It is unclear whether more than one million people displaced by the militant group’s insurgency will be able to vote in next month’s election.
When Nigeria goes to the polls next month in general elections, a significant swath of the country will be unable to vote.
Boko Haram now controls some 20 percent of Nigerian territory, or 20,000 square miles. Three states in the country’s northeast remain under “states of emergency,” limiting movement and giving the government additional powers as it battles the militant group.
This combined with factional violence and the potential for a disputed outcome have observers warning of major bloodshed surrounding the Feb. 14 presidential and parliamentary polls.
“Welcome to elections Nigeriana, a true season of violence, mayhem, and our legacy pattern of electoral killings and destructions,” the Abuja-based Premium Times said in an editorial appealing for calm.
Elections in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country and biggest economy, tend to be fractious affairs at the best of times.
Following the 2011 polls, considered the smoothest since Nigeria’s return from military to civilian rule in 1999, nearly 1,000 people died in elections-related violence.
Risk of violence
The International Crisis Group has warned that on top of the Boko Haram crisis are long-standing ethnic, religious and tribal tensions that remain unresolved. Combined with an “increasingly violent” political climate, the risks of violence in this election are “particularly high.”
“The Boko Haram insurgency, competing claims to the presidency between the majority Muslim north and majority Christian south, inadequate electoral arrangements and apparent bias by security agencies all point toward a very perilous contest,” the group warned in a report late last year.
President Goodluck Jonathan, 57, a Christian from the oil-rich Niger Delta region, is seeking a second term as the Peoples Democratic Party candidate. Jonathan, under fire for his handling of the Boko Haram crisis, has been in office since 2010 after stepping up from vice president following the death of Umaru Yar’Adua.
The main opposition candidate is Muhammadu Buhari, 72, a Muslim from northern Katsina state, representing the All Progressives Congress. Buhari, who has lost three presidential bids since 1999, headed a military government in the early 1980s, after coming to power in a military coup and then losing power in another one.
Meanwhile Boko Haram appears to have ramped up its attacks in recent weeks in what analysts describe as an attempt to further undermine the vote.
One million displaced
Last week militants overran a military base in Baga and razed two nearby towns, killing hundreds if not more civilians, while two suspected child suicide bombers attacked a market in the city of Potiskum.
Nigeria’s national electoral body this week admitted that it was “unlikely” elections would go ahead in the Boko Haram-controlled areas of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states.
It is unclear whether the more than one million people displaced from the violence will be able to vote, with the Independent National Electoral Commission said to be scrambling to make arrangements.
Many of these people are from areas of the northeast that traditionally support the opposition. If they are unable to vote, the voting results may be disputed on the basis of falling short of constitutional requirements for electing a president.
A run-off election is also a possibility, with results expected to be close.
“Even in the unlikely event that the polling and ballot-counting goes smoothly, there will be potential questions about the Feb. 14 elections,” wrote John Campbell, a senior fellow with the US-based Council on Foreign Relations.
At a civil society conference on elections held this week in Abuja, Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary general, urged Nigeria to hold peaceful polls, warning that violence would be a setback for the continent.
“What happens in Nigeria affects us all, not just in West Africa but Africa as a whole,” Annan said. “If Nigeria does well, the region as a whole does well. But the reverse is also true.”