Election-related violence has become prominent in Nigerian elections, in addition to other electoral misconducts like rigging, vote buying and human rights violations by security officials.
Data from SBM Intelligence shows that over 600 people died due to election-related violence during the 2019 elections season. Fatalities from previous elections (100 in 2003, 300 in 2007 and 700 in 2011) show that this trend of violence could surface in subsequent presidential, bye, and local elections.
This foregoing has put Nigeria under scrutiny by the international community as almost every Nigerian election is charged with international and local observers. In anticipation of the just concluded gubernatorial elections in Edo State, Nigeria’s elections are now closely watched by foreign governments in a bid to curb election violence.
Curb the Strongmen: the US Strategy
In July 2019, the US government announced the imposition of visa restrictions on Nigerians who undermined the February and March 2019 elections. Recently, the Secretary of State imposed additional visa restrictions on individuals for their actions which undermined the democratic process during the November 2019 Kogi and Bayelsa State elections and in the run up to the September and October 2020 Edo and Ondo State elections. This was done in line with the US Department of State’s commitment to “end corruption and strengthen democracy, accountability, and respect for human rights.”
The election in Edo State which was held after the announcement by the US government was a near-violent free election, with minimal cases of brutality reported. While public sentiments hold that the visa restrictions contributed to the sanity at the Edo polls, it has not been proven that the statement of the US government had any direct impact on the conduct of the elections. The Ondo elections which are a few days away could either validate public sentiments or prove otherwise.
If indeed visa restrictions impact electoral conduct, it remains to see whether this is a sustainable policy decision by the US government and whether other countries will do the same.
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