This article examines the inclusion and exclusion of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Nigeria’s upcoming elections on February 16 and March 2. It proceeds on the basis of Section 26 (1) of Nigeria’s 2015 Electoral (Amendment) Act which stipulates that “in the event of an emergency [in this case a crisis of insecurity], the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) shall as far as possible, ensure that persons displaced as a result of the emergency are not disenfranchised.”
Voting by IDPs in Nigeria: Past and Present
During the 2015 general elections, voting was conducted in IDP camps in only three states—Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa—affected by the Boko Haram insurgency in Northeast Nigeria. In 2019, voting by IDPs will be a major issue because IDPs now inhabit at least fifteen states across Nigeria. The widespread displacement occurring between 2016 and 2018 has been primarily caused by conflicts. Despite the government’s initial claims that the Islamist militant group Boko Haram had been “technically defeated,” recent events indicate that the group has merely changed tactics and resorted to hit-and-run attacks.
Similarly, in the Northwest, Zamfara state is experiencing increased levels of armed banditry1 which has further fuelled insecurity and displacement in the affected communities. In addition, violent conflicts between farmers and pastoralists in states in Nigeria’s Middle Belt region—particularly Benue, Plateau, and Taraba—have destroyed homes and farms and resulted in the displacement of thousands of people. In the Southeast, communal conflicts arising from land disputes and environmental degradation have also forced people out of their homes.
In line with its mandate to ensure the inclusion of IDPs, INEC embarked on voter registration drives between July and August 2018 and sensitization exercises from August 2018 to January 2019 in designated IDP camps. Displaced persons were registered and issued temporary voter cards. IDPs were also able to report lost voter cards for replacement. In Benue state, a significant number of IDPs were unable to register. Those that either registered or reported the loss of their voter cards are yet to receive their permanent voter cards less than a week before the presidential election.
In terms of eligibility, displaced persons residing in camps within the states they registered in can participate in the presidential, national/state assembly, and governorship elections. Those in camps outside the states where they registered will only participate in the presidential election. INEC claims this decision is to minimize difficulties in the collation of election results.
Displaced but not Disenfranchised?
“Disenfranchisement” connotes a deprivation of the rights of citizenship, such as the right to vote, and to be voted for. Apart from being denied their right to peace and security, some IDPs face the risk of also being disenfranchised. Interviews with IDPs suggest that there are different layers of disenfranchisement. Many IDPs who lost their voter cards were unable to re-register or replace their cards. In a few instances, some displaced persons living outside their home states had to re-register as voters in their host states in a desperate bid to participate in the elections. Displaced persons who obtain voter cards from their host states and those with voter cards from their home states have inadvertently lost the chance to elect their local state assembly representatives.
Another form of disenfranchisement is the loss of the opportunity to make an informed choice from among competing candidates. Most displaced people do not know the candidates, the content of their manifestos, and even the logos of some of the numerous political parties. This situation is made worse by their relative confinement to the camps, a ban on organized political rallies and placement of campaign posters or billboards in IDP camps, and inadequate access to media and information. INEC’s sensitization programs have been relatively effective but not well-timed and limited in scope.
Since the displaced persons have limited options to choose from, they are likely to consider politicians and their allies who have tended to them in the camps as the only viable option. This is particularly so in states where the current governors are vying for elective positions. This raises questions about the possible exploitation of IDPs by politicians for political gain. For those who have been excluded, the perceived failure of the government to protect them from the conflicts they fled has left them disenchanted, thereby fuelling voter apathy in IDP camps across the country.