Ballots not bullets: campaigning for non-violent elections in Nigeria

Nigerian elections have long been characterised by the exploitation of identity politics for political gain, and there were concerns that the 2019 elections would be no different. In the northeast – a region already fractured by ten years of brutal conflict related to the Boko Haram insurgency – the use of divisive rhetoric in the lead up to the elections and the legacies of past election violence risked triggering more violence within communities.

Young people in particular have traditionally been used to undertake violence for political purposes – but across Yobe and Borno state they are instead leading the campaign for peaceful elections.

Our partners, Hope Interactive and Borno Coalition for Democracy and Progress, worked alongside some of the most vulnerable young people to support them to lead a new campaign called ‘Ballots not Bullets’. The aim was to reduce intercommunal violence before, during and after elections, and the campaign was inspired by similar movements in Sierra Leone.

The campaign was led by Youth Peace Platforms (YPPs) - groups of young people, established with support from Conciliation Resources, that target the most vulnerable and excluded youth in communities. Through these YPPs young people are supported to rebuild their confidence, analyse conflicts and voice their needs and concerns. 

In the lead-up to the elections, the YPPs organised and led community discussions around the risks of violence during the election period, workshops for other young people on resisting political violence and advocacy events with political actors, community militias and security officials on the need for a peaceful election. To raise awareness of the campaign, they organised marches in support of peaceful elections, launched a social media campaign, and hosted radio call-in shows focused on the role of women in promoting and supporting peaceful elections.

These activities have been taking place since mid-2018, and this long-term approach is key to the campaign’s success. Mshelia Birma Wayuta, Executive Director of Hope Interactive explains:

What sets this initiative apart is that it hasn’t just been done in the few weeks leading up to the election. The YPP have been doing this campaign for a long time - it has been on for nearly nine months now and will continue well after the election. This long term and consistent engagement has meant that the impact on people’s attitudes and behaviour is not only much greater but also more resilient.

By showing their commitment for peace, these young people are also beginning to challenge society’s negative stereotyping of them as the pioneers of the violence and laying the foundations for greater trust and understanding between youth, their communities and officials.

Find out more about the work of Youth Peace Platforms.