Violence between and within Political Parties in Nigeria: Statistics, Structures, and Patterns (2006-2014)

By Cohen, Corentin | Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice, July 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Violence between and within Political Parties in Nigeria: Statistics, Structures, and Patterns (2006-2014)


Cohen, Corentin, Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice


Introduction

"To understand this kind of mafia-style activity in Nigerian politics, it is important to note that many political parties are operated by political 'godfathers,' who use money and violence to control the political process."1

It was in these blunt words that the United States Institute for Peace depicted political practices on the eve of the 2007 general elections in Nigeria. As it had already been the case before, these elections led to hundreds of deaths. Accordingly, the 2015 general elections came under the attention of all actors involved in politics in the region. Local populations prepared to vote with hope and fear, community leaders called for everyone to stay calm after tensions and skirmishes while think tanks and international organizations issued barometers and reports on violence in a shared hope to monitor and deter politically-associated acts of violence in Nigeria. With an accuracy that we do not seek to evaluate in this article, they have proposed different predictions regarding the most violent regions and the causes of these registered acts of violence. A complete review of these reports is yet to be done and overreaches the objective of this research.

Rather than seeking to analyze acts of violence associated to the general elections, this article will precisely question if general elections per se are indeed period of exceptional violence of Nigeria or if they merely reflect other tensions and processes occurring during non-electoral periods?

The question is central while there is little recent literature on the issue in Africa. Most of the press articles,2 a flourishing number of reports3 on Nigeria, but also academic research firstly focus on post electoral violences4,5,6 with a particular focus on the 2007 Kenyan elections7,8 and its consequences9 along with the 2008 elections in Zimbabwe.10 There is no discussion on the relevance of this focus or discussions on political parties' vi olence while explanations of the phenomenon diverge.

Quantin analyzed electoral violence as a way for people to contest elections and electoral malpractices in corrupt regimes while they were kept aside from power.11 On the other hand, more recent research show that the violence is ignited by incumbent political parties which explains that justice is not done in Kenya12 with Hickman arguing that violence in Kenya and Zimbabwe was instrumental for parties although in the case of Zimbabwe it was also a way to contest over frauds. Hickman concludes that violence is not correlated with the intensity of political competition.13 The only available statistical analysis of party violence in Nigeria was proposed by Timothy Sisk and focuses on the 2007 and 2011 elections. Paradoxically, it argues that elections are not the most lethal periods.14 The other implication of the idea of popular contestation we want to discuss in the case of Nigeria is that the population would believe in political parties and expect so much that they would be ready to fight for them.

Drawing from IFRA's NigeriaWatch datab ase that records fatalities as they are reported in the Nigerian media, this study starts with a debate on the definition of party violence before detailing the forms and actors it implies. On the opposite of Quantin and in line with Goldsmith findings,15 I argue that in the case of Nigeria, violence is a mean of political competition among others and it is rather a tool used by parties than what would be a form of edgy participation in political life. The focus on these events occults the daily acts of violence. When it is a form of reaction to political results and creates violence it is only because it comes over and embodies some religious and ethnical questions. Events that only have political marks, and do not have ethnical or religious implications do not provoke waves of mass violence nor events with high lethality.

To do so the paper answers a fundamental set of questions on political parties violence: What are the most violent periods of political parties' related killings? …

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