Latest report by the Human Rights Watch has revealed how political violence, some it perpetrated by soldiers and police officers aided the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress in the last general elections.
The report on the election released on the HRW website on Monday stated that despite police claims of increased security measures to ensure peaceful voting, there seems to have been little or no police response to reports of threats and acts of violence by hired political thugs and soldiers against voters and election officials.
Human Rights Watch said it interviewed 32 people; including voters, journalists, election observers, activists, and Independent National Electoral Commission officials in Rivers and Kano states, and documented 11 deaths specifically related to violent interference in the election process during the February 23 presidential election and subsequent state elections.
“Voters and election officials said that policemen either fled or stood idly by, fueling allegations of complicity, as perpetrators stole election materials, disrupted voting, and harassed voters. Witnesses said that the police also shot live rounds of ammunition and used teargas to disperse people protesting voting disruptions.
It added: “The politically related violence reported in many states was in contrast to the relatively peaceful 2015 elections that brought Buhari into his first term in office. According to a report by SBM Intelligence, which monitors sociopolitical and economic developments in Nigeria, 626 people were killed during the 2019 election cycle, starting with campaigns in 2018.
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“Witnesses said that after a soldier was killed in the town of Abonnema, in Rivers state, on Election Day, soldiers shot at residents, killing an unknown number of people. They also carried out sweeping arrests and arbitrarily detained several people.”
“There were reports of voter intimidation and violence around the 2019 elections at both the federal and state levels, including by armed men hired by candidates and political parties and by security forces, including the national police.
“Bauchi, Benue, Kano, Sokoto, Plateau, and Rivers states were particularly affected by violence during the March 9 gubernatorial elections. The Independent National Electoral Commission canceled elections in places where the elections were disrupted and held supplementary elections later. Kano state had supplementary elections on March 23, and Rivers state on April 13.
“Kano and Rivers states were probably the worst hit of the six states. They were identified by both local and international analysts ahead of the elections as holding great potential for electoral violence. Both are major political strongholds for the two leading political parties, Buhari’s ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Abdullahi Ganduje of the APC won the 2019 election in Kano, and Nyesom Wike of the PDP won in Rivers state.”
HRW called on Buhari to take concrete steps to address the widespread political violence and ensure accountability for human rights abuses by soldiers and police as he begins his second term.