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Analysis II
Last Updated: 03/05/2010
Electoral Violence in Nigeria: Implications for Security, Peace and Development
Thompson Bobby Ugiagbe

Election violence has remained a feature on Nigeria’s political landscape, and a review of the problem suggests a number of reasons. This article identifies poverty, a culture of impunity, weak penalties, a lack of effective governance, and small arms proliferation, amongst others. It also looks at the effects of instability and violence in Nigerian society and proffers a number of solutions ranging from sustainable development, security sector and electoral reforms, and anti-corruption measures.

Elections are the acceptable means of effecting changes in government in contemporary democracies. An election is “an organized event at which somebody is chosen by vote for something, especially a public office.”[1] Electoral is defined as “relating to or involving elections, electors or voters[2] while violence is “the use of physical force to injure somebody or damage something.[3] According to Tafa Balogun, “all forms of violence that emanate, at any stage, from differences in views, opinions and practices during the process of elections, could be regarded as electoral violence.[4] In this paper, the meanings of the terms peace, development, and security (including derivatives like human security, sustainable and human development) would be considered as given in line with peace studies literature.

Electoral violence has regularly been reported in Nigeria and manifests in the 3 electoral stages, namely pre-election, during election and post-election, in various forms.[5] Electoral violence in Nigeria has two broad dimensions, physical and psychological.[6] Electoral violence ranges from acts of assault, arson, ballot box snatching and stuffing to murder/assassination. Electoral violence amongst other forms has reportedly claimed more than 11,000 lives in Nigeria between 1999 and 2006.[7]

This violence negates peaceful coexistence, law and order. In addition to security concerns, it militates against the consolidation of democracy. This in turn impact on the social and economic well being of the nation and creates imbalances or instances of structural violence (Galtung, 1969:167-191) that could lead to escalated conflict as was the case with the Biafran War.

The purpose of this paper is to discuss the challenges of electoral violence in Nigeria and proffer possible solutions. A major limitation is the inability to source official records.


Poverty/Unemployment. Poverty is the state of being extremely poor. It is a situation whereby an individual cannot meet the basic needs of life (Maslow, 1954). Such a person is more likely to participate in violence than a rich person in line with the relative deprivation theory (Gurr, 1970). When the situation is compounded by a “youth bulge,” the propensity for violence increases (Urdal, 2007:90). The crumbling of nation-states in future has been attributed to demography and environmental factors (Kaplan, 1994) and (Urdal, 2007:90-100). This assertion aptly captures the situation in Nigeria, where an ‘army of unemployed youth’ has become a tool for electoral violence. The 2002 killing and bombing in Kwara State of Nigeria was traced to this problem.[8]

Ineffectiveness of Security Forces/Culture of Impunity. The ineffectiveness of security outfits (especially the Police) is another factor that has encouraged electoral violence. During the pre-election stage of the 2003 Elections for example, a number of politicians were murdered.[9] The Police have been unable to get to the root of these killings. This failure seems to be creating a culture of impunity and motivation for recurrence of the crime. It could be argued that the centralized control of the police by the Federal Government contributes to the laissez-faire attitude of the police. This is because the Federal Government seems to tolerate the inefficiency as far as the Police do its bidding.

Weak Penalties. The criminal or penal code of a nation spells out crimes and the penalties or punishment for violators of the code. Penalties or punishment are intended to achieve correction, retribution and deterrence. In Nigeria, there are no specific legislations against certain electoral offences, only for associated acts like arson, assault and murder. The laws for example, have no provision for the snatching of electoral boxes from polling booths (a common crime during elections). Moreover, the penalties for acts associated with electoral violence like assault and arson, are generally weak; a few years imprisonment at most.[10] This has contributed to the culture of impunity and underscores the need to review the extant laws.

Weak Governance and Corruption. Weak governance and corruption are some of the causes of structural violence (Galtung, 1969) in Nigeria, as they exacerbate the effects of poverty and make people desperate enough to seek any means including crime and violence just to survive. This situation seemed to have created a ‘runaway norm’ (Pruitt and Kim, 2004:116) of ‘tolerating corruption’ at all levels of government. An average of $4 billion to $8 billion per year was reportedly lost to corruption between 1999 and 2007.[11] Corruption is closely entwined with political violence in Nigeria. Public revenues are not only stolen, but are often used to pay for the services and weapons used for electoral violence. Amongst others, lack of accountability and dearth of social security could be adduced for the level of corruption. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) set up to fight corruption have achieved some success but more need to be done especially as regards former corrupt top political office holders.[12]

Small Arms Proliferations. Another contributory factor to electoral violence is the proliferation of small arms in the country. There were over one million illegal small arms reportedly in circulation in Nigeria as at 2004.[13] These weapons perpetuate violent conflict and create new cycles of violence and crime.[14] The weapons also undermine the work of humanitarian and relief organizations and militate against sustainable development.[15] Dr Aribisala averred that “…above all, small arms threaten peace and development, democracy and human rights.”[16]

Electoral violence has also been linked to the proliferation of these arms.[17]


Political Instability. Political instability often arises due to inability of opposition and relevant actors in governance to resolve perceived or real grievances. Electoral violence is both causative and symptomatic of political instability in Nigeria. It is symptomatic as it reflects an inchoate political system. It is also causative because it feeds the political crises that manifest regularly. Electoral violence, if not properly addressed, could ultimately lead to escalated violence. Political violence is incapable of building a strong, efficient and virile democratic nation (social development). It is anti-people because issues of human rights, gender equality, cultural rights and identities are often ignored or trampled upon. These adversely affect the human security and social development of the country.[18]

Insecurity. Electoral violence breeds insecurity as it is often characterized by loss of lives and properties[19] as was the case during the November 2008 political violence in Jos, Nigeria. Over 500 people were killed, thousands displaced and properties worth billions of naira were burnt, looted or destroyed.[20] In addition to the insecurity, there are attendant costs like increased security votes and the resources spent on repairs of damaged infrastructure. These resources could have been better spent on human and social development and such trends adversely affect the social and economic wellbeing of the country.

It is axiomatic that development cannot occur in the absence of peace and security.[21] The economy suffers in an atmosphere of insecurity and political instability. This is because investors are scared due to lack of security for their investment. Direct foreign investment is thus often lost in such circumstances which have contributed to the state of underdevelopment in Nigeria. According to Clare Short, “Businesses have a strong interest in peace and security in the countries in which they are operating or might wish to operate.”[22]

Cycle of Violence. Another effect of electoral violence is that it has helped propagate the ongoing cycle of violence in the country. Acts of violence impact negatively on the children living in such societies. In line with the social learning theory, such children would likely end up being violent (Bandura and Walters 1963). The ongoing violence by youths in the Niger-Delta Region of Nigeria (which has witnessed considerable political violence) supports this. Moreover, acts of electoral violence are likely to result in hostile goals like “the desire for revenge” in political opponents[23] which could lead to conflict escalation (Pruitt and Kim, 2004:109). This perhaps explains why almost all political parties in Nigeria are involved in electoral violence.


Ant-Corruption, Economic and Social Development. Corruption affects every facet of life in Nigeria; therefore any meaningful developmental effort must incorporate anti-corruption. This could be achieved by emphasizing accountability and prosecuting former corrupt political office holders to serve as deterrence. It is also important to remove the immunity clause for political office holders from the Constitution. Equally, the International community could pressure the government to intensify the anti-corruption fight by tying future aid, assistance and cooperation to the fight against corruption. Also, the institution of a viable social security regime can help checkmate corruption, as it would make people less desperate. The problems of poverty/unemployment and underdevelopment could be addressed by pragmatic steps by government towards national economy revival. This could be done through diversification of the economy; and creating a more conducive atmosphere for foreign investment by lowering corporate and industrial taxes and reviewing other hindrances like the Land Use Act which makes personal and industrial land acquisition cumbersome. This would encourage more direct foreign investment (DFI) which will boost the economy. Equally, there must be concerted efforts towards creating a peaceful and secure atmosphere for foreign and national businesses to thrive through security sector reforms.

Security Sector Reforms. The Police have a crucial role of ensuring law and order in any society. To do this effectively however, it must be well trained, structured, equipped and motivated. The Nigerian Police likewise need to be restructured, re-equipped and motivated to play its role in ensuring the consolidation of Nigeria’s democracy. In addition to continuous training and equipment, the control of the Police would be more effective if it is decentralized to the people it serves (that is the state and local government areas authorities). This would help promote individual and corporate responsibility in the Police. There is a need for capacity building for the Police and other security agencies in the area of small arms proliferation to enable effective performance of their functions. Also, increased cooperation between the Police and other security agencies like Customs and Immigration Services would be necessary. Equally, it is important to enlighten the citizens to shun violence and embrace a culture of peace. These would help curtail the insecurity and cycle of violence prevailing.

Good Governance and Electoral Laws Reforms. The underlying problem of political instability is the lack of good governance. Hence, to resolve political instability, accountability, social justice, transparency, rule of law, gender equality and due process must guide governance and leadership. The media and civil society groups have a role in this regard to advocate for these qualities until a desirable state is achieved. Electoral laws reforms would also be necessary, as buttressed by the Electoral Reform Bill, President Yar’Adua recently sent to the National Assembly for passage. It is important that the National Assembly expedite action on the bill so that it becomes a law before the 2010 Elections.


Electoral violence in Nigeria is occasioned by a number of factors. These include poverty/unemployment, ineffectiveness of security forces/culture of Impunity, weak penalties, bad governance and corruption, as well as small arms proliferation. The army of unemployed youth being used as tool for electoral violence underscores the need for a vibrant national economy. The culture of impunity occasioned by the ineffectiveness of security agencies justifies the need for security sector reforms.

The problem of electoral violence is compounded by the weak provisions of the penal code on electoral offences which demand a review of extant laws. Electoral violence is further fuelled by the issues of bad governance and corruption as well as small arms proliferation. Amongst other effects, political instability, insecurity, underdevelopment and cycle of violence were identified and their impacts on human security, social and economic development highlighted.

A three-pronged antidote comprising anti-corruption, economic and social development; security sector reforms as well as good governance and electoral reforms was suggested. In order to stem corruption, it is important to emphasize accountability, prosecute former corrupt political office holders, remove the ‘immunity clause’ from the Constitution and institute a viable social security regime. The international community could pressure Nigeria to intensify the anti-corruption fight by tying future aid and cooperation to the fight. The economy could be stimulated through diversification and DFI by lowering taxes and reviewing the Land Use Act.

As part of the security sector reform, there is a need to decentralize the control of the Police in order to enhance responsibility. Capacity building for the Police and other security agencies as well as increased cooperation in the area of small arms proliferation is also necessary. The problem of political instability demands that accountability, social justice, transparency, rule of law, gender equality and due process must guide governance and leadership; and underpins the role of the media and civil society groups in ensuring that a desirable state is achieved. Equally, it is pertinent that the Electoral Reform Bill before the National Assembly is passed into law before the 2010 Elections.


It is recommended that:

1. The Government of Nigeria should:

a. Emphasize accountability and prosecute former corrupt political office holders.

b. Remove the ‘immunity clause’ from the Constitution and institute a viable social security regime.

c. Stimulate the economy through diversification and DFI by lowering taxes.

d. Decentralize control of the Police.

e. Ensure capacity building for the Police and other security agencies as well as increased cooperation in the area of small arms proliferation.

f. Ensure the Electoral Reform Bill is passed into law before 2010 Elections.

2. The International community should pressure Nigeria to intensify the anti-corruption fight by tying further assistance and cooperation to the fight.

3. The media and civil society groups should pressure Nigerian government to ensure that accountability, social justice, transparency, rule of law, gender equality and due process are adhered to.

[1]               Encarta Dictionary, English (North America).

[2]               Ibid.

[3]               Ibid.

[4]               “Nigeria: Electoral Violence and National Security” by Tafa Balogun, a former Inspector General of Police in Nigeria,


[6]               Ibid.


[8]               Africa Policy E-Journal 03 February 2003,


[10]             The Nigerian Criminal Code.


[12]             Official immunity provided for in the Constitution makes it difficult to prosecute politicians while in office.


[14]             Ibid.

[15]             Ibid.

[16]             Dr Aribisala is the Deputy Executive Secretary of ECOWAS,


[18]             Upeace Foundation Course Lecture on “Sustainable Development” by Prof Vilela to students of 2009/2010 Session on 3 September 2009 at UPEACE.


[20]             Reflections on the Jos Crisis by Taye Obateru, The Nigerian Vanguard Newspapers of 6 December 2008.

[21]             Building Positive Peace: The Role Economics plays both in fuelling conflict and building Peace, a lecture delivered to UPEACE 2009/2010 Students by Prof Salvetti during the Foundation Course on 7 September 2009.

[22]             Clare Short, Secretary of State for International Development, Statement to International Development Committee, UK, 1998. Quoted in “The Business of Peace” Page 13, Session 11 of the UPEACE Foundation Course Reader for UPEACE 2009/2010 Students.

[23]             See “Community Conflicts In Nigeria: Management, Resolution and Transformation”, Page 378.

Ugiagbe Thompson Bobby is currently a Master's student in the International Law and Settlement of Disputes Program at the UN-Mandated University for Peace. He has been involved in Security and Information Management at national level in Nigeria and his research interest is in Security and Development.