The INEC Chairman Attahiru Jega

Nigeria 2015: The Smaller the Stake the More Violent the Elections

The INEC Chairman Attahiru Jega

The INEC Chairman Attahiru Jega

Those who understand Nigerian politics will be aware of a paradoxical relationship between the size or rank of a constituency and election violence; as a rule “the smaller the stake the more violent the elections.” Such an observation suggests that on any given day, the presidential elections would be the least violent while local authority ballots the most violent. Does this make sense? How can smaller stakes create more violence than bigger ones?

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We could observe through visual media and print reports on the just concluded federal phase of the 2015 General elections that the National Assembly elections for national legislators was incomparably much more violent, desperate and malpractice-laden than the Presidential elections.

Next Saturday Nigeria will have the states’ phase of the elections for Governors and members of State Houses of Assembly. If the aforementioned rule is credible as significant guidance, there will be much more election violence, malpractices and misbehaviour this coming Saturday than on 28 March. If this happens it would not be a benign ‘habit of politics’ in Nigeria’s representative democracy.

The more local the constituency to a voter in terms of ‘power distance’ the more the elections should represent the interest of the voter. However, Nigeria’s elections have very little to do with interests of the voters who simply provide the numbers, the vote is all about politicians.

Politicians essentially have more direct control over the politicking in their constituencies as they get smaller in size. While some local authority chairmen know most of their constituents even by just ‘two degree of separation,’ a president maybe oblivious to the knowledge of over 99% of his constituents. The threat of violence is, therefore, more immediate and potentially enduring in smaller constituencies than larger ones.

 Nigeria 2015: The Smaller the Stake the More Violent the Elections by Grimot Nane

This is simply a collective action problem. The larger a constituency and jurisdiction of voters (especially in a heterogeneous societies like Nigeria) the harder it is to organise both voters and ‘supporting politicians’. This is because as the size of a constituency increases, the disparities in the core political interests (economic, social, cultural, ethnic and political) of voters and politicians also increase. However, the more local electoral constituencies are logically and evidently more easily and effectively organised collectively and they are usually homogenous.

Ethnicity is a problem even where homogeneity is expected. It is at election time you have Real Igbos and Non-Real Igbos, Genuine Yorubas and Conquered Yorubas, the Core Northerners and other Northerners etc.

Collective action problems in Nigeria’s election sometimes lead to violence. An influential northern Emir’s palace maybe burnt down if he is doing his best to make PDP wins in his territory. A political stalwart in the Niger Delta maybe ostracised permanently for supporting APC. With much lesser persons, the violence exacted on them for what is collectively seen as “treachery” is raw and immediate.

As democracy matures and governance improves in Nigeria it is possible to overcome interests such as ethnicity in voting the best party and the best candidate and not resort to violence. Let us hope that next Saturday’s election will be violence free.

  • PERSPECTIVE is published every Monday. Dr. Nane is an errant scholar and economist. Follow him on twitter: @Grimot

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