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When armed groups refuse to carry out election violence: Evidence from Nigeria

Megan Turnbull

World Development, 2021, vol. 146, issue C

Abstract: Social science research on election violence shows that incumbents regularly turn to different nonstate armed groups to organize violence during elections, including ethnic militias, gangs, criminal organizations, and paramilitaries, among others. Less well known are the motivations of these different actors, what they seek to gain from election violence, and when they turn down incumbents’ overtures. From a practitioner perspective, understanding when armed groups supply election violence for incumbents is important because of the severe consequences of such acts, including economic hardship, forced displacement, damaged infrastructure, and costs to human life. The paper asks: under what conditions do armed groups agree or refuse to perpetrate election violence for incumbents? Drawing on most similar case studies of the Ijaw Youth Council and the O’odua People’s Congress in Nigeria, we find that internal armed group politics help to explain how these actors respond to incumbent governors’ demands for election violence. Specifically, groups divided by leadership rivalries agree to perpetrate election violence for incumbents whereas those with cohesive leadership refuse to do so. Leaders of rival factions accept money and arms from incumbents to try to eliminate their competitors, and in exchange, agree to organize violence during elections for their incumbent sponsors. In contrast, groups with cohesive leadership turn down incumbents’ overtures given the risks of cooptation and weakened community support. The findings contribute to our understanding of how election violence is co-produced by elites and nonstate armed groups by explaining the motivations and decisions of the latter. More broadly, the paper speaks to larger questions about security challenges in developing democracies. The findings also highlight the need for greater attention to interventions to prevent armed groups from engaging in election violence on behalf of political elites.

Keywords: Election violence; Armed groups; Nigeria; Security; Democracy (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2021
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DOI: 10.1016/j.worlddev.2021.105573

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