Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged President Muhammadu Buhari “to direct the Inspector-General of Police Usman Baba to promptly, thoroughly, and transparently investigate the reported attack on the Labour Party presidential candidate, Peter Obi, after a rally in Katsina state, and other cases of election-related intimidation, harassment and violence across the country.”
SERAP also urged him to “direct Mr Usman Baba and the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN, to name and shame any politicians and other perpetrators of election-related intimidation, harassment, and violence, and to ensure that they are promptly brought to justice.”
SERAP urged him to “caution state governors to end reported suppression of campaigns by opposition parties within their states, and to ensure the security and safety of opposition candidates, members and supporters.”
Mr Peter Obi was reportedly attacked after a rally in Katsina with heavy stones while on his way to the airport. This attack is coming on the heels of reported 339 incidents of election-related intimidation, harassment and violence across the country in 2022.
In the letter dated 28 January, 2023 and signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, the organization said, “Escalating cases of election-related intimidation, harassment, and violence are fundamentally inconsistent with the principle of free and fair elections.”
According to SERAP, “Investigating and prosecuting these cases, and bringing perpetrators to justice would stop further violence, facilitate free and fair elections, and encourage Nigerians to freely exercise their right to vote.”
SERAP said, “Investigating and prosecuting these cases would also promote and ensure the rule of law and democratic tradition in the country.”
The letter, read in part, “The Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended], the Electoral Act, and the country’s international human rights obligations recognize as fundamental the right to participate in one’s government, and the free and fair elections that implement it.
“We would be grateful if the recommended measures are taken within 7 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, SERAP shall consider appropriate legal actions to compel your government to comply with our request in the public interest.
“Election-related intimidation, harassment and violence are grave violations of the rights of Nigerians to participate in the democratic process and free and fair elections, as well as a range of other human rights.
“Free and fair elections mean elections conducted under conditions that enable voters to cast their votes as they wish purely on their own accord without any threats, intimidation, harassment or violence before, during and after elections.
“Free and fair elections are indispensable for the success of any democracy. But free and fair elections cannot take place in an environment characterised by recurring cases of election-related intimidation, harassment and violence.
“Fairness means providing equal opportunities and a conducive environment for all the contending parties to present their cases to a public which, in turn, may make a free choice.
“In a political climate of suppression of opposition parties’ campaigns and other election-related intimidation, harassment and violence, the electorate will not feel free to exercise their right to vote.
“SERAP is concerned about the growing impunity for election-related intimidation, harassment and violence.
“Acting swiftly to address the brazen impunity for election-related intimidation, harassment, and violence would also send a strong message to politicians and non-state actors that your government would not tolerate any action that would undermine the people’s right to free and fair elections.
“Mr Obi was said to be on his way to the airport, when some hoodlums and political thugs reportedly attacked the car he was riding in with heavy stones from his driver’s side, causing substantial damage to the vehicle. Subsequently, another set of thugs also reportedly threw stones outside the stadium which damaged several vehicles.
“Gunmen also recently reportedly killed Christopher Elehu, the Labour Party (LP) candidate for Onuimo Local Government Area Constituency in Imo State. The gunmen also reportedly set Mr Elehu’s house ablaze and destroyed his properties.
“The police in Ebonyi State recently dispersed hundreds of supporters of the Labour Party presidential candidate Peter Obi who gathered for a rally in Abakaliki.
“These cases followed other growing reports of election-related intimidation, harassment and violence in several parts of the country including Abia, Lagos, Imo, Kaduna, and Kano states.
“Many state governors are reportedly suppressing campaigns by opposition parties within their states. The growing suppression of campaigns by state governors is an indicator of a slide into authoritarianism.
“Your government has the constitutional responsibility to take immediate and concrete actions to reverse the trend and hold state governors to account for any infractions of the Nigerian Constitution, the Electoral Act, and the country’s international human rights obligations.
“The Nigerian Constitution provides in Section 14(1)(c) that, ‘the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.’
“Similarly, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance guarantee the right to political participation, including the right to vote.
“In particular, Article 13(1) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights provides that ‘[E]very citizen shall have the right to freely participate in the government of his country, either directly or through freely chosen representatives in accordance with the provisions of law.’
“These human rights treaties also require states parties including Nigeria to promote the establishment of the necessary conditions to foster citizen participation, and take effective measures to ensure that persons entitled to vote are able to freely exercise their right.
“The growing election-related violence would undermine the ability of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to discharge its responsibilities under Section 153 of the Nigerian Constitution and paragraph 15(a) of the third schedule of the Constitution, and the Electoral Act 2022.
“Your government has repeatedly expressed commitment to bequeath a free, fair and credible election to Nigerians. Your government should now close the gap between its words and its actions by urgently taking concrete and effective measures to end the escalating cases of election-related violence in the country.”