Government, New Media and Civic Spaces on the Eve of Nigeria’s 2018 Elections

Government, New Media and Civic Spaces on the Eve of Nigeria’s 2018 Elections

11 Nov 2018 No Comment 108 Views

By Chidi Anselm Odinkalu[1]


The idea of an annual convening on New Media, Citizens and Governance a good thing. The organisers – Enough is Enough Nigeria, Paradigm Initiative and BudgIT – deserve credit for thinking it up and putting it together. I consider it a privilege to be able to participate in this meeting in any capacity and a burden somewhat to be asked to help frame the conversations that will ensue over the two days of the conference. The focus and theme of this conference on Government, New Media and Civic Spaces is itself a give away of sorts. Civic spaces are those notional and normative spaces reserved by the constitution for citizens for ourselves or to interact with one another, to the end interference by the government can only happen with permission of law. Human beings are biological beings but the being created under the constitution is the citizen and citizens inhabit and co-mingle in civic spaces. The fact of this convening on its own bears testimony to the profound change that the digital revolution has brought to the structure, scope and temperament of government, civics, the market place and free expression.

The digital revolution is a multi-dimensional phenomenon with implications for every aspect of human endeavor or pursuit. It nearly every sphere, it has had an impact on scale. As a commercial and economic phenomenon, it has created corporate behemoths on a scale that was impossible to conceive even a quarter of a century ago. In this sphere alone and much else besides, it challenges the regulatory capacities of government and poses serious questions for anti-trust law. In its capacities to cross borders, insinuating itself into virtually every aspects of our lives and visiting notional transparency into hitherto forbidden recesses, new media challenges traditional notions of sovereignty and due process, without which the governance capacities of the State don’t exist. It must be pointed out that the relationship between new media and transparency is only notional. It is not always the case that new media promoted transparency. The practice of populating the digital ecosystem with vituperative bots or multiple accounts all spewing bile and abuse from the same book of propaganda is clearly not designed to advance transparency.

Inherently, new media (can) challenge traditional notions of state, governance and civics. In an instrumental way, they incredibly shape and affect how these work in the 21st Century. In a divided country with inadequate elite consensus, new media represent a huge source of both promise and peril on the eve of a potentially explosive ballot.

Let’s take free expression for example. Publishing used to be the preserve of publishers, a business or revenue stream around which entrepreneurship organized itself for a lot of money. As a business, it mediated what we put out and how we did so. The digital revolution has largely dispensed with the gate-keeping role of the traditional publisher. The result is that every citizen or consumer with a portable electronic device (PED), is now also potentially a publisher. This democratizes access to the public space at the price of making it less governable. There is, of course, an inherent tension between publishing as an economic activity on the one hand and as the foundational political right in a democracy on the other. The pursuit of profit may not always sit well with the democratization of partisan points of view. One can sometimes trump the other. Governments invest more in regulating the former in order to be able to control the latter. New Media have made this governance proposition

New media have thus scaled up the market place in perspective and points of view. Nigeria is a vast digital market in which there is fierce competition. The underlying theory is that through the competition in points of view, truth is more likely to emerge. This assumes, however, that there are enough people with the bandwidth to invest in navigating the different points of view in pursuit of truth. In any event, the pursuit of truth and the fashioning of points of view may itself be hazardous. The unsolved murder of Dele Giwa, 32 years old on 19 October, and the recent decapitation of Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, make this point evident enough. In Nigeria, the civic space not free from threats of being circumscribed in different ways. The recently released 2017 Department of State (DOS), Human Rights Report complained of “restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, assembly and movement”,[2] and that “journalists practiced self-censorship.”[3] It equally reported that “security services intimidated editors and owners into censoring reports of killings and other human rights abuses”,[4] and concluded that “massive, widespread and pervasive corruption affected all levels of government and the security services.”[5] The Reporters Sans Frontieres’ Global Press Freedom Index ranked Nigeria 119 out of 180 countries in the world with a score of 37.31 in 2018, in what appears a slight improvement on a ranking of 122 on a score of 39.69 in 2017.[6] Explaining its ranking, the RSF said: “it is difficult to cover stories involving politics, terrorism, and financial embezzlement by the powerful. Journalists are often threatened, subjected to physical violence, or denied access to information by government officials, police, and sometimes the public itself.”[7] Sheikh Gumi….


A Plea for Civic Responsibility

The meeting this year has special significance. We meet amidst the onset of a tumultuous political season as the contests for Nigeria’s 2019 general elections are waged. Party primaries have been concluded and by the end of this conference week-end, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should have received from the 91 registered political parties their slate(s) of candidates for all the offices to be contested in the 2019 elections. In all, there will be 1,558 offices contested in the elections that will begin on 16 February 2019. These comprise:

  • President – 1
  • Governors – 29
  • Senate – 109
  • House of Representatives – 360
  • State Houses of Assembly – 991; and
  • Area Council Chairmanships/Councillorships (FCT) – 68

Voting will take place across all 36 States and 774 Local Government Areas in Nigeria across 8,809 Registration Areas (Wards) in a total of 119,973 Polling Units with an expected voting population of 84.2 million registered voters.[8] The budget for the election is N189,207,544,893.13 or about $540.6million, with the estimated cost per voter put at $7.7 each.[9] These numbers make clear that an election is a complex emergency at the best of times. It is also a national security emergency in which all the capacities of the country will be stretched. Thrown into this mix, New Media is a security sector variant of a governance proposition.

Interior Minister, Abdurrahman Dambazau, has clarified recently that “Nigeria’s internal security has been redefined by contemporary threats brought about by various developmental challenges”,[10] and points out that it has social, economic and political implications.[11] In particular, as he demonstrates, internal security extends to “the protection of fundamental human rights, accountability and transparency in governance, and the ensuring the rule of law in the administration of justice, all of which are key to the survival of democracy.”[12] Against the background of recent failed attempts to regulate media content and circumscribe the civic space in Nigeria, this framework must regarded cautiously.

All of this is, of course, situated in the context of a bad neighborhood for free expression and pluralism. In Cameroon and Togo, Uganda and Kenya, Governments have interfered in different forms in the use of and access to new Media. Domestically, emerging from the 2015 elections, it is fair to say, in hindsight, Nigeria squandered enormous international goodwill as well as a historic opportunity for domestic consensus. In place of consensus domestically, we have reaped polarization. Instead of international respect, Nigeria has often been the butt of ridicule. Much of this traffic in mood news has been amplified by new media. Even more than the 2015 elections, the 2019 election holds both promise and peril for Nigeria on all fronts and it is clear that new media will be central in framing the narrative and shaping the response of the world to what happens. It is a role that calls for serious reflection with a sense of



Setting the Scene

Let us start with the context. As I have earlier indicated, an election at the best of times is a complex emergency with profound implications for citizenship. But these are by no stretch of imagination the best of times in Nigeria. It is important at the outset to put our current context in perspective. The country is in a funk of multi-faceted polarization, with both political leadership and institutional organs too inept or too weak to offer reassurance or protection to most of its people. The indicia across different facets of performance of the political economy are, predictably, difficult. For instance:


  • With economic growth now estimated at under 1.9% in 2018, Nigeria’s population growth rate of over 2.6% has consistently outstripped economic growth for more than the past half decade. This presents the country with a crisis of demand and supply (of public goods) in which hate and violence are predictable.
  • With the re-basing of the economy in 2014, Nigeria’s tax-to-GDP ratio of 3.45% is one of the lowest in the world, leaving a deficit of about 12.55% to the minimum acceptable of about 15%. In the 10 years before 2014, only 4 countries, Bahrain Kuwait and Oman, and, in 2004, Burma, have ever had such tax revenue structure.[13] This reflects structural deficiencies of political-economy that undermine both state capacity and effective investment in financing the MDGs. Over the duration of the life of the MDGs Lagos state has grown its internal revenue receipts by more than 1,000% to more than two thirds of its appropriations, an example of positive models within Nigeria.
  • 87million or 43.94% of Nigeria’s estimated population of 198 million live on less than $1:90 per day, making Nigeria the poverty capital of the world.[14] In 2014, the United Nations has reported that 8.9% of the global population of people living on less than $1.25 (the 3rd highest population after India and China) lived in Nigeria.[15]
  • Nigeria produces 14% of the global incidence of maternal mortality, 2nd only behind India (17%).[16] National average maternal mortality is 545 deaths per 100,000 live births, which rises to up to 1,549 in parts of rural north-east Nigeria.[17] This compares with the average for sub-Saharan Africa of 510 per 100,000 live births.[18]
  • Domestic violence continues to be a major, growing and unacknowledged public health crisis for Nigeria’s women. In Lagos, the only State in Nigeria that keeps monitoring records of this, reported cases of domestic violence rose by nearly 200% from 1,044 in 2017 to 3,089 cases in the first 8 months of 2018.[19]times that average
  • Over 22% (about 13.2 million) of the estimated global population of 58 out-of-school children, are in Nigeria,[20] and disparities between females and males and between the northern and southern hemispheres of the country are even more stark.[21]
  • All three geo-political zones in of northern Nigeria are in some form of active conflict, characterized by daily reports of mass killings by both uniformed services and irregular belligerents.[22]
  • Since 2016, killings in the conflict in the Middle Belt of Nigeria have outstripped killings in the north-east.[23]
  • Reflecting the fragility of the state and its institutions, violence has become a major cause of mortality in Nigeria, with the Heidelberg Centre’s annual Conflict Barometer reporting that the country was fighting two wars at (and since) the end of 2014 – in the north-east and north-central respectively in which possibly tens of thousands were being killed annually.[24] According to the report, “Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East and Maghreb both witnessed nine wars (in 2014). Three wars were fought in Sudan, one in South Sudan, two in Nigeria…. [In Nigeria] heavy fighting throughout the year left at least 10,000 dead and approx. one million internally displaced.”[25] Four years later, in 2017, the same report had this to say:


The war between Boko Haram aiming to establish an Islamic caliphate in the region and the governments of Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger entered its seventh year. Although the conflict’s death toll decreased to 2,150 compared to 3,000 in 2016 and 12,000 in 2015, a major part of the region’s water infrastructure was destroyed, leaving 3.6 million people with no access to clean water. Moreover, 1.8 million people were displaced and 5 million people in the northeast of Nigeria have faced severe food insecurity. The war over arable land in Nigeria’s Middle Belt between the predominantly Christian farmers of Berom and Tiv tribes and the mainly Muslim Fulani nomads continued into its sixth consecutive year.[26]

Four consequences of these indicia should be noted for the purpose of encapsulating our governance context. First, we have a coexistence challenge with profound civic and governance implications. This calls for civic and governance responsibility.

Second, in 2019, Nigeria will be undertaking the ballot in the context of multi-faceted armed conflicts. In a little-noticed lecture at the National War College delivered on 6 June 2018, Interior Minister, Abdurrahman Dambazau declared:

the nature and extent of internal security in Nigeria has therefore been redefined by the various emerging threats which are far more serious and difficult for the Nigeria Police to handle…. the role of the armed forces have equally been redefined by this same situation. The role of Nigerian armed forces in internal security seems to have gone beyond providing Military Aid to Civil Authority (MACA) or to Civil Power (MACP). The armed forces seem to be now spearheading all internal security operations due to the fact that the Nigeria Police is no longer in position to handle such matters effectively…. What we are dealing with currently are tilted more towards low-intensity conflicts and/or asymmetric warfare, which are within the purview of military operations other than war (MOOTW).[27]


Third, as a result of the deepening human immiseration from the conflicts in the Middle Belt and North-East of Nigeria, food security will be a major part of the crisis of security in this election season. This is because over the past year, very little farming has taken place in these very fertile, historically productive parts of Nigeria, as people have suffered displacement from attacks and avoided farms for fear of abduction or rape. With very little farming done, this harvest season is worse than lean. There will be no food stored and in many of these communities, the threat of hunger and food insecurity is very real. Heading into the election season, hunger will be a major driver of bot civics and expression; many voters will be very amenable to the predations of illicit money, and the threat of violence will be very real.

Fourth, with poorly policed borders and rampant subsistence corruption among uniformed services, drugs, psychotropic substances and small arms and light weapons (SALWS) make their way rather easily into the country. They have become a major factor in the patterns of violence in the country and are likely to play as much a role if not more so in the elections.[28]


Free Expression and Democracy

Freedom of expression and effective participation in government through free elections are both human rights. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) guarantees the right to free expression. In Article 21(3), the UDHR declares “[t]he will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.” Articles 9 and 13 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights contain equivalent guarantees in treaty law applicable to the African continent. Article 1 of the Windhoek Declaration makes very clear the inter-dependence of these two, declaring that “free press is essential to the development and maintenance of democracy.” Courts have described freedom of expression as “one of the essential foundations” of democracy.[29] Unsurprisingly, Nigeria’s constitution insists that free expression can only be constrained by law that is “reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.”[30]

Democracy essentially is about counting and accounting. A democracy improves in direct proportion to the capacity of any political economy to count and account honestly and transparently. Developing this capacity is a process not an event. Counting and accounting are about numbers and numbers make us honest. They require an underlying ethics whose establishment requires capable leadership. Nigeria’s political economy, however, has historically been founded on a long-established ethics of deliberate political innumeracy founded on opacity. This system is based on what Chinua Achebe described as “a failure of leadership” under a system that “makes corruption easy and profitable.”[31] Essentially, corruption in Nigeria is a function of cultures of opacity and an ethics of political innumeracy which is consecrated invariably through our electoral process.

These opacity and innumeracy serve clear purposes in the governance and electoral systems in a manner that is mutually reinforcing and ideologically opposed to transparency. Opacity is an instrument of both exclusion and capture. Credible elections are usually guaranteed by determinate rules designed to preclude a pre-determined outcomes. Transparency promotes this. In Nigeria, for the most part, politicians prefer ballots characterized by indeterminate rules designed to produce pre-determined outcomes. Opacity is required for this to happen.


Democracy, Digital Frisson and the End of Good Manners

The digital revolution has made a publisher of everyone with a voice and a point of view. This proletarianisation of both content and platform made possible by new media is a mixed blessing. Content is in abundance even if only very little of it contributes to clarity. Precisely because of this, the traffic can itself a distraction. At the personal level, users of new media now also need to govern our bandwidth and attentions if we intend to get anything meaningful from it.

The ecosystem of digital communication is underpinned by an intimacy and immediacy that lends itself to polarity. Underlying this is the privilege of digital anonymity which is the opposite of what exists in analogue, hard-copy publishing. Digital posts can often have the feel or frisson of a face-to-face confrontation, largely unmediated by editorial judgement. Very often, however, these take place under the privilege of digital anonymity and sometimes take undue advantage of it. As one well-informed observer points out:

The cloak of anonymity or pseudonymity leads to a well-documented ‘online disinhibition effect’, a behavioral distortion caused by the absence of social signals that surround analogue communication. This can cause shy people to open up and make friends. But it can also cause people to abandon empathy, and lose impulse control.[32]

Where circulation used to be the ultimate prize, now it has been replaced by metrics – of clicks and views, of likes, friends and follows. Metrics measure exposure, which in turn drive the world of digital advertisements. In the period between the last general election in 2015 and the next in 2019, the number of internet users in the country would have grown by 32.04% from 63.2 million to at least 93 million.[33] Some sources put the numbers at well over 100 million.[34] This is a much bigger market than any analogue publishers ever dreamt of. Every publisher and influencer seeks a piece of this massive market. Existing analogue publishers now straddle the analogue and digital worlds. The competition for clicks and metrics is stiff. In this game of survival of the digital fittest, it pays to get noticed and the easiest way to get noticed is through smut, outland, lack of manners. This is why and how the digital ecosystem can encourage a world of influence without responsibility.

The problem with this is that there is organic interactivity between online publishing and off-line behavior. Indeed, online publishing increasingly drives online decision making and behavior. A Twitter pile-on can shape political decision making, move stock markets and force issues. Inaccurate information circulated online can define a news cycle and do awful damage before it is unmasked. The end of responsibility in publishing coincides with the “tribalization” of news between the righteous and the despicable, us and them and breeds what a recent British Prime Minister has called “the unreasoning antipathy of the extremes” in which “reasonable voices” are increasingly “drowned out by the raucous din of the loudest.”[35] It also makes reporting, publishing and expression hostage to “powerful cognitive errors”,[36] such as confirmation bias (privileging information that supports what we want to believe), selection bias (privileging information that supports our conclusions) and availability bias (privileging the most recent information). Denizens of the online space have a responsibility to also to filter out for an underlying narrative.

This loss of manners and of responsibility could presage a bigger loss of the things that matter to our communities and our shared humanity. In itself, this is becoming a significant crisis for even established democracies. Rafael Behr reminds us that:

A subtle thread connects manners and democracy. To behave well in the town square, not flinging abuse at strangers, for example, is a habit born of mutually recognized rights and unwritten norms. Those social codes are as much part of the democratic ecosystem as free elections and independent courts…. Political debate is a form of verbal combat and needs rules of engagement. When a political culture is bleached of civility, when the public realm becomes pathologically ill-mannered, it loses its capacity to mediate between competing interest groups. It becomes more brittle and less amenable to the ethos of compromise without which a pluralist democracy cannot thrive.[37]

For a very divided, transitional society like Nigeria, the challenge could be even more substantial. This is why those citizens who seek influence without sacrificing responsibility can be leaders in the digital space. This requires a commitment to both content and originality. This is a specimen that is increasingly endangered. In Nigeria’s 2019 election, these assets of influence with responsibility will be stretched to their most elastic limits.

A tremendous amount of issues will call for within the framing for this conference. I will focus at the moment on just three: the triple crises of violence, digital hate, and of manufactured political innumeracy. I will leave it to us all in this meeting to consider how these could be inter-linked and mutually reinforcing.


Addressing (Electoral) Violence

Violence of all kinds has become a pandemic in Nigeria. It is contrary to the commitments contained in the Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution that requiring that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”[38]; and that “governmental actions shall be humane.”[39] Reinforcing these commitments, the Turaki Committee had affirmed that “all citizens, especially the vulnerable ones, must be protected with a focus on victims of crimes such as trafficking in human beings or gender violence.[40]

I want to start with intimate violence. The disinhibition effect of the new media ecosystem is itself a source of deviance, leading to a spike in online criminal behavior, including fraud, theft and violence. All these present security governance challenges. It is in many ways a major factor in the rise in intimate violence, including different forms of online bullying and shaming, child abuse and, in some cases, murder. The cyberspace is increasingly a site of considerable regulatory and law enforcement activity. The interactivity between online activity and off-line intimate violence is real. The case of Cynthia Osukogu in Nigeria is still very fresh in the memory. Sexual and gender-based violence deny women dignity and preclude them from the goals of equality and equity. We are deluged with illustrations of how this happens daily. Many would be aware of the cases of alleged rape of a 20-year-old student and an 18-year-old admission seeker involving the Dean of law in University of Calabar and a senior lecturer in the University of Lagos respectively as well as the case of the post-graduate student deliberately failed by her Professor in Obafemi Awolowo University for refusing him sex in 2018. In 2008, Youth Corper, Grace Ushang, was reportedly gang-raped to death in Borno State. In Osun State five years ago, a Paramount Ruler reportedly raped another Youth Corper and got away with it. Daily in the popular media, reports of sexual violence seem to rise. A sordid bazaar in sexual favours, mostly under situational duress, has become the byword and byway of academic and career success in Nigeria. It is called “sorting”. Even when the people who do this are known, we all contrive to ensure collective incapacity to face up to or call them out.

A society that is unable or unwilling to address intimate violence where the perpetrators are mostly known or traceable, will be hard put to govern violence on its streets, where it is more difficult to do so. It is one of the major issues that the country has dealt with on a chronic scale since at least the 2007 electoral cycle. Violence on the Nigerian scale on its own is symptomatic of breakdown in the capacities of the state. With the armed forces now leading in security provisioning and deployed in all states of the country, security institutions are likely to be stretched very thin ahead of the 2019 elections. I do not wish to get into predictions of fields of violence in the 2019 elections but it would also be naïve, based on what we already know and have seen, to assume that the contest will be without major incidents.  This is a good place to provide some context on the recent experience of such violence and its drivers in order to inform GOCOP’s planning, deployments and protocols. As Nigeria’s Supreme Court pointed out in 1983:

The essence of democratic elections is that they be free and fair and that in that atmosphere of freedom, fairness and impartiality, citizens will exercise their freedom of choice of who their representatives shall be by casting their votes in favour of those candidates who, in their deliberate judgment, they consider possess the qualities which mark them out as preferable candidates to those others who are contesting with them. The voters must be allowed to freely go to the polling booths and cast their votes unmolested. Free and fair election cannot, therefore, tolerate thuggery or violence of any kind.[41]


Similarly, the Kano State Election Petition Tribunal in north-west Nigeria admonished in 2007 that “[e]lectoral violence is, therefore, not a worthy legacy for any democratic culture.”[42] Belying these high principles, electoral violence is a constant in Nigeria. There is ample evidence in the official literature that the political class tolerates and instigates this. Can social media be a force in dis-incentivising violence in Nigeria generally and in the elections in particular? If so, how?

Significant election violence has always had serious implications for the security, stability and continuity of elective governance in Nigeria. The violence that accompanied and followed first the federal elections in 1964 and the Western Region elections in 1965 cascaded into the events that led to the overthrow of Nigeria’s first experiment in elective governance in January 1966. In 1983, the violence that followed confectioned “landslide” of the then National Party of Nigeria (NPN), especially in the states of south-west Nigeria, was the immediate trigger for the overthrow of the government of President Shehu Shagari on the last day of December 1983 and was expressly cited as part of the justification for its overthrow as follows:

The premium on political power became so exceedingly high that political contestants regarded victory at elections as a matter of life and death struggle and were determined to capture or retain power by all means…. The last general election was anything but free and fair. The only political parties that could complain of election rigging are those parties that lacked the resources to rig. There is ample evidence that rigging and thuggery were relative to the resources available to the parties.[43]

Nigeria’s 2011 General Elections were marked by unprecedented election-related violence, with an official death toll of nearly one thousand persons and property valued at over 40 Billion Naira destroyed.[44] The violence also necessitated the postponement of voting for the governorship elections in Bauchi and Kaduna States, which experienced the worst violence.[45] Additionally, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) reported over 55,000 persons internally displaced, although the exact numbers of affected persons is probably higher when informal displacement is taken into account.[46]

In analyzing the post-election violence of 2011, the official investigative panel of the Federal Government, headed by Sheikh Ahmed Lemu, acknowledged that all elections in Nigeria since 1922 had been beset by violence, pointing out that Modern elections in Nigeria are synonymous with insidious violence as political office-seekers are expected to “embrace or resort to self-help and vengeful tactics in settling their grievances.”[47] The Panel identified what it called “security lapse”, [48] including poor “physical security coverage of many areas in various states, inter-agency rivalry between some security agencies…. Lack of synergy in information sharing and inadequate coordination among security agencies”,[49] as well as “perceived political partisanship of the security agencies”[50] and, the dwindling capacity of the security agencies, particularly, the Nigeria Police.”[51] Among the main causes of the violence, the panel also identified “inflammatory campaign utterances of politicians…. reinforced by the preaching of divisive sermons of hate and hostility in mosques and churches across the country.”[52] In a retrospective on violence in elections in Nigeria more generally, the Panel observed:

It is evident that violence has continually featured in almost all elections in Nigeria since the first election that was conducted in 1922. The temptation is to suggest that election violence is deeply embedded in the Nigerian political culture. This has far-reaching adverse consequences for the democratization of the polity.[53]

The use of the word “culture” to describe the place of violence in Nigeria’s electoral process is somewhat mis-leading. Election-related violence has always been a crime in Nigeria but the relevant laws have never been dutifully enforced and it has never been punished as such. The relevant culture, if any exists, therefore, is of a pattern of high level tolerance and connivance, which precludes accountability for election-related crimes, of which violence is arguably the most prevalent and egregious. In its report, the Sheikh Lemu Panel referred to this as “the tendency to treat violence with impunity”.[54]

Of the 943 persons that the Sheikh Lemu Panel officially verified as having been killed in the 2011 post-election violence in Nigeria, 827, or over 80%, were from southern Kaduna.[55] Tellingly, the Panel found that:

There was not a single arrest of any person in connection with those killings in Kaduna State South Senatorial District. This raised very great concerns on why or how this happened or what guarantees there are to prevent such terrible killings in future. The Panel gathered that neither the Police nor any of their vehicles were to be found not to talk of any prevention or management of the crisis to avoid or contain the killings.[56]

For its part, the 2013 report of the Kaduna State Peace and Reconciliation Committee, whose establishment was inspired by the 2011 post-election violence in southern Kaduna complained that “[g]overnment’s failure to prosecute indicted persons established to have been involved in riotous acts and in crimes, is a failure to establish deterrence against future acts.”[57]

This narrative fits a well-established pattern of impunity for election violence in Nigeria. In its 1986 report, the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the defunct Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO), headed by former Supreme Court Justice, Bolarinwa Babalakin, specifically complained that failure to ensure accountability through “the abuse of the nolle prosequi and pardons” had “encouraged lawlessness both in 1979 and 1983 election periods.”[58]

This pattern appears to have grown since the return to civil rule in Nigeria in 1999 to the point where the Presidential Committee on Electoral Reform in 2008 chaired by former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Mohammed Lawal Uwais, concluded that elections in Nigeria were characterised by “a prevailing atmosphere of impunity with regard to election offences.”[59] This “atmosphere of impunity” for election-related violence led Nigeria’s Supreme Court also in 2008 to warn about the existence of a “political class which sees election into any position as a matter of life and death and consequently ready to do anything possible to attain the ambition.”[60]

In its 2013 report, the Presidential Committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of  Security Challenges in the North (better known as the Turaki Committee), complained of an “impunity with which crimes of violence are carried out, possibly because of prolonged absence of deterrent measures taken to punish perpetrators.”[61] The Committee noted “the ease with which citizens take up arms to protect themselves because of the apparent feeling of government inability to guarantee their security.”[62] Adverting to the pandemic nature of violence in Nigeria, the committee concluded that “no community in Nigeria is immune from one form of violence or the other.”[63]

Somewhat belying its rather narrow nomenclature, the Turaki Committee Report laid out in stark terms a frightening diagnosis and footprint of the pathology of violence in Nigeria that is nationwide, pervasive and chronic. In the Committee’s assessment, this footprint of violence could only be explained by the destitution of the identity, as well as political and institutional authority of the Nigerian state. The result, the Committee argued, was impunity which fed a popular ideology of DIY protection and vigilantism, or of what someone has called the “survival of the fattest”,[64] a system ostensibly constructed only for big men and those related to them. In its earlier report in 2008, the Presidential Committee on the Reform of the Nigeria Police Force headed by former Inspector-General of Police, M.D. Yusuf, offered an explanation for this system, when in concluded that “the rich and powerful behave with impunity because of police protection.”[65]

In a system in which those who should protect the society feed its appetite for impunity, everyone is endangered, especially the vulnerable.  In this kind of system, the vulnerable are likely to pay a huge price with their lives and wellbeing. So it has become in Nigeria. This class of vulnerable is defined with reference to biology (female), economic status (the poor), age (children and the aged) and location (rural or urban marginals), health status (the infirm) and alienage (settlers). Many people fit into the intersection of all these.


The Crisis of Hate Speech

As the Sheikh Lemu Report pointed out in 2011, hate and “inflammatory” speech is a major pre-disposing factor in Nigeria’s pathology of mass-atrocity violence. Hate or inflammatory speech is not protected by the guarantee of freedom of expression.[66] It is copiously prohibited both under general international law and, more specifically, by Nigeria’s Electoral Act.

In popular Nigerian imagination, hate is a pathology with deep roots and considerable resilience. In his Reflections on the Nigerian Civil War: Facing the Future, published in 1969, Ralph Uwechue laments that “the principal cause of our current tragedy is bitterness born of misunderstanding.” In October 1972, then Head of State, General Gowon, condemned political activity “which tend to cause sectional hatred”. Far from progress, the country has retrogressed deeply in the intervening 45 years.

In reality, there is nothing congenital or genetic about the species of hate in Nigeria. Rather it is a consequence of a political system in which the elite socialize their costs and privatize our common patrimony, creating avoidable scarcity of public goods and growing immiseration. This is achieved at the expense of both responsible leadership and capable institutions. What ensues is a popular stampede for the limited crumbs that drop from the table, in pursuit of which narrow identity is freely deployed. As expression is toxified, hate speech becomes a way to get ahead and the online publisher can easily find himself or herself as a tool in the hands of the combatants in a survival war without rules. This is where Nigeria is at the moment. As political competition gets steeper and digital media gives a megaphone to every citizen who cannot even conjugate in vernacular the verb “to be”, responsible media find themselves caught in an ugly fight to stay alive.

Digital expression and digital anonymity have both enhanced the immediacy of hate speech and the capacity to monitor it. The Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD) in Kano, which tracks hate speech in Nigeria, has recently published an analysis of its monitoring undertaken over six months covering June-December 2016. Over this period, it recorded 6,258 incidents, a monthly average of 1,043 incidents. Hate speech directed at religion accounted for 2,603 or 41.59% while those directed against ethnicity or tribe accounted for another 39.13%. In other words, between them, religion and ethnicity were the focus of 80.72% of the incidents of recorded hate speech. With considerable understatement, CITAD concludes that “this means that Nigerians are becoming (more) ethnically and religiously insensitive, even intolerant.” It could also mean that it is becoming easier to deploy narrow identity in order to get ahead in Nigeria. That says less about Nigerians and more about the increasing incapacities of leadership and of the Nigerian State.


Crisis of Manufactured Political Innumeracy

Elections are about numbers because democracy is about counting. Every democracy is built on counting the people (demographics of census), counting the voters (elections) and counting and distributing the commonwealth (appropriations). In this way, numbers are supposed to make us honest. In Nigeria, however, we choose to subvert all of these processes of counting through manufactured political innumeracy. Predictably, Nigeria has a habit of historically innumerate counting, especially in elections. Our elections are more often than not problematic not because we don’t vote peacefully (we mostly do) but because we choose almost always to be rooked with counting. Like the auto assembly, our political innumeracy is born of a completely knocked down (CKD) process. It begins long before the vote. It has already begun with the party primary process with some State Governors manufacturing ghost numbers of turn out that were manifestly fictional.

Let us begin with the management of electoral demographics. One major flaw in the architecture of elections in Nigeria is that it heaps responsibilities on INEC that no one human institution can adequately undertake. One of such is demographic management. Despite the existence of a National Population Commission and a National Identity Management Commission, the INEC remains saddled with management of election demographics. This is where the problems usually begin. In 1999, Nigeria had 57 million registered voters. This rose by 5.26% or three million to 60 million in 2003 and then by 1.67% or one million to 61 million in 2007. By 2011, the number of registered voters had climbed by over 12 million to 73.53 million or 20.5%, representing an average yearly growth rate of nearly 5.12%, where previously it had grown by 1.31% in 1999-2003 and 0.42% between 2003-2007. By 2015, the population of registered voters had fallen to 68.83 million, a deficit of 4.7 million voters or 6.83%, representing an annualized rate of reversal of 1.71%. Yet, over the same period, Nigeria, a country with a median age of just under 18 years, had grown in population from an estimated 162.9 million to 181.2 million, an increase of 18.3 million or 11.23%, representing an annual growth rate of 2.8%. The projection now is that there could be up to 84.2 million registered voters in Nigeria in 2019, representing a growth of about 15.37 million voters, a growth of 22.33% or an annual growth rate of 5.58%%.[67] Meanwhile, if the numbers are to be believed, voter turnout in Nigeria’s presidential elections grew by a mere 19.9% from 25,430,097 in 1983 (when the country reported no rejected or spoilt ballots) to 31,746,490 (when 844,519 or 1.25% of the ballots were rejected. Over the same period, Nigeria’s population grew from 74.27 million to 181.2 million, an increase of 106.93 million or 143.97%!


It is difficult to make sense of these numbers. Population doesn’t grow in such fits, starts and roundabouts. The explanation here lies in our lack of systems for counting or managing large quantities. A reason given for the fall in registered voters from 2011 to 2015 is that INEC had to clean up the electoral register through the Automatic Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS). This took most of four years between the primary data collection in 2010 and finalization of the electoral register at the end of 2014. This begs the question whether the voters captured in the ongoing, continuing voter registration (CVR) will be adequately controlled for contamination before the ballot in 2019.

Let us look briefly at security. The lead agency here is the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) whose role in ensuring the underlying lack of transparency in Nigeria’s elections has been inscribed in official literature. In its 2008 report, the MD Yusuf Presidential Commission on Police Reform concluded about the NPF that it had a habit of “unprofessional conduct like brutality, intimidation, facilitating the snatching and destruction of ballot boxes, under-age voting, mass thumb-printing of ballot papers, forgery of results in exchange for bribes, etc.”[68] This lends itself to innumerate elections. There is no evidence to suggest that this will change before 2019. In any case, the Interior Minister has now said the Police has been retrenched in favour of the armed forces in the management of internal security. With the country fighting wars on many fronts, the military will surely have a role in the elections. As the Minister himself has pointed out, however, “there are prices to pay for this development, especially by the military…. protracted and excessive deployments of the military for internal security operations leads to the “law of diminishing returns”. In such a case, while the military loses focus on its major constitutional role, the police, which has the primary responsibility for law and order, becomes ineffective to the society.” Are we (not) already there?[69]

The judiciary has played its own role in generating a jurisprudence of opaque, innumerate elections. In 2007, the INEC organized presidential elections without serialized ballot papers. The question was posed to the Supreme Court whether it was lawful to organize an election in which it was not possible to know or verify the number of ballot papers used or control for contamination of the ballot papers. With a straight face, the Court ruled this lawful, claiming rather farcically that, “non-serialisation, if it had benefits and advantages, was not exclusive to the respondents.”[70] In other words, the Court licensed a level rigging field notionally. In reality, the only side that can take the fullest benefit of this free-for-all jurisprudence is an incumbent.

The end of all of this opacity, of course, is to achieve elections with pre-determined outcomes. To achieve this, a lot of money is needed and in Nigeria, usually, irregular money movement always takes place in the period immediately preceding major elections. In 2006, for instance, the Excess Crude Account (ECA) had a net inflow of $29.614 billion. In the same year, President Obasanjo inexplicably authorized withdrawals from the account totaling the sum of $29.799 billion, resulting in a net negative balance of $184.404 million.[71] Among the many withdrawals from the fund were “unusual” payments totaling 12.176 billion Naira, reportedly to fund the Niger Delta Power Plants and the National Independent Power Project (NIPP),[72] sums that were never properly accounted for. In 2011, just ahead of the elections, Shell and Eni paid the $1.1 billion to the government for the rights to the massive OPL 245. Nearly all of this amount quickly left government accounts.[73] In the period between 2009 to 2011, Nigeria consumed 35m litres of fuel daily but was billed for the daily import of 59 million litres. In three years from 2008 to 2011, the number of companies importing fuel rose from 19 in 2008 to 140 in 2011, with the result that in the year before the 2011 elections, the country paid out an estimated $16.5 billion in petrol subsidy, more than half of the federal appropriations.[74] The period before the 2015 elections was also a time of many shady money movements, many of which remain the subject of ongoing legal proceedings about which it is prudent at this time to say little.[75] As the 2019 elections approach, there are suddenly stories about approvals for withdrawals from the ECA and drawdowns from of LNG dividends. It’s all so familiar. As one source has reportedly put it: “[i]n Abuja it is still a case of all politics and no government …. With an election only 10 months away the need to build war chests for campaigning is strong.”[76]


Finals Words

The contemporary communications ecosystem is dominated by the new media. This is not an easy world for the corporate online publisher, caught between the imperative of profit and the professional and editorial duties of civic responsibility. In Nigeria’s 2019 elections, these assets will be at a premium. The challenges will be daunting, the setting will be quite febrile, and the temptation to join those whom we supposedly cannot beat could be overwhelming. This setting calls for collaboration not destructive competition; for burden sharing and collegiality not for the instincts of the lone-ranger. Despite the snarling tribalisms of digital communities, there is ample evidence to suggest that the interactions in the new media space profit from authenticity, the pursuit of truth, mutual respect for diversity and responsible behavior. As citizens, we have a responsibility to preserve the civic space generally and, in particular, to preserve the defend the safe use of new media as amplifiers of that space. In this spirit, citizens have a responsibility to hold to account those who endanger the safety of the new media space as a peer-to-peer system of mutual safety and accountability. If we don’t do it, governments may seek to insinuate themselves into that role through direct or indirect forms of content regulation. In the end, we are not just citizens , professionals or entrepreneurs. We are, before any of these, citizens and neighbours. As 2019 approaches, we will be required to reconcile the conflicting demands of these capacities. Can we?




[1] Ph.D (London-LSE), Senior Manager, Africa Programme, Open Society Justice Initiative; Chair, Advisory Board, Global Rights; Chair Board of Directors, International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI). Text for keynote remarks to the 2nd Annual Conference on New Media, Citizens and Governance, NAF Conference Centre, Abuja, 24 October, 2018. The views and opinions expressed here are personal and do not necessarily or at all represent the official positions or policies of any institutions with which the author is presently or has previously been associated

[2] DOS, “Nigeria 2017 Human Rights Report”, p. 1

[3] Ibid. p. 22

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., p. 29

[6] Available at

[7] Ibid.

[8] Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), 2019 Election Project Plan, Vol. 1, pp. x-xi

[9] Ibid.

[10] Lt. Gen. A.B. Dambazau, “Internal Security Architecture and National Security: Strategic Options to Meet Emerging Challenges”, Lecture at National Defence College, 6 June 2018, pp. 10-11

[11] Ibid., p. 9

[12] Ibid.

[13] Alan Cobham, “Nigeria’s Upward Revision of GDP should Sound Alarm on Tax-to-GDP Ratio”, (4 Sept, 2014) available at

[14] “Nigeria houses the poorest people in the world, says Theresa May in South Africa”, Sahara Reporters, 28 Aug, 2018, available at

[15] See, United Nations, MDGs Report, 2014, p. 9

[16] Ibid, 29.

[17] See Gender in Nigeria Report, 2012, Executive Summary, p. vi.

[18] United Nations MDGs Report, 2014, p. 29. Sierra Leone has the highest maternal mortality rate, with 1,100 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births,

[19] NAN, “Lagos Records 3089 Cases of Domestic Violence in 8 Months”, Leadership, 3 Sept. 2018, available at

[20] Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, “Before and Education Plan Becomes a Missed Opportunity”, The Guardian, 20 Nov. 2017, available at

[21] Ibid., p. 5

[22] Obi Anyadike, Zamfara: Nigeria’s Wild North-West, IRIN, 13 Sept, 2018, available at

[23] “Fighting Between Nigerian Farmers and Herders Getting Worse”, The Economist, 7 June 2018, available at

[24] Heidelberg Institute, Global Conflict Barometer 2014, p. 15

[25] Ibid.

[26] Heidelberg Institute, Global Conflict Barometer 2017, p. 14

[27] Lt. Gen. A.B. Dambazau, “Internal Security Architecture and National Security: Strategic Options to Meet Emerging Challenges”, Lecture at National Defence College, 6 June 2018, pp. 12-13

[28] Ibid.

[29] Handyside v. United Kingdom, [1976] ECHR 5

[30] Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, section 39(3)

[31] Chinua Achebe, The Trouble with Nigeria, 1 (1983)

[32] Rafael Behr, “How Twitter Poisoned Politics”, Prospect Magazine, Oct, 2018, p.18 at p. 25

[33] For details, visit,

[34] In September 2018, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), puts the number of Internet users in the country at 104.6 million. See “Nigeria’s Internet Users Hit 104.6m in August – NCC”, Premium Times, 24 Sept, 2018, available at . Adult literacy rate is averaged at about 55%,

[35] John Major, “I have made no false promises on Brexit, I’m free to tell you the truth”, The Guardian, 16 Oct. 2018, available at

[36] Rafael Behr, “How Twitter Poisoned Politics”, Prospect Magazine, Oct, 2018, p.18 at p. 22

[37] Ibid., p. 28

[38] Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, Section 14(2)(b)

[39] Ibid., Section 17(2)(c)

[40] Federal Republic of Nigeria, Report of the Presidential Committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of Security Challenges in the North, vol. 1, para 90(b) p. 67. (hereafter called, “Turaki Committee Report”) supra, para., 101(b), p. 73

[41] Ojukwu v. Onwudiwe, 3 Election Petition Reports, 850 at 892 (1983)

[42] Alhaji Sule Lawan Shuwaki & Anor. v. Abdullahi Illiyasu & Ors., EPT/KNS/HA/08/07 (unreported) at 14.

[43] Broadcast by Major-General Muhammadu Buhari, Head of State and Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces, 31 December 1983, available at

[44]  See Federal Republic of Nigeria, Main Report of the Federal Government Investigative Panel on 2011 Election Violence and Civil Disturbances, Vol.1, Executive Summary, paras 47-54, pp. 10-14, hereafter referred to as “Sheikh Lemu Report”.

[45] At least 827 persons were killed in Kaduna State alone, with over 80% of the killings occurring in Southern Kaduna. See Federal Republic of Nigeria, Ibid., paras 48-50, p. 12

[46] “Post-election violence: NEMA registers 55,000 displaced persons” Daily Trust on Sun, 24 Apr 2011, available at

[47] Sheikh Lemu Report, Vol.1, para. 2.7

[48] Sheikh Lemu Report, Vol. 1, para 8

[49] Ibid.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Ibid., Vol. 2 (Main Report) para 2.24, p. 35

[53] Ibid., Main Report, Vol. 2, para 1.31, p. 16

[54] Ibid., para 2.102, p. 69

[55] Ibid., para 3.0, pages 74-75

[56] Ibid., para 3.3, p. 76

[57] Government of Kaduna State, Report of Kaduna State Peace and Reconciliation Committee, p. 217 (Jan 2013)

[58] Federal Republic of Nigeria, Report of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the Affairs of the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) 1979-1983, Main Report, Nov. 1986 [“Babalakin Commission Report”], para. 10.18

[59] Federal Republic of Nigeria, Report of the Presidential Committee on Electoral Reform, para 2.1(b) [“Uwais Committee Report”] (2008)

[60] Senator Hosea Ehinlanwo v. Chief Olusola Oke, Peoples’ Democratic Party & INEC, (2008) 16 NWLR (Pt. 1113), 357 at 411

[61] Federal Republic of Nigeria, Report of the Presidential Committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of Security Challenges in the North, vol. 1, para 90(b) p. 67. (hereafter called, “Turaki Committee Report”)

[62] Ibid. para 90(d)

[63] Ibid. para 90(c)

[64] David Brooks, The Road to Character, (New York, Random House, 2015)

[65] Federal Republic of Nigeria, Presidential Committee on the Reform of the Nigeria Police Force, Main Report, Vol. 1 (April 2008), pages 196, (hereafter referred to as “Yusuf Committee Report.”)

[66] Article 20(2), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

[67] Nuruddeen Abdallah, “How voting pattern will shape 2019 polls”, Daily Trust, 30 April 2018, p. 1

[68] Federal Republic of Nigeria, Report of the Electoral Reform Committee, Main Report, Vol.,1, p. 196, para. (December, 2008)

[69] Lt. Gen. A.B. Dambazau, supra, p. 14.

[70] Muhammadu Buhari v. Independent National Electoral Commission & 4 Others, (2008) 12 S.C. (Pt. 1), 1 at p. 165. The Seven-person panel of the Supreme Court in this case comprised, Kutigi CJN, Katsina-Alu, Niki Tobi, Musdapher, Oguntade, Mukhtar and Onnoghen JJSC. Niki Tobi JSC read the opinion of the four-judge majority, which included Kutigi CJN, Katsina-Alu and Musdapher JJSC. Oguntade, Mukhtar and Onnoghen JJSC dissented.

[71] Ibid., p. 26

[72] Ibid., p. 31

[73] Global Witness – “Shell and Eni’s Misadventures in Nigeria, November 2015”, available at

[74] Reuters Factbox, “Nigeria’s $6.8 billion Fuel Subsidy Scam, May 2012”

Available at,

[75] See, The Cable – Exclusive: Dasuki got Jonathan’s approvals to collect $2.1bn from NNPC in 9 months, November 2015, available at ; The Cable – Exclusive: NIA collected $289m cash from NAPIMS account in 2015, April 2017,

available at

[76] Africa Confidential – The Great Oil Chase, March 2017, available at


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