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Nigeria Election Violence Spikes As Poll Draws Near

FILE- A Nigerian policeman provides security at the offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission in Kano, northern Nigeria Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019.
FILE- A Nigerian policeman provides security at the offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission in Kano, northern Nigeria Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019.

Nigeria's National Peace Committee says election-related violence has been escalating during campaign rallies and events ahead of the country's Feb. 25 national polls, triggering concerns about the integrity of the voting process.

During weekend campaign rallies, gunmen attacked a security team of a vice-presidential candidate, killing three police. At another rally, supporters were attacked with machetes, injuring several, and damaging campaign vehicles.

"The casualties are higher, and the numbers of incidents are rising," said Idayat Hassan, the spokesperson for the National Peace Committee, a government-sponsored body of former heads of state and officials attempting to promote calm and stability in the country.

Speaking to Lagos-based Channels Television, Hassan raised concerns about the increased attacks at campaign events and said Sunday that authorities must prohibit anyone, apart from security agents, from bringing weapons to campaign rallies.

"There have been more than 134 attacks on INEC [Independent National Electoral Commission] facilities and personnel. It is quite disturbing that this is actually happening at this point in time. If this continues, how can we have elections?" Hassan said.

On Friday, unidentified gunmen ambushed and killed three members of the security team for Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, the vice presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

On Sunday, Okowa visited the families of the slain security officers and condemned the killings.

In another incident, one person was killed and five arrested after a violent clash between supporters of the PDP and the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) party during a campaign rally in northern Jigawa state.

Hours later, many supporters of the Labour Party were attacked and injured by thugs on their way to a rally in Lagos, a stronghold of the APC presidential candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

"For elections to be concluded in Nigeria, a candidate has to score a quarter of the votes in at least 24 states," said Paul James, a program officer at Yiaga Africa, a nonprofit that promotes democratic elections.

"Politicians are using violence in different forms as a means of voter suppression. So, what we’re seeing is the build-up of terror, the build-up of fear so that it perhaps impacts on citizens' participation for the politician especially the ones that are having the sense that they may not be able to pull the national spread that is required for the election," James added.

On Monday Nigeria's electoral commission said voting will not take place in 240 polling units across 28 states mainly due to a lack of registered voters in those areas. The voters didn’t choose those polling units due to insecurity. Imo state had the highest number of cancelled polling units, 38.

In response, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has recently unveiled new police vehicles, tasers, stun guns and anti-riot equipment, including cannons, designed to improve the operational capabilities of the Nigeria Police Force.

The election comes amid growing frustrations among citizens, caused in part by shortages of fuel and the newly designed currency.

Kolawole Oluwadare, deputy director at the Socio-Economic Rights Accountability Project, says authorities have been hesitant to address the problem.

The rights group petitioned the International Criminal Court, to investigate election-related violence and hold the Nigerian perpetrators accountable.

"Poverty, rising rates of unemployment... can be remote causes but the impunity of [the] government is a key driver of these incidents which is why you'll see that lack of political will to either take action to prevent these attacks," said Oluwadare.