The 2019 general election in Nigeria scheduled for February 16 (president and national legislators) and March 2 (governors and state assembly members) will be the sixth election since the return to civil rule in 1999. There have been concerns raised about the likelihood of electoral violence, which would worsen the already poor security situation in some parts of the country. This article explores some of the critical security challenges and their likely impact on the conduct of the elections.
The Boko Haram insurgency poses a serious challenge to the 2019 elections, particularly in the Northeast of Nigeria. Although the terrorist group Boko Haram has been significantly weakened since 2015, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) faction of the group has increased attacks against civilians and military targets in Borno and Yobe states in an attempt to spread fear and undermine the elections.
In the Northwest, violence involving armed bandits, communities, and security forces continues to rage in Zamfara, Sokoto, and Katsina states, resulting in deaths and destruction and creating insecurity that may be exploited by unscrupulous politicians before or during elections. Additionally, farmer-herder conflicts have escalated in Benue, Plateau, Adamawa, Nasarawa, and Taraba states of central Nigeria, resulting in the death of over 1300 people and the displacement of thousands more between January and June 2018.
Some analysts also point to the threat posed by the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), a separatist group operating in the Southeast that is calling for a boycott of the 2019 elections. There are concerns that the group might use an election boycott and public demonstrations to air its grievances and advance its goal of separating from the Nigerian federation. Though it is debatable whether the group can muster enough support to boycott or disrupt elections in the Southeast, security agencies will have to be alert to prevent any breach of the peace that may threaten the electoral process.
Although the Nigerian Southwest is not experiencing any major low-intensity conflict at the moment, its history of political volatility suggests that it needs to be closely watched, particularly against the background of current inter- and intra-party crises.
The security situation in the Niger Delta in the South-South region, with its history of ethnic minority agitation for political inclusion and the control of oil, remains politically fragile as a new armed group, Koluama Seven Brothers, claimed responsibility for blowing up a pipeline in an oilfield in Bayelsa state on January 4. Another issue of concern is the activities of armed groups operating in communities and cities across the region. There are reports that the PDP-controlled Rivers state government recently established a “neighborhood watch”: a militia whose purpose may be to counter the perceived influence of the APC-controlled federal government’s security agencies.
Several groups have appealed to the government and politicians not to make pronouncements or take actions that may escalate existing political tensions. Some religious groups held peace rallies in Abuja, the federal capital, and other major Nigerian cities on May 22, 2018. Delegations of religious leaders have also met with government officials to discuss Nigeria’s peace and security. A coalition of civil society groups protested the insecurity challenges in Abuja on May 28 and July 4, 2018. Similarly, a Summit of National Elders and Leaders of Nigeria was convened on July 18, 2018, by the Northern Elders Forum; the Yoruba group, Afenifere; the Igbo group, Ohaneze Ndigbo; and the Pan-Niger Delta Forum to address insecurity and offer advice to the government on tackling the current security challenges.
The threat potential in Nigeria’s “insecurity landscape” is unlikely to sabotage the 2019 elections. This is because members of Nigeria’s political class, in spite of their differences, remain invested in contesting and taking their chance at winning elections. The country’s security apparatus will be mobilized to mitigate electoral violence as demonstrated in the 2018 gubernatorial elections in Ekiti and Osun states and by-elections in other states. Special attention will be paid to political hotspots and conflict-affected parts of the country. Disputed elections will be referred to the courts, rather than being contested in the streets, as the country continues to consolidate its electoral democracy.