26 March 2015 | Florence Foster
Nigerian IDPs at risk of going unheard in upcoming elections
Millions of Nigerians live in states where Boko Haram’s repeated attacks, Government counter-insurgency operations and inter-communal violence have led to an alarming amount of displacement. In the run-up to the elections, there are concerns that over 1.2 million displaced people will be unable to vote. During such a crucial time for the country, IDMC explains why IDPs should not be side-lined and must gain access to voting stations.
As of February 2015, 1.2 million people were living in displacement across north-eastern Nigeria and parts of the Middle Belt. Despite provisions under the Kampala Convention that should protect IDP voting rights, the majority are unable to access polling stations.
Many IDPs have lost their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) in flight or have not been able to register, as they are required to do so in their ward of residency. Others have not been able to replace their PVC as they cannot return to their place of origin. Reports from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) suggest that over 80 per cent of PVCs have been distributed, yet it remains unclear if IDPs are included in this figure.
INEC previously assured that IDPs who were re-registered for voting in camps would be able to vote in their new locations. Yet, INEC recently announced that only IDPs in Adamawa, Borno, Yobe, and in areas under Government control will be mobilised to vote. In Borno, voting for IDPs will only be conducted in officially designated camps. This is particularly restrictive as up to 90 per cent of IDPs live with host families and have little access to re-registration, let alone a polling unit.
Some worrying reports indicate that IDPs are being encouraged to return the place they were forced to flee in order to vote. The unstable conditions in these areas puts them at risk of renewed attacks and of becoming displaced again. This has been exacerbated by the fact that INEC distinguishes between IDPs fleeing direct attacks, who are granted access to re-registration in their places of refuge, and those preventatively fleeing in fear of the outbreak of violence, who must return to their areas of origin to vote. IDPs from areas liberated by the army, such as Mubi North, Mui South and Maiha local government areas in Adawama state have also been told to return to their areas of origin to vote.
There have been some reports that there are tensions within some regions which could cause further displacement. For example:
- Traditionally the presidency must rotate between candidates from the north and south of the country, meaning that someone from the north should be elected following President Goodluck Jonathan’s term. Since the majority of IDPs are currently in the north of the country, this could result in low voter turnout.
- Twenty-one of Nigeria’s 36 states, including the entire north-east, have been declared critical hotspots for political violence, leaving residents in those states vulnerable to electoral disturbances and displacement. Furthermore, insecurity in the north-eastern regions has restricted some IDPs and other Nigerians living in unsafe areas from voting.
- Boko Haram has also threatened to obstruct and sabotage the elections. If the group acts upon such threats, some 24.5 million people living in states under their constant attack are at heightened risk of being displaced.
The 2015 elections in Nigeria could provide a unique opportunity to unite the country and to break the cycle of displacement that has ensued from past post-electoral violence. This however depends on an inclusive process, which enables IDPs to exercise their civic rights, and for other Nigerians to vote free of fear of attack or reprisals.
For more information, visit IDMC's webpage on Nigeria.