Book Project

Political Order and 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, and exclusionary identity politics, among others.  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 non-state 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 non-state actors in carrying out violence during elections for political elites.

My book project advances the election violence literature by asking the following: Under what conditions do subnational elites recruit non-state groups for election violence?  What are the different types of non-state actors that elites turn to for violence, and why do such groups agree or refuse to organize violence for politicians?  I answer these questions with most similar and most different case studies of gubernatorial elections in federal Nigeria from 1999 to 2015, focusing on governors, state-level ruling party leaders, and local non-state groups, including labor unions, religious reformist groups, ethnic militias, and criminal organizations. I find that the breakdown of informal agreements over the allocation of state patronage generates demand for election violence from political elites. Internal leadership rivalries and the incorporation of different groups into patronage networks help to explain when various non-state groups carry out violence for politicians. The findings highlight the important relationship between patronage as the primary tool for building political order and the organization of election violence in the Nigerian context.