On 22 February 2023, the 18 registered political parties in Nigeria signed a peace accord as their leaders vowed to respect the outcome of the 2023 general elections or seek legitimate means of redress in the event that any of them are not satisfied with the conduct and outcome of the elections. The signing has been described by critics as mere photo ops, and there are reasons to believe that they might be right.
For starters, this peace accord is the second in the last five months. The former Head of State, Mr Abdulsalami Abubakar, who chairs the National Accord for Peace (the organizers of the peace accord every election season), revealed that major political parties have already violated the tenets of the first peace accord signed on 29 September 2022. According to Mr Abubakar, “44 per cent of the violations were carried out by the spokespersons of the political parties; 26 per cent by party members; 19 per cent by the presidential candidates themselves; 11 per cent by the hardcore supporters and 4 per cent by the chairmen of the parties.” Sadly, part of the evidence of the violations of the accord is the continuous occurrence of deadly attacks, such as the assassination of a senatorial candidate of the Labour Party in Enugu State, along with five of his supporters on 22 January, the same day the second accord was signed. This is the second time a major leader/candidate of the Labour Party (now considered a threat to the two dominant parties: the ruling APC and the main opposition PDP) is being assassinated, the first being the killing of the party’s women leader in Kaduna State in November 2022, as well as the attempted assassination of a House of Representatives candidate of the same party in Kaduna State earlier this month. Moreover, over “30 supporters of the party were said to be on admission in different hospitals across Lagos State, nursing different grades of pain and injury following an alleged attack on the Labour Party supporters who were on their way to a political rally. Vehicles were destroyed, stomachs were ripped open, sharp machetes were used to crack skulls and chests open, many sustained injuries” according to available reports. Bluntly put, the first peace accord did not prevent election violence and there is little indication that this time will be any different.
Second, the multiparty system, which has abysmally failed to guarantee good governance and political accountability in Nigeria and across the African continent, is exacerbating existing tensions. This is the reason why Nigeria needs a peace accord many decades after the imposition of that system. The historical context of Nigeria provides some insights into the reasons behind this phenomenon. From the outset, political parties in Nigeria were not formed on any clear ideology; they were regional and perhaps religiously based and woven around individual politicians who were influential at the time. These politicians organized under different political parties to compete for political power and control of national resources without genuine interest in ensuring good governance (i.e., improving the lives of ordinary people) and accountability. The aims were and remain power and state capture.
Such a fierce competition which is largely underpinned by “do or die” ideology and style of politics has led to conflicts (often exacerbated by ethno-regional/religious leanings of the political parties and their supporters), as seen over the years in Nigeria and various parts of Africa. If anything, elections have been a cog in the wheel of national integration, peace and unity in these places. While it is true that Nigeria has new dominant political parties today, the foundation of the ethno-regional/religious party system has remained in place to this day.
Clearly, the multiparty system has not advanced democracy as expected, and the signing of peace accords or the need for handshakes in and after every election cycle highlights the lack of a democratic culture in Nigeria and across the continent. It means that peace is the exception in electoral processes. That is a serious failure of the democratization project.
To be sure, the prospect of post-election violence is not inescapable. As the country prepares for the 2023 elections, it is crucial for all political parties, their candidates, and supporters to commit to a violence-free election. However, a sustainable way to ensure that existing regional, religious and ethnic tensions do not lead to the implosion of the country is to rethink and reform the governance model that has led Nigerians to an embarrassing show of peace accord signing before the “international community” – one that is performed every election year. It appears that, after all, this is another way African leaders “perform democracy for the western gallery.”