Terrorism by Boko Haram is contributing to voter apathy in Nigeria as citizens fear for their very safety in public spaces. Furthermore, many voters are being drawn towards leaders whom they feel will better protect them from the imminent threats posed by militant groups.
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By Tendaishe Tlou
Nigeria is a nation that has long been divided among itself, without a strong central government; a country ravaged by civil war involving hundreds of ethnic groups. In rural areas, there are millions of internally displaced persons. In the midst of this pandemonium, the situation has further deteriorated with the emergence of Boko Haram in the Northern region; a part of the country that now has only a few functioning schools and health centres due to the scourge of terrorism. Against this bleak background, terrorism is contributing to voter apathy, with the government postponing elections scheduled for February to March 2015 due to security fears. Averting this challenge is key for peace and human security in Nigeria.
Blessed with natural resources such as oil, Nigeria is also cursed by the salience of a plethora of ethnic-religious groups willing to obtain them. Nigeria has never been a master of its own fate. Since obtaining independence in 1960, this nation has been under the “draconian rule of a string of military dictatorships which were founded on monopolization of resources and perpetuating corruption” (Achebe,1987). Control and ownership of lucrative natural resources by the oligarchy and minority elite has augmented the formation of the vicious and ruthless militant group Boko Haram, which has since clamoured for the formation of a theocracy so as to curtail pervasive corruption, poverty, hunger and unemployment, spawned by the weak civilian government led by Goodluck Jonathan. Under the former’s leadership, the Boko Haram allege that the Nigerian government has led the nation into an abyss and now it is their responsibility to spearhead a reign of terror so as to put the country back on track through Sharia law. Despite its reputation as the largest economy in Africa, Nigeria is increasingly being caught under the whims of crisis after crisis.
Boko Haram have been terrorizing people in the Bono and Baga States. However, the terrorist movement gained much popularity when it kidnapped two hundred school girls and raided an agricultural school, mutilating and killing a hoard of college students in the Bono State, Abuja and others. In the meantime, Boko Haram has escalated its campaign by staging suicide bombings in public places, killing civilians indiscriminately. The trend indicates that the attacks target teenagers who are keen to learn (bearing in mind that Boko Haram literally means ‘Western education is forbidden’), eager to vote and are mostly caught-up in the attractive packages proffered by globalization. Each week has brought reports of a new atrocity and the militant group vowing to disrupt elections. In the face of the much anticipated election, the sole purpose of these attacks on civilians is to instil fear and impose what is called ‘Agoraphobia’, fear of the market/public place, due to the fact that polling stations are places where people will confer. Solomon (2012) posits that the Radical Islamicic sect is responsible for the escalating scale and intensity of terrorist attacks, wreaking havoc across North-Eastern Nigeria.
The impact is to ensure that Nigerian civilians live under the fear of being killed in public places, which compels them to stay confined to their homes. Aziz (1993) raises the ante by arguing that battles for Islam are not won through the gun, but by striking fear into the heart of the ‘enemy.’ In the same way, the government will compound the fear by imposing embargoes, such as deploying heavily armed men in public places, cancelling flights, restricting movements, states of emergency and, most importantly, postponement of elections. It is the objective of these terrorist cults to merely initiate contagion and governments do the rest. Given that the Nigerian government is also caught-up in a state of paralysis illuminated by their call for help from the United States after failing to redeem the abducted girls, the masses have lost confidence in a government which cannot protect its own civilians.
To buttress my argument that there were will be extensive voter apathy in the 28 March 2015 election, the Daily Times (2015) states that the first civilian President, Godfather and mentor of Nigerian politics, Obasanjo, withdrew from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and endorsed a former military dictator and the leader of the opposition, Retired General Muhammadu Buhari, just before the election due to the lack of political will by Jonathan to quell Boko Haram as a threat to peace and security. Thus, Schmidt and Jongman (2005) are of the view that terrorism is an anxiety inspiring method of repeated or simultaneous violent actions employed by semi-clandestine individuals, groups or state actors mainly for idiosyncratic, criminal or political reasons, whereby the direct targets of violence are not the main targets. However,coming from a background that Nigerians are still reeling under military rule since independence, the endorsement of Buhari will induce voter apathy. Notwithstanding the chaos in the state, Nigerians are not prepared to be ruled by yet another despotic leader. They cannot withstand the fear and intimidation that comes with dictatorship, hence most Nigerian people would rather not go to cast their votes. The experiences for many after independence was unpleasant and the memory of execution of prominent human rights activists such as Ken Saro-Wiwa in 1995 by Nigeria’s military (Watts, 2004) and the ensuing events are still fresh.
In light of the delicate situation in Nigeria, civilians – especially teenagers – will demonstrate extensive voter apathy due to fear for their lives. Boko Haram is deploying suicide bombers to public places, such as the recent February 2015 bus rank attack which claimed twenty six lives (SABC, 2015). The State is failing to proactively quell the havoc wreaked by the militant group. Hence, Crenshaw (1995) maintains that terrorism is a ‘conspirational’ type of violence calculated to alter the attitudes and behaviour of a particular multitude or audience. Hence, President Jonathan might well lose the 2015 election due to mass contempt and dissatisfaction of a government that fails to protect its citizens from insecurity. Fear is terrorism’s catalyst (Barber, 2001) which compels people to choose radical options.
Failure by the Jonathan Administration to formulate and implement sound economic policies for employment also explains why Boko Haram’s contingent is mostly comprised of youths, because the violence perpetrated is not meant for the actual people it affects but for the government that fails to deal comprehensively with the country’s problems. Another major bone of contention is that Nigeria is still being exploited by its own leaders and Western allies who export oil at the expense of unemployed youths, escalating poverty and corruption, which also contribute to voter apathy. The overarching sentiments are that the men who have risen to power have led the country with the same cruelty, greed and disregard for the Nigerian population as did their predecessors.
The presence of Boko Harm will remain a threat to peace and security in Nigeria if the government keeps operating under the illusion that help will come from external players. First and foremost, Nigeria must proactively deal with the massive unemployment engulfing the youth, and proceed to strengthen their military forces since it has emerged that Boko Haram is better equipped and trained than the Nigerian national army. During elections, civilians are expected to vote for leaders whom they feel will meet their needs and protect them in the face of imminent threats from militant groups and other challenges. The State must always be well equipped politically, economically, socially and psychologically to deal with all threats that threaten human, state and security in Nigeria and elsewhere.
Tendaishe Tlou is a freelance researcher and writer specialising in human rights, environmental security, peace and governance issues. He holds a BSc (Honours) Degree in Peace and Governance with Bindura University of Science Education and a Post-graduate Certificate in Applied Conflict Transformation. He works with various NGOs and Government Ministries in Zimbabwe and South Africa. However, these are his personal views; no authors, NGOs, Universities or any other Institution must be held accountable for the arguments in this article.
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