The April 2011 elections in Nigeria marked a pivotal period for the country. The European Union dubbed the tumultuous 2007 elections “the worst they had seen anywhere in the world.” Given this, there were concerns that the 2011 elections would follow the same path. Read about how USIP helped Nigeria by developing and implementing a comprehensive approach to reducing and preventing violence associated with elections.

May 18, 2011

The April 2011 elections in Nigeria marked a pivotal period for the country. Given the tumultuous 2007 elections, there were concerns that the 2011 elections would follow the same path. After the 2007 elections were dubbed by the European Union as “the worst they had seen anywhere in the world”—fraught with fraud, intimidation, vote rigging, and outright violence sometimes leading to deaths—the country was determined to “get it right this time.”

To help Nigerians get it right, USIP has developed and begun to implement a comprehensive approach to reducing and, to the extent possible, preventing violence associated with elections. In Nigeria in November 2010, USIP supported an election violence prevention training program organized by the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding–Nigeria (WANEP-Nigeria), a network of 450 civil society organizations.

USIP’s Academy for International Conflict Management and Peacebuilding, in partnership with WANEP-Nigeria, followed up this work with a consultation, held March 14–15 in Abuja, with key civil society leaders from Jos, the capital of Plateau state in Nigeria’s middle belt region. Jos has suffered political- and economic-based violence (often portrayed in the media in terms of sectarian and religious divisions) in recent years. It is one of Nigeria’s most volatile cities, and sporadic and sometimes severe outbursts of violence have been reported there, particularly since January.

Focusing on Jos, USIP helped to facilitate a dialogue on concrete steps that civil society actors could take to prevent further violence in the two weeks that led up to the parliamentary elections. After intense discussions about the causes of violence and how to promote peace in Jos among the primary stakeholders there, group members decided that they would form a coalition, with each group adopting specific actions designed to prevent electoral-based conflict in Jos. The Coalition 4 Nonviolent Elections in Jos (CONEJ) had 102 followers in the first two weeks of its being established on the social media site Facebook, where group members shared news and thoughts about the electoral process in Jos.

While there have been incidents of extreme violence in Jos and the situation is fragile, the city largely remained calm during the three election periods in April. The Coalition's slogan, “B Some 1, Vote 4 Peace,” is designed to resonate with youth, since that group tends to be more likely to participate in violence.

As a result of the USIP-facilitated dialogue, coalition members agreed to take the following actions to contribute to nonviolent elections in Jos.

  • Youngstars Foundation established a short message service (SMS) system, or text messaging, for their database of over 5,000 youth, and has been sending regular messages of peaceful behavior during the election period. They are also engaging a greater number of university students on the issue.
  • Center for Peace Advancement in Nigeria (CEPAN) is conducting an outreach campaign to the Achaba Riders (a motorcycle gang) that was held responsible for much of the instability in the city. They will also allow coalition members to use CEPAN offices as their Secretariat.
  • Women Initiative for Sustainable Community Development (WISCOD) has been conducting outreach initiatives to faith-based groups and has been developing sensitization programs.
  • Country Women Association of Nigeria (COWAN) produced a radio program to target faith-based youth groups. This program aired prior to the parliamentary election.

In addition, USIP staff participated in a one-hour live call-in program on Capital TV in Kaduna state, spreading the message of election violence prevention to an audience estimated at 2 million Nigerians.

While conflict erupted elsewhere in Nigeria, the electoral violence feared in Jos did not materialize. The violence elsewhere in the country, however, points to the need for greater conflict resolution initiatives in the current post-election phase.

During the March 2011 trip, USIP also met with the Interfaith Mediation Center and the Interfaith Council of Muslim and Christian Women’s Groups, both in Kaduna, to discuss electoral violence programs underway as the elections were drawing near. Post-election strategies were also discussed, such as working with the media on its reporting, continuing to engage youth groups on issues of nonviolence, and reaching out to political actors themselves on their role in promoting peaceful electoral processes.

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