Lagos – Many questions have been asked following the postponement of the country's crucial elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The elections, initially scheduled to take place on 14 February, were delayed by six weeks, with security concerns being cited as one of the major reasons. It was feared that Boko Haram militants, who have killed thousands of people in the past six years, could take advantage of the polls and kill even more.
Some, however, argued that President Goodluck Jonathan's administration politicised the issue of security just to have the polls delayed.
News24 spoke to Martin Ewi who is a Senior researcher at the Institution for Security Studies in South Africa (ISS).
News24: One of the reasons given for the postponement of the elections is the issue of security. Would you say Boko Haram is indeed a threat to the country's elections?
Ewi: There are high chances that Boko Haram would carry out acts violence to sabotage the country’s elections. Based on the group’s ideology, elections are a Western influence or Western civilisation and that is what it [the group] is against. Elections are something they have never encouraged. They would spread violence and intimidation because they don’t believe in elections. As far as they are concerned, elections are evil. They believe that only God should be the leader of people.
News24: But then the group has always been a threat to the country's stability. It was there when the country held its elections in 2011. Why has it become a major issue in this particular election?
Ewi: I can’t really claim to know why the elections were postponed but in my opinion I say yes, the government was right to postpone the election over the issue of Boko Haram. You see, Boko Haram has become more committed to carry out massacres. They have become more committed to killings that shock the world. Last year they killed 13 000. And for you to get the picture of how they have upped their game you would have to understand that last year around this time, the group had unleashed at least 90 attacks in which 1 000 people were killed. And so far this year they have carried out 100 attacks and killed 4 000 people, out of which 2 000 were killed in one incident in Baga. So one cannot dismiss the growing trend in the group’s desire to kill people amass and it’s difficult to guarantee people’s safety in such a situation.
During elections, thousands queue to cast their votes and this is often done in open areas where it would be difficult even for the military to be in control. The elections would have indeed provided an opportunity for Boko Haram mass murder.
News24: So the elections have been delayed by six weeks - a period in which military forces are expected to deal with the militants. Do you think the military will succeed in its efforts?
Ewi: I don’t think stability can be achieved within six weeks. Remember this is a terrorist group and they [Boko Haram] have made it clear that they are not scared of dying. The government’s strategy relies mainly on the military being able to kill the militants. But unfortunately, these militants are prepared to die in combat… Dying in combat is what they take pride in. They are not scared of death.
What it means therefore, is that killing alone is not a solution. The strategy of a military force should be backed by other non-military strategies. I definitely think that non-military strategies should be given more attention.
News24: What are some of those non-military strategies?
Ewi: There are quite a number of strategies and these include the establishment of a local criminal justice court that would be dedicated to Boko Haram. Boko Haram has been demanding justice. So why not put it in place so that the group understands that Nigeria is not just about eliminating them. This would be a special tribunal court, equipped with all the necessary resources. Remember this was the kind of system that brought to an end the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The system was able to have all those involved in the genocide arrested and tried.
News24: Apart from the establishment of criminal justice court, what else could be considered?
Ewi: Well, there is the issue of reconciliation. There has always been religious and ethnic conflicts in Nigeria and these need to be resolved. Well, this has been tried in the past but there is need for it to be systematised and be institutionalised so that the meaning of reconciliation can be understood.
With these strategies put in place, I’m sure the country would come up with serious recommendations on how to remedy those who have suffered from the violence.