Results in Nigerian elections come in two separate columns. One records the votes cast at polling stations; the other the number of people killed around the time of the election.


Elections involve a set of activities leading to the selection of one or more persons out of many to serve in positions of authority in a society. Political scientists and development theorists link free, fair and credible elections to democratic governance, peace and development. In brief, they argue that free, fair and credible elections provide the basis for the emergence of democratic, accountable and legitimate governments with the capacity to initiate and implement clearly articulated development programmes. Again, they claim that free, fair and credible elections empower the electorate to hold the government accountable and to demand strong credentials and feasible development agenda from prospective government officials. In other words, free, fair and credible elections bestow on governments the legitimate authority to, on one hand, initiate and implement policies; while on the other hand, they empower the citizens to hold governments accountable for their actions and/or inactions. Credible elections are, therefore, sine qua non for democratic governance, political stability and national development.


Since 1999, elections have become more regular in Nigeria. Between 1999 and 2011, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) conducted four consecutive general elections. Nigeria’s attempt to practice parliamentary democracy at independence in 1960 was interrupted by a military coup in 1966 (Dudley 1982). In 1979, Nigeria made a transition from military rule to presidential democracy. Again, the democratic government was removed via a military coup in 1983 (Diamond 1988, Joseph 1991). The third democratic experiment in Nigeria began in 1989 but was aborted in 1993 following the annulment of the presidential election, which would have marked the highpoint of the transition. Following intense domestic and international pressures on the military government, as well as the sudden demise of the then military Head of State General Sani Abacha, the military government finally relinquished power to an elected civilian government in May 1999 (Ihonvbere and Shaw 1998, Osaghae 1998). The period since 1999 has been marked by an extra-ordinary progress towards the consolidation of democracy in Nigeria, considering that the country is able to conduct four consecutive general elections for the first time in its political history (Oyovbaire 2008).


Although elections are now more regular in Nigeria, the quality of these elections is a matter of grave concern to both the actors and observers. The 2003 and 2007 elections were particularly marked by dissatisfaction by candidates, voters and observers (Ibrahim and Ibeanu 2009). Dissatisfaction with the 2007 general elections reflected in the barrage of litigations brought before the election tribunals and courts as well as the number of election results that were nullified (INEC 2007, Ugochukwu 2009). Unlike the 2007 elections, the April 2011 general elections in Nigeria were adjudged by observers and analysts as the most credible election in the series of elections organized since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999. The success of the 2011 elections can be attributed to the remedial measures taken by both the government and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the aftermath of the 2007 general elections to restore the credibility of the electoral process. Just to illustrate, in June 2010, President Goodluck Jonathan appointed Professor Attahiru Jega, a respected academic and activist as the chairman of INEC. The appointment of Professor Jega boosted public confidence in INEC. The government also ensured adequate and timely funding of the Commission. The federal government reportedly released over 87 billion naira (about US $580 million) to INEC to support the Commission’s preparations for the 2011 elections (Gberie 2011: 9). In addition, the Nigerian National Assembly undertook a major revision of the legal framework for elections in Nigeria, including the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act. To complement government’s efforts, INEC adopted far-reaching measures to ensure the success of the 2011 elections. For instance, INEC made a critical decision to discard the existing voters register which was highly discredited and to compile a new one just four months to the April 2011 elections. Also, the Commission strengthened its election personnel by recruiting members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and staff of federal universities to serve as ad hoc registration and polling staff. The efforts of both INEC and the government to restore the credibility of Nigeria’s electoral process paid off with the success of the 2011 general elections.


The 2011 general elections were adjudged by many observers as the most credible election organized by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) since 1999. For example, Terence McCulley, U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, praised the National Assembly election as the first-ever ‘credible, transparent, free and fair general election’ in Nigeria, and declared that it provided ‘a historic opportunity for Nigeria to consolidate its democracy and further expand its voice on the world stage’ (Agbambu and Ajayi 2011). The ECOWAS observation mission described the presidential poll as ‘fair and transparent’ (ICG 2011: 4), while the EU Election Observation Mission to Nigeria, said ‘the 2011 general elections marked an important step towards strengthening democratic elections in Nigeria, but challenges remain’ (EU EOM 2011: 1). Clement Nwankwo, head of the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC) in Abuja and who is working with more than 20 civil society groups in the Nigerian Civil Society Election Situation Room to monitor elections said: ‘we have not seen large-scale reports of malpractice, nor of collusion between electoral officials and politicians’ (Omokri 2011). The credibility of the 2011 general elections further reflects in the fewer number of litigations it attracted compared to the barrage of cases brought before the election tribunals and courts as well as the number of election results nullified by the tribunals and courts in the aftermath of the 2007 elections (INEC 2007, Ugochukwu 2009, EU EOM 2011).


The widely acclaimed success of the 2011 elections was dented by post-election violence that broke out following the announcement of the results of the presidential elections. The 2011 post-election violence is seen by many as the bloodiest incident of electoral violence in Nigeria’s history (Bekoe 2011, Ajayi 2011, HRW 2011, ICG 2011, Shuaibu and Iroegbu 2011). In fourteen Northern States, including Adamawa, Kano, Kaduna, and Bauchi States, where the post-election violence was most prevalent, violent protesters killed several people, including an unspecified number of National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) members; torched, looted or destroyed businesses, churches and private houses (Shuaibu and Iroegbu 2011, HRW 2011). In the aftermath of the violence, thousands of people were displaced from their homes and places of business.

Conceptualizing Post-Election Violence


Post-election violence is a specific form of electoral violence. Electoral violence is “any random or organized act that seeks to determine, delay, or otherwise influence an electoral process through threat, verbal intimidation, hate speech, disinformation, physical assault, forced ‘protection’, blackmail, destruction of property, or assassination’ (Fischer 2002: 8). The target of electoral violence can be people, places, data, or things. In an attempt to influence the electoral process, perpetrators of electoral violence may attempt to delay, disrupt, or derail a poll and determine the winners of competitive races for political office (UNDP 2009: 4).


Three key elements in the above definition of electoral violence are worthy to note. The first is that like any other form of violence, electoral violence manifests in physical forms (kidnapping, killing, and destruction of property) and non-physical forms (threats, intimidation and blackmail) (Joint Task Force on Electoral Assistance 2011: 15). Secondly, the main goal of electoral violence is to influence the electoral process, either by changing the outcome of elections or by disrupting the electoral process. Thirdly, electoral violence can occur at different periods in the election cycle; that is, before, during, or after election. Therefore, what distinguishes post-election violence from other forms of electoral violence is the fact that it occurs just after polling, usually during or after collation and announcement of election results.