While the Nigerian general elections will take place in a few days, the NGO Human Rights Watch demands that the authorities protect freedom of expression and ensure that violence is avoided.
Next February 25, Nigerians are invited to slip the name of their future president into the ballot box. Muhammadu Buhari has served two terms and will therefore not be a candidate. But if Nigeria has an outgoing president who respects the Constitution, the risks of pre- and post-election violence do exist. In a press release, Human Rights Watch is concerned.
"The inability of the Nigerian authorities to hold accountable for abuses linked to past elections, as well as the generalized insecurity throughout the country, threaten the smooth running of the next general elections of 2023", indicates the NGO in a statement. communicated in English.
Beyond the presidential election, it is the organization of general elections that is called into question by HRW. Indeed, Nigerian voters will also elect the members of the Federal National Assembly, then two weeks later the governors and state legislators.
What reproaches HRW to power? "A thick veil of violence casts a shadow over the 2023 elections, and undermines the fundamental right to vote of Nigerians", summarizes Anietie Ewang, researcher on Nigeria at Human Rights Watch, who asks that "the authorities quickly restore the confidence of citizens in their ability to hold accountable those responsible for electoral violence, and to ensure the safety and security of all Nigerians”. In other words, without a strict judicial framework, the elections must be postponed.
Which, in practice, seems difficult to achieve. The NGO criticizes in particular “the abuses committed by the security forces and other actors during the previous general elections of 2019”. But also the lack of solutions on the part of the authorities in the face of "threats to security from several groups across the country, including violent gangs in the northwest, and groups in the southeast of Nigeria who try to undermine the elections”.
This is certainly one of the challenges of the organization of the February 25 election: to ensure that the Nigerian elections take place in a calm context. On paper, democracy is very present: in 2015, the arrival of Buhari to power showed that the opposition also had a say in the face of a regime that was nevertheless well in place.
But four years later, at the end of his first term, the head of state had to face serious accusations of violence allegedly committed by the security forces and the army. The NGO HRW also speaks of "thugs acting on behalf of certain politicians", such as this is the case in several African countries such as Côte d'Ivoire.
“Human Rights Watch research into the 2019 elections in Rivers states in the south and Kano states in the north, both of which have a long history of violent elections, found that pre-election tensions, including clashes between supporters of the main political parties and rivalry between key politicians culminated in serious violence during the elections,” the humanitarian organization said, adding that “military personnel fired indiscriminately on civilians in Rivers State, killing several of them. between them, while thugs belonging to political factions and members of security forces attacked election officials, voters, journalists and other observers in the two states”.
Like several observers of Nigerian political life, the NGO therefore calls for "all reasonable measures to create and maintain an environment in which electoral officials, journalists and civil society can operate free from violence and 'bullying' be taken. And that freedom of expression is protected.