•Case for demilitarizing Nigeria civic spaces, diaspora and e-Voting
Similar to a nation gearing up for war, the Nigerian space, political entropy is usually supercharged during elections and the 2019 general election is no exception. There is hysteria in the air as if the country is going to implode. Land and sea borders are shut preparatory to elections. The frenzy takes a toll on businesses, foreign direct investment (FDI) plummets and the Stock exchange bottoms out. To give us an idea, the volume of shares traded on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) in January 2019 dropped by 42.38 per cent. Analysts attributed this to ‘’uncertainties surrounding the forthcoming general elections’’. The latent hostility in Nigeria exacerbated when few hours to the commencement of voting, Nigeria’s federal election umpire – the INEC bandied – ‘’logistics and operational problems’’ – as reason for postponing the 2019 presidential and national assembly/gubernatorial elections by one week. This set the stage for series of shoddy, inconclusive elections unprecedented in the annals of the country.
Granted the 2019 general election in Nigeria has come and gone but upshots of the such as wanton election violence, bloodletting, militarization, interference and invasion of civic spaces by the military, kidnapping of election officials continues to reverberate. Also well-documented are random cases of disenfranchisement and suppression of voting in opponents’ strongholds, under-aged voting, inconclusive elections, vote-buying, ballot-box snatching, suspension of collation exercise, election officials claiming to have declared results ‘’under duress’’, burning of INEC offices in parts of the country, amongst others. In his election post-mortem for the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), Former United States Ambassador to Nigeria; John Campbell described Nigeria’s 2019 presidential election as ‘bad news for democracy’. The former ambassador reportedly asserted that there was evidence that security agents at some polling units prevented voters from casting their votes, particularly in opposition strongholds, and intimidated the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) ad-hoc members of staff. Likewise, two United States-based organizations – the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) said in its final report that, “The 2019 general elections fell significantly short of standards set in 2015. Citizens’ confidence in elections was shaken,” said Dr. Daniel Twining, IRI President.
This write-up is aimed at appraising Nigeria’s 2019 general election especially as it pertains to election security and reported brazen military interference or intervention as Nigeria’s election umpire – the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) aptly referred to it. This essay also advocates for inter-alia: a demilitarized Nigerian civilian space, Diaspora and E-voting.
On Military Interference In Nigerian Elections And Civic Spaces
As I was gathering my thoughts for this essay, late professor Pius Adesanmi’s piece titled, ‘’Is The Nigerian Army Teachable?’’ flashed through my mind. Expressing his disgust on the perennial and mundane way and manner the Nigerian military usurps the Constitutional role of the police and repeatedly thrusts itself on civic spaces, Pius submits in the aforesaid piece, ‘’the issue for me is this utterly reprehensible idea of the military and their tanks in civic spaces. I have written about it in English. I have written about it in Pidgin. I have used every conceivable Nigerian way and manner of communication to get people to understand that it is not normal. You cannot use soldiers and their tanks for routine law enforcement. Even in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is still law enforcement by police’’. In Pius Adesanmi’s words, ‘’even the regularity with which one reads statements from the Nigerian military would be a very serious issue if we had close to 15% civic consciousness in our society. They are always injecting themselves into symbolic civic spaces of meaning. Two Danfo conductors will fight in Lagos; the army will issue a statement. Five market women will fight in Ibadan, the army will issue a statement. Secondary school boys will riot in Sokoto, the army will issue a statement’’.
Nigeria is evidently one of the most militarized countries in the world. The Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen. Tukur Buratai, narrates that the Nigerian Army deployed troops ‘in 32 out of the 36 states of the federation battling terrorism, kidnapping, cattle rustling, pipeline vandalism, communal clashes, and other forms of insecurity’. A recent Premium Times publication captioned, ‘’Army Bans Sale Of Petroleum Products In Jerry Cans’’, buttresses late professor Adesanmi’s submission. Apparently, the Nigerian Army recently placed a total ban on the sale of petroleum products in jerry cans in three states – Borno, Yobe and Adamawa affected by the Boko Haram insurgency. An army spokesman, Ado Isa, said in a statement that the decision was because Boko Haram insurgents are making use of fuel contained in jerry cans. While we don’t have issues with the intent, the mental picture is that there is some kind of military rule and the Constitution has been suspended in the aforementioned states. The Nigerian military must learn how to deploy soft-power. A less blatant yet efficacious approach to achieve this purpose would be for the Army to convince, influence governors of the aforesaid states to ban the sale of petroleum products, citing security implications.
The Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room decries what it referred to as ‘’the militarization of the country’s electoral process is a troubling one as this is not just about the presence of military officials, but the actions of our intelligence agencies, the use of the military by the political class and the partisanship and non-recourse to rules of engagement of our armed forces”. The European Union Observation Mission to Nigeria says soldiers barred them from monitoring elections in Rivers State. Addressing journalists, the Chief Observer, Maria Arena, noted that they came to Nigeria on the invitation of INEC to monitor the elections and make recommendations. In her words, “Observers, including EU observers, were denied access to collation centres in Rivers, apparently by military personnel. This lack of access for observers compromises transparency and trust in the process’’.
Two civil society groups, the Save Democracy Women (SDW) and Impact Future Nigeria (IFN), are amongst the groups that staged a peaceful protest over what they called “the militarization of the 2019 general elections”. IFN convener May Uneku blamed the low voter turnout — just 35 percent — on the heavy presence of troops in the streets. “We condemn in totality the involvement of the military in our elections,” she was quoted as saying in local media. “During the just-concluded polls, people were killed. The elections were a total charade because there are video and pictorial evidence of people screaming for their lives, military men were harassing and shooting people.”
The unprecedented, indiscriminate, illegal deployment of military personnel to clamp down, harass, intimidate and stifle opposition candidates and strongholds during the 2019 general election is to say the least, antithetical to our collective aspirations as a country and contravenes democratic expectations. Agreed election militarization in Nigeria predates the Buhari administration but events that played out during the 2019 election suggests this administration may have upped the ante. If this ugly practice is unchecked and the masterminds are not prosecuted, what transpired in 2019 would be a child’s play in 2023.
Whither The Army Panel Investigating Military Interference?
Aftermath of the massive outcry that greeted the embarrassing role the military played during the 2019 general elections, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai on Friday March 15, 2019, inaugurated a Committee to investigate allegations of misconduct against its personnel during the general elections. Headed by Major Gen T.A Gagariga, “The committee’s Terms of Reference centered on thoroughly investigating the activities, actions and/or inactions of Nigerian Army Personnel in all the States that alleged one infraction/wrong doing or the other. The Army committee had up-to 31st of March to submit its report. Three months after the inauguration of the Army panel, nothing is heard about the outcome of the panel’s investigation. The Army we know, will most likely exonerate their own and blame it on the infamous ‘’unknown soldiers’’. And this will have far-reaching consequences. According to a retired director of the State Security Service (DSS), Dr. Toyin Akanle, “The military needs to get to the root of this issue, if not, before they know it, the confidence of the people in the military would be completely eroded. This is because for the people to see people in military uniforms snatching ballot boxes and intimidating even INEC officials, it is not the best…”.
On Election Violence, Vote-Buying in Nigeria
The United States government says reports it garnered from observers groups; voter intimidation, vote buying, interference by security forces, and violence marred the electoral process in parts of Nigeria. Two Nigerian security research groups reports that plausibly 600 people may have died in election-related violence from the start of campaigning in November 2018 to the end of the presidential election. One of the prominent victims is a federal lawmaker who represents Lagelu/Akinleye constituency of Oyo state, Hon. Temitope Olatoye (a.k.a Sugar) who was shot in Lalupon, Ibadan on 9 March 2019. In another instance, an army officer and three soldiers were reportedly killed in southern Rivers and Bayelsa states while the Rivers state governor, Nyesom Wike pointedly accused the military of complicity in the killing of 16 people in Abonnema. Corroborating, the Situation Room cites the ‘’prevalence of vote-buying in Adamawa, Sokoto, Lagos, Delta, Enugu, Ekiti, Bauchi, Benue, Nasarawa, Plateau, Kwara, Zamfara, Kebbi, Oyo, Kano and Osun States within the range of N500 and N5,000’’. Not surprised about the violence in parts of the country during the election because my 2018 analysis titled, ‘’Nigeria 2019 Elections: Threat, Political Risk Assessment’’ prognosticated it.
On The Random Arson on INEC Offices
Between February 3rd and February 12th, 3 offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) including that of Isialangwa South Local Government area of Abia State, Qua’anpan Local Government Area of Plateau, and at Awka in Anambra state recorded fire incidents. In the same vein, the office of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Isiala Mbano, Okigwe senatorial zone, Imo state was razed by fire. These incidents – arson led to destruction of sensitive election materials such as Permanent Voter Cards, ballot boxes, card readers, electronic and manual voters register and stoppage of collation. Some analysts believe that burning INEC office or election materials are usually orchestrated by unscrupulous, desperate politicians to deplete the votes and undermine the chances of their opponent especially in the opponent’s stronghold. It behooves on the INEC to ensure that their offices and election materials are safeguarded. Going forward, the INEC must invest in good fire alarm and suppressant systems.
Three months after the elections, the INEC is yet to prosecute masterminds of election violence, rigging. The energy the INEC dissipates in pushing for the speedy passage of the Electoral Offences Commission Bill lying fallow at the National Assembly, can be channeled into prosecuting electoral offenders for electoral offences under the extant laws enshrined in the Constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria. Impunity becomes a norm when people don’t pay for their crimes.
Employing Social Media, Technology For Election Security
Granted there are national security and cybersecurity implications such as hacking, election interference, disinformation, weaponized information or fake news, but on the flip side, it is evident that social media intelligence (SOMINT), open-source intelligence (OSINT), geospatial (Imagery) intelligence and other innovative technologies – artificial intelligence-powered big data analytics, can serve as an early warning system to monitor, map or geolocate sporadic election violence, malpractices such as voter intimidation and harassment, vote buying, rigging, amongst other electoral infractions, in real-time. This was part of my submission in my presentation on ’The Role of Technology and Youth in Election Security in Nigeria’’ during the Nigeria Election Security Summit 2019, an event organised by the Africa Security Forum (UK), ASF (Nigeria Chapter) in partnership with Africa Counter Terrorism and Security Academy.
In this light, social media-savvy and active citizens can crowd-source, play pivotal role in election security or conflict mitigation by disseminating accurate information, actionable intelligence that would help counter provocative misinformation and rein in violence. For instance, analysis of social media posts, hashtags or tweets can help detect demographics of rising tensions, frustration, and calls for violence. It is high time we fine-tuned such innovations in our election security management in Nigeria. Perhaps our security agencies or election umpire can synergize with the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) which does a good job collating and mapping data on reported political violence incidents and protest events across Africa and beyond. Other countries are also embracing social media in monitoring election violence. During the 2018 elections in Kenya, Nairobi-based social enterprise named – Ushahidi (a Swahili word for testimony), encouraged Kenya’s active 7 million Facebook users to use Messenger bots to report incidents of voter suppression, ballot issues and, especially, election-related violence. Similarly, Ghana-based independent media and civil society organization – Penplusbytes which has so far been involved in election reportage in Cote d’Ivoire, Niger, Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Mauritania, Botswana, Togo, Guinea and Liberia, monitors social media in real time with a view to ‘’identifying and deflecting electoral malpractices, electoral violence, fake news, hate speech and disinformation during elections’’.
Time To Explore Electronic Voting, Allow Nigerians In Diaspora Vote
Agreed there are cybersecurity concerns and fear of the unknown about electronic voting but the benefits of electronic voting include the fact that it will cut down election cost, uphold the accuracy and integrity of our election process and certainly boost turnout by engaging parts of the electorate not usually interested, or able, to get to their polling units. The debate over INEC’s Server or no Server comes to mind…Naysayers would say ‘Nigeria is not ripe for electronic voting’ just like they tell Nigeria is not ripe for ‘State police’. Is there anything we are ever ripe for? We must be forward-thinking and move with the rest of the world. The vice chancellor of the Lagos state university, Prof. Olanrewaju Fagbohun, is one of those who believe that electronic voting is possible in Nigeria. Countries that have adopted e-voting include Brazil, Belgium, Romania, Namibia, Romania, Switzerland, among others. Brazil introduced electronic voting since 1996, when the initial tests were carried in the state of Santa Catarina. By year 2000, all Brazilian elections became fully electronic. These countries assert that electronic voting enabled their electorate to trust election results because of its transparency, security and paucity of human error.
Similarly, I think it is high time we stopped disenfranchising Nigerians in Diaspora. They should be allowed to vote from wherever they domicile in the world. It is not rocket science and I don’t want to hear that ‘Nigeria is not ripe for Diaspora voting’. Many countries are doing it, all we need do is take a cue. Recall that the World Bank submitted that Nigerians living abroad (Diaspora) sent home $22 billion in 2017, the highest in the Sub-Saharan region, and the fifth highest in the world. The least we can do to reciprocate them is allow them have a say in who runs the affairs of their country. This is the best gift that Chairman/CEO of the Nigerian Diaspora Commission, Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa will give to Nigerians living in Diaspora.
The Nigerian military MUST be apolitical. They have no business meddling in Nigeria’s electoral process or invading civic spaces. The police and other security agencies should be empowered, funded and trained to play their Constitutional role while the military sticks to its forte. The Supreme Court rules on the specific, perhaps peripheral role, that the military could play during elections. The Independent National Election Commission (INEC) must improve transparency and integrity of elections in Nigeria. It behooves on them to promptly prosecute perpetrators of election violence or electoral offences to serve as deterrent to would-be perpetrators. Let us be forward-thinking; allow Nigerians in Diaspora to vote and let us earnestly explore the feasibility of electronic voting in Nigeria. It may be the panacea to vote buying, ballot-box snatching, and election violence.
©Don Okereke, a security analyst, consultant, a writer, researcher, a subject matter expert and security thought leader in Nigeria.