To this day, Nigeria is one of most deeply divided states in Africa, with a long history of corruption and insurgent movements that are challenging state legitimacy, undermining efforts at national cohesion and democratisation. These divisions are most articulated during the electoral period when candidates actively campaign along ethnic and religious lines, often leading to electoral violence. The 2015 election, albeit the most peaceful in Nigerian history, led to the deaths of 60 people as a result of mob violence, riots and terrorist attacks.
Over the past few decades, political analysts and human rights organisations across the country observed a gendered aspect of this electoral violence. Invariably, Nigerian women are targeted in both the private and public spheres to prevent them from participating in rallies, voting and/or running as candidates. Despite decreasing incidents of violence and improved transparency measures during elections, violence against women continues to be a significant threat to Nigerian democracy.
To counter this trend, the section of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) in Nigeria has engaged in peacebuilding activities in Nigeria seeking to strengthen women’s political participation and prevent instances of sexual and gender-based violence around elections.
One of their biggest successes is the 2015 Women’s Situation Room (WSR), which created a women-led early warning and early response mechanism that reported and responded to all types of electoral violence. This was the fourth Women’s Situation Room established in Africa, following its launch in Liberia in 2011 and subsequent scale up in Senegal and Sierra Leone in 2012, and Kenya in 2013. Each WSR is modelled on the same goals and principles but have been adapted to fit each country’s unique political context.
In the case of Nigeria, a network of 13 women’s rights and feminist organisations was convened by the Nigerian Women Platform for Peaceful Elections (NWPPE).
The WSR consisted of a physical room set up in a hotel, where 40 ‘Incident Report Officers’ received calls from the field through the WSR’s toll-free number. In this room, women took part in mediation, coordination, political and legal analysis, observation of the polling process and documentation of incidents. Several elections observers were trained and deployed throughout the country and media engagement training sessions were held for over 40 practitioners. Key players in the WSR included pressure groups and youth-led peacebuilding organisations.
As with previous iterations across the continent, the WSR in Nigeria proved hugely successful, receiving 4,973 reports which were all resolved by the Independent National Electoral Commission with the help from local police. Categories in incident reports included voting complaints, violence, electoral offences, insecurity and the outbreak of violence following the announcement of results.
A reflection meeting held when the WSR completed its activities revealed that the project had enhanced the image of Nigerian women, both nationally and internationally, as peace activists. In particular, youth participants remarked how the WSR had exemplified the positive roles they could play in sustaining peace and claimed the project had helped them shed negative stereotypes about the police. The National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the Commonwealth Foundation also highlighted how the WSR in Nigeria had widely contributed to promoting peaceful elections. Lastly, WSR reports collected invaluable data on election violence and the project gained visibility through robust media engagement.