Book Project

Political Order and the Joint Organization of Election Violence in Nigeria

Although more countries than ever hold regular multiparty elections, about a quarter globally are marred by violence.  Beyond the loss of human life, election violence reduces turnout, undermines representative government, limits access to essential services, and can be a precursor for civil war.  Over the past decade, research has pointed to different national-level economic, institutional, and contextual variables that increase a country’s risk for election violence, including economic malaise, majoritarian electoral systems, weak political parties, high inter-party competition, limited institutional constraints on executives, exclusionary identity politics, and international election observation.  Yet like other forms of political violence, election violence varies within countries. Because the national-level risk factors identified in previous research are constant across subnational units, they do a poor job of explaining why some localities are peaceful during elections while others are not.  Additionally, existing work has heavily focused on elites and their incentives to perpetrate election violence.  Elites rarely work alone however in organizing violence (election-related or otherwise) but instead, often turn to a wide array of nonstate actors, including paramilitaries, vigilantes, gangs, drug-trafficking organizations, ethnic militias, and ordinary voters. Yet as with subnational variation, we have a limited understanding of the motivations of different nonstate actors in carrying out violence during elections for elites.

My book project advances the election violence literature by asking the following: Under what conditions do local elites try to recruit nonstate groups for pre-election violence?  What are the different types of nonstate actors that elites outsource pre-election violence to, and why do such groups agree or refuse to do so?  When nonstate groups are unavailable, what other actors do elites try to recruit for violence?  I answer these questions with most similar and most different case studies of gubernatorial elections in federal Nigeria from 1999 to 2011, focusing on governors, state-level ruling party leaders, and local nonstate groups, including labor unions, religious reformist groups, ethnic militias, and criminal organizations.  I compare elections across time in each state to create most similar cases that control for alternative explanations.  The comparisons of gubernatorial elections across states are most different cases, illustrating the power of the argument in starkly different contexts.