015 is not available, but one knows that many have been killed. All these crimes were carried out largely by Imo State youths.
Vulnerability of Imo Youths to Election Violence.
Below are some of the factors that would continue to attract the Imo State youths to partake in election violence.
(A). Systemic Failure: In Nigeria, the youths have not known any election without violence. More like, it’s a norm in Nigeria. Violence has become part and parcel of every election. The inability of the Nigerian establishments to fashion out a violent free electoral systems, like the widely acclaimed Option A4 System, which was alleged to be the freest and fairest election in Nigeria. This system was used during the 1993 general election.
(B). Youths Unemployment: An idle mind is a devils workshop, because many of the youths are not employed/not working, they become vulnerable to easy manipulations, as thugs, ballot box snatchers etc.
(C). Monetary Gifts: Money they say, is the root of all evils. Politicians, Governors, Senators, and some of those in authority, share money to people during elections. They also share foods and other gifts (stomach infrastructures) etc. These gifts are with intents to manipulate the electoral processes, or to cause mayhem if resisted. Government is complicit in electoral violence.
(D). Collusion of the security services: Sadly, but the bitter truth is that, some security service officials are compromised. They connive with youths to abuse the electoral processes. Sometimes they let, the youths have their ways.
(E). Little or No Prosecution for offenders: Because of the calibre of people involved or their influences, you find out that most hoodlums or youths arrested during the act of electoral violence, are not prosecuted or they manage to secure bails.
What Can Be Done:
(1). Awareness Programmes: Youths should be sensitized with the dangers associated with electoral violence. Pictures and examples of those that were killed should be used as materials for the sensitization. The risks are enormous.
(2). Family Caution: Families, parents, relations, folks etc are better placed to caution their youths against involving in electoral violence.
(3). Youths Empowerment and Employment: It’s the responsibility of all to find our youths, employment opportunities, or point them in the direction of economic empowerments. The government cannot do this alone, hence its now the responsibility of all. Let’s find a way to push the youths to acquire lifelong skills that would enable them to make money. An economically engaged youth is less likely going to be engaged with electoral violence.
(4). State Prosecution: The government at all levels, should prosecute to the later, anyone caught or arrested while committing electoral violence. Offenders should be used to set examples to discourage other people from commit same offence.
(5). Youths Election: The youths should organize themselves and contest elections. Rather than commit electoral crimes for the old politicians, who do not have the interest of the youths, the youths should stand for elections, seek power to better than their lives and the society.
I believe this short presentation would add to existing literature on electoral violence, and thus further its discourse, with a view to finding a lasting solution. Once more, thanks for the opportunity to share my thoughts on the above subject matter.