Elections in Nigeria: A Case of Human Rights Breaches

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25 February 2023 is the stipulated date for the presidential and national assembly elections, with 11 March set for the governorship and state assembly elections. These days, Nigerians will come together to decide what the next four or maybe eight years will look like. The importance of these elections will mark the beginning of a new dispensation in Nigeria, which cannot be overemphasised.[1]

Previous Nigerian general elections had been plagued with violence and human rights abuses, causing many to stay home; refraining from voting. It was thought wiser to remain safe at home and surrender the right to vote than to try and participate in a process that was already marred with fraud claims.”[2] Since the 1960s, general elections have had various legitimacy challenges, including electoral fraud, which could remain a major challenge to this year’s election (2023).[3] In response, the Electoral Commission has insisted on using modern technology, particularly the Bimodal Voter Registration System (BVAS) and the Election Result Viewing Portal (IReV) as a means to guarantee free, fair, and transparent elections. According to a statement provided by Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), these tools will utilise technology that will “identify and accredit voters’ fingerprints and facial recognition before voting.”[4] The IreV system is an online portal where polling results are uploaded directly from the polling unit, transmitted, and published for the public.[5] At the front end of the online portal, members of the public can create personal accounts with which they can gain access to all uploaded results stored as PDF files. This accessibility of polling unit-level results increases transparency and public trust in the process.[6]

In the past, campaigns were particularly bloody, and intimidation was rife in many areas. As of 1999, there have been well-documented claims of vote buying, ballot boxes being stolen, and results falsified. “The EU observer mission found evidence of ‘widespread electoral fraud’ in many areas and concluded that in several States the minimum standards for democratic elections were not met.”[7]In 2001, people debated whether or not INEC had what it takes to conduct free and fair elections, particularly after Nigeria moved to a more democratic culture.[8]

The consequences of unaccountable governance in Nigeria have been severe[9], particularly its impact on human rights as documented by Human Rights Watch and other organisations. “Human rights abuses remain pervasive in Nigeria.”[10] Nigerians have paid the ultimate price for bad governance, with corruption at its highest, infiltrating all levels of government, as well as crippling health and educational services and other social infrastructures. As of the fourth quarter of 2021, the Nigerian oil revenue was 11 trillion. The Central Bank of Nigeria[11] (CBN) says the country generated N799.10 billion from the oil sector in the first quarter of 2022 as shown in the CBN Economic Report of the First Quarter.[12] However, despite this revenue Nigeria has experienced a decline in its social infrastructure.

It was stated that for “Nigeria’s human rights record […] to improve, Nigerians must exercise a genuine choice in a free and fair election and hold their leaders accountable through democratic means.”[13]Human Right Watch stated that, “election to political office must become less dependent on the strategic deployment of corruption and violence. If this process is to start at the [2023] elections, the electoral process must be far more credible; it must be less violent, better organised and more reflective of the actual decisions made by voters.”[14]


Electoral fraud[15] is simply an illegal interference with an election process that thwarts the people’s mandate. In Nigeria, this happens in several ways, including vote buying to underage voting, snatching ballots and/or results before or after an election to favour a particular party/candidate, as well as intimidation at the polls, whether with the use of militant gangs, or state security. Various electoral malpractices have taken place in Nigeria at different times, which has made it difficult to conduct a free and fair election, with all sorts of election malpractices, fraud, partiality, bribery, stealing of ballot paper and ballot boxes, rigging and even murder of opponents being carried out by the political class.[16]

Vote Buying

In the last six general elections, vote buying has been reported at each election. Vote buying, which is the act of offering money, goods or favours in exchange for a vote, has grown steadily with each successive election despite its criminalisation in Section 130of the Electoral Act, 2010.[17] The act of vote buying was seen during the recent governorship elections conducted in Anambra[18] and Edo[19] states. While vote buying transcends locality – urban and rural areas, it is more prevalent in rural regions.[20]

A survey conducted on the 2019 election by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed that a larger share of people living in rural areas were offered money or favours in exchange for their vote than in urban areas.[21] The prevalence is also higher in men than women. The same 2019 NBS survey revealed that more men (23.1%) were offered bribes for their vote in 2019, while it was 18.8% for women. According to the NBS survey, the prevalence of vote buying among self-employed citizens with dependent employees was 23.4%, and those without employees were 23%. Private and public sector employees stood at 22.5% and 22%, respectively. On the other hand, unemployed people recorded 20.9%.[22]

Voter/Electoral Officials Intimidation and Ballot Snatching

Another common way electoral fraud happens in Nigeria is through voter intimidation. Voter intimidation is a strategy that politicians have employed over the years to keep those likely to vote for opponents away from the polls. It is any action or behaviour that is intended to discourage or prevent someone from exercising their right to vote freely and independently. It can take many forms, including physical violence, verbal threats or harassment, spreading false information about voting procedures or the consequences of voting, and using law enforcement or other authorities to intimidate voters; it may even be through acts such as blocking polls, etc.[23]

In instances where this is pulled off successfully (intimidation of voters and INEC officials), the ballot boxes are often snatched and taken away with INEC officials running[24] for their lives or sometimes whisked away[25] with election materials to undisclosed locations. There is hardly an election in Nigeria where such acts have not been reported. It happened in the 2011[26] and 2015[27] elections and again in the 2019[28] general elections.[29]


The 2003 Election has been considered one of Nigeria’s most violent and corrupt elections. The elections were replete with irregularities and violence. In their various reports, domestic and international election observers admitted that there were massive electoral malpractices during the general elections, one of which is the article by John Ikubaje on Corruption, Democracy and the 2003 Elections.[30] One of the presidential candidates “described the elections as the most fraudulent Nigeria has had since its independence and, therefore, called for their cancellation and the constitution of an interim government to take over from 29 May 2003.”[31] From the article, Elixir of Electoral Fraud, it was gleaned that, “other electoral misconducts perpetrated by INEC and its unscrupulous officials include unlawful possession of ballot papers and boxes, unlawful possession of authorised/unauthorised voters’ cards, stuffing of ballot boxes, forgery of results, falsification of result sheets, tampering with ballot boxes, collusion with party agents to share unused ballot papers for fat financial rewards and inconsistent application of INEC’s procedures across the country.”[32]

In 2003 and again in 2004, both Nigeria’s federal and state elections as well as local government elections were “marred by serious incidents of violence, which left scores dead and many others injured. ”[33] In several locations “elections simply did not take place as groups of armed thugs linked to political parties and candidates intimidated and threatened voters in order to falsify results. The violence and climate of intimidation facilitated widespread fraud, invalidating the results of the elections in many areas.”[34]

“Violence became such an accepted part of political competition in some areas during the 2003 elections that politicians did not even attempt to conceal it; for example, a ward chairman in the southern city of Port Harcourt told a human rights activist directly how the guns had been distributed in the area.”[35] In some areas, clashes between election opponents overlapped with conflicts over other issues. ” In some regions, the general elections provided an avenue for “longstanding inter-communal conflicts over land and resources; these conflicts were reignited as some groups used the elections as a way of venting their anger or desire for revenge in broader disputes over economic and political power.”[36]

“The largest number of deaths during the elections occurred when opposing bands of political thugs, in some cases armed on both sides, fought each other for physical control of a locality, attempting to displace supporters of the opposing party. Witnesses reported numerous incidents to Human Rights Watch in which armed thugs, usually, though not exclusively from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), shot into the air or otherwise threatened voters with violence, created chaos, and then ran away with the ballot boxes. In some instances, these groups shot directly at individuals from opposing parties. […] This type of intimidation was especially common in the south and the southeast, but also occurred in other areas. Summaries of recorded incidents during elections include the northern states of Katsina and Jigawa, the central or Middle Belt states of Benue, Taraba and Adamawa, and Kogi State in the west, as well as the southern and southeastern states of Rivers, Imo, Abia and Akwa-Ibom.”[37]

From reports by Human Rights Watch, “there were also reported cases where people who tried to intervene, to prevent rigging, were beaten by thugs hired by the various parties.” Protests also often took a violent form, with aggrieved opposition members and other frustrated voters smashing election materials and equipment to prevent fraudulent votes from being used and, in more serious cases, attacking PDP members or others suspected of rigging. “Some election observers were threatened and, in some cases, physically attacked to prevent them from witnessing or reporting abuses. Some of these threats were made by state or local government officials and others by members of the security forces.” In the article Nigeria’s 2003 Elections: The Unacknowledged Violence, it was outlined that, “at least three observers in the southeast were among the victims of violent intimidation during the state house of assembly elections: in Enugu State, an observer was whipped with a chain by a paramilitary mobile policeman acting in collusion with PDP supporters; an observer in Ebonyi State was beaten by a candidate for the state house of assembly; and another observer in Ebonyi State was chased out of two polling stations.”[38] The consequences of electoral malpractices on Nigerians are more than one can imagine but are not without remedies.[39]


As campaigning for the 2023 elections kicks off, INEC – the body responsible for conducting free and fair elections in Nigeria, has cleared 18 political parties to contest the presidential election on 25 February 2023, with 4 223 candidates vying for the 469 federal legislative seats.[40] They have also published guidelines and regulations for the Conduct of Elections.[41] These guidelines have existed since 2019. They will supersede all other regulations and/or guidelines on the Conduct of Elections issued by the Commission and shall remain in force until replaced by new regulations or amendments supported by a Decision Extract of the Commission or an official gazette.[42] Consequently, the umpire, the National Broadcasting Commission, and the Nigerian Inter-Religious Commission have issued pleas, guidelines, warnings, and threats to the political parties to adhere to acceptable conduct.[43] These threats include withdrawing defaulting political candidates and applying further stringent measures to ensure that rules adhere. The National Broadcasting Commission speaking during a sensitisation forum on political broadcasting, warned Nigeria’s broadcasting industry to stay off activities that could jeopardise the nation’s peace.[44]

Additionally, they highlighted the broadcasters’ critical roles in ensuring a democratic process and adhering to these duties during the 2023 general elections. Similarly, INEC assured the public of its commitment to delivering a free, fair and credible election, saying its ultimate goal was electoral justice which would allow every Nigerian to experience electoral fulfilment.[45] Also, Section 92 of the Electoral Act 2022 forbids “any political campaign or slogan tainted with abusive language directly or indirectly or one likely to injure religious, ethnic, tribal, or sectional feelings. Therefore, abusive, intemperate, slanderous, base language, insinuations, or innuendoes intended or likely to provoke violent reactions or emotion should be avoided.”[46] This serves as a reinforcement for INEC’s commitment.

The beauty of democracy lies in its credibility. Like in other countries, Nigerians will troop out to exercise their franchise if they are confident that the election and voting will be peaceful. The candidates and their supporters should be held accountable for every act of violence. The bodies responsible for keeping the peace and ensuring that violence is kept at bay in times like this should fulfil their duties. After all, their mandate is to provide a peaceful, successful, free and fair election in 2023.

The 2023 Nigerian election will be successful and, dare I say, free and fair if all measures are implemented to ensure its credibility. Citizens are ready to vote for their preferred candidates and are taking all necessary steps to ensure their votes are cast. For now, all eligible individuals are highly encouraged to get their Permanent Voters Card (PVC) and to verify the status of their voter card on- voter.inecnigeria.org.

Princess Odey is a lawyer, writer and podcaster from Nigeria. Princess is a graduate of the Nigerian Law School. She is passionate about making impact, empowerment, social justice, community engagement, volunteering and social development. She has served as a Project Support Staff at ACE Charity, Litigation Department Attaché at the National Industrial Court of Abuja and as an intern at the Festus Keyamo Chambers in Abuja.

[1] Election or “Selection”: Human Rights Abuse and Threats to Free and Fair Elections in Nigeria | HRW. https://www.hrw.org/legacy/backgrounder/africa/nigeria0407/3.htm#_ftn1

[2] Nigeria’s 2003 Elections: The Unacknowledged Violence | HRW. https://www.hrw.org/report/2004/06/01/nigerias-2003-elections/unacknowledged-violence.

[3] Onuoha, Browne, 2003 ‘A Comparative Analysis of General Elections in Nigeria’, in Remi, Anifowose, and Tunde, Babawale, eds., 2003 General Elections and Consolidation in Nigeria, Lagos: Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, pp 46-68.

[4] https://www.icirnigeria.org/2023-inec-assures-bvas-will-not-be-compromised/

[5] https://www.icirnigeria.org/2023-inec-assures-bvas-will-not-be-compromised/

[6] https://www.icirnigeria.org/tag/bimodal-voter-accreditation-system-bvas/

[7] https://www.hrw.org/legacy/backgrounder/africa/nigeria0407/3.htm#_ftn2

[8] Adegbuyi, Ayodele, 2001, ‘INEC and Survival of Democracy’, Sunday Times, 17 June, p.5

[9] Election or “Selection”: Human Rights Abuse and Threats to Free and Fair Elections in Nigeria | HRW. https://www.hrw.org/legacy/backgrounder/africa/nigeria0407/3.htm.

[10] Ibid.

[11] https://www.cbn.gov.ng/

[12] https://www.cbn.gov.ng/Out/2022/RSD/2022Q1_posted%20correct%20ver.pdf from p. 10

[13] Election or “Selection”: Human Rights Abuse and Threats to Free and Fair Elections in Nigeria | HRW. https://www.hrw.org/legacy/backgrounder/africa/nigeria0407/3.htm

[14] Quoted from https://www.hrw.org/legacy/backgrounder/africa/nigeria0407/3.htm

[15] https://www.ajpasebsu.org.ng/electoral-fraud-as-a-major-challenge-to-political-development-in-nigeria/

[16] Ologbenla, Derin 2003, ‘Political Instability, Conflict and the 2003 General Election’, in Remi, Anifowose, and Tunde, Babawale, eds., 2003 General Elections and Democratic Consolidation in Nigeria, Lagos: Friedrich Ebert Stiffung pp 69- 102.

[17] https://placng.org/i/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Electoral-Act-2010.pdf

[18] http://saharareporters.com/2021/11/06/anambra-election-political-parties-raise-vote-buying-n10000-voter

[19] https://www.thecable.ng/cdd-vote-buying-voter-inducement-characterised-edo-election

[20] https://www.dataphyte.com/latest-reports/elections/2023-elections-3-common-ways-voter-fraud-happens-in-nigeria

[21] “Nigeria : NCC Remits N51.3b to Fed Govt in Q1 2019.” MENA Report, Albawaba (London) Ltd., July 2019, see: https://nigerianstat.gov.ng/download/1031#:~:text=The%20prevalence%20of%20bribery%20among,22.5%20per%20cent%20in%202019.

[22] Ibid.

[23] https://dictionary.cambridge.org/example/english/voter-intimidation

[24] https://www.pulse.ng/news/politics/kogi-elections-inec-officials-run-for-their-lives-as-thugs-storm-polling-unit/swk01hk

[25] https://theparadise.ng/criver-rerun-thugs-abduct-6-inec-officials-hijacked-election-materials-in-abi/

[26] https://www.reuters.com/article/nigeria-election-idUKLDE7451WS20110506

[27] https://www.vanguardngr.com/2015/09/rivers-poll-thugs-ran-away-with-election-materials-army-tells-tribunal/

[28] https://www.reuters.com/article/nigeria-election-idUKLDE7451WS20110506

[29] https://www.dataphyte.com/latest-reports/elections/2023-elections-3-common-ways-voter-fraud-happens-in-nigeria

[30] https://archive.globalpolicy.org/nations/launder/regions/2003/0605nigeria.htm

[31] Nwangwu, Chikodiri & Chidi, Vincent & Akanu, Otu,. (2018). Elixir of electoral fraud: The impact of digital technology on the 2015 general elections in Nigeria. Cogent Social Sciences. 4. 10.1080/23311886.2018.1549007. 

[32] Ibid.

[33] Political Violence and its Effects on Social Development in Nigeria. https://ijhssnet.com/journals/Vol_3_No_17_September_2013/27.pdf

[34] Nigeria’s 2003 Elections: The Unacknowledged Violence | HRW. https://www.hrw.org/report/2004/06/01/nigerias-2003-elections/unacknowledged-violence

[35] Nigeria’s 2003 Elections: The Unacknowledged Violence | HRW. https://www.hrw.org/report/2004/06/01/nigerias-2003-elections/unacknowledged-violence

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid.

[38] https://www.hrw.org/report/2004/06/01/nigerias-2003-elections/unacknowledged-violence

[39] Ezeani O. E. 2005, ‘Electoral Malpractices in Nigeria: The Case of 2003 General Elections’, In Godwin Onu and Abubakar Momoh, eds., Elections and Democratic Consolidation in Nigeria, Lagos: A-Triad Associates, pp. 413-431.

[40] https://inecnigeria.org/list-of-candidates-for-2023-elections/

[41] INDEPENDENT NATIONAL ELECTORAL COMMISSION – INEC Nigeria. https://www.inecnigeria.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Regulations-and-Guidelines-2019.pdf

[42] INDEPENDENT NATIONAL ELECTORAL COMMISSION – INEC Nigeria. https://www.inecnigeria.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Regulations-and-Guidelines-2019.pdf

[43] INEC rolls out guidelines for campaigns — Nigeria — The Guardian https://guardian.ng/news/inec-rolls-out-guidelines-for-campaigns/

[44] https://www.arise.tv/nbc-regulator-warns-nigerian-broadcasters-against-violence-provoking-election-campaign/

[45] THE LEAD: NIGHTMARE IN NIGERIA FIVE DAYS TO ELECTION. https://www.thepointng.com/the-lead-nightmare-in-nigeria-five-days-to-election/

[46] WE SHARE HANDBILLS, FLYERS, LEAFLETS & STICKERS IN LAGOS, NIGERIA. https://ww.nairaland.com/5014872/share-handbills-flyers-leaflets-stickers/1; see also:  https://www.lawglobalhub.com/section-91-97-nigeria-electoral-act-2022/#Section_92_Nigeria_Electoral_Act_2022

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