With less than three months to the 2023 general elections, DIRISU YAKUBU examines the disturbing spate of violence across the country
Defined as the authoritative allocation of values in a society by Harold Laswell, one wonders why politics in this part of the world seems to represent the worst of vices. Electioneering in Nigeria has for a long time been synonymous with violence, arson, looting and killings since the return to democracy in 1999. With less than three months to the general elections, the signs are both worrisome and frightening.
As early as January next year, parents and guardians are likely to resume their unsolicited counsel of telling their loved ones to go home straight from work. “Bring your family members to the village. They will go back after the elections,” is a popular lyric on the lips of old parents who have seen how elections degenerated into violence, culminating in the loss of lives and valuable property in the past.
As recently as 2019, a group of louts, openly admitting their affiliation to a certain political party, stormed the home of the Peoples Democratic Party Women Leader in Kogi State, Mrs Salome Abuh and burnt her with the house.
Before their visit, there had been pockets of skirmishes between supporters of the PDP and the governing All Progressives Congress in the state, both of whom were eying the Lugard House as the Kogi State Government House is known. The mindless killing of Salome portrayed Nigeria as a country that mirrored Thomas Hobbes fictional world where life is nasty, brutish and short. Like many unresolved deaths in the past two decades, all have been quiet after visuals of a band of fellows allegedly linked with the killing circulated in the media.
In a manner not very different from the Salome tragedy, yet-to-be-identified gunmen last week took their ignoble trade to Kaura, Kaduna State, and killed Mrs Victoria Chintex, Women Leader of the Labour Party in the Kaura Local Government Area of the state. As of now, many people believe she was killed owing to her energetic campaigns for Labour Party presidential candidate, Peter Obi, in the locality. In a viral video, Victoria could be seen telling her enthusiastic audience, comprising mainly women, how Obi was different from the rest of the presidential candidates and how his government would put an end to the reckless diversion of state resources, among other promises.
Amid fears of what is to be expected, the gloomy prospect of violent elections in 2023 is beginning to manifest. Already, there have been reported incidents of attacks on facilities of the Independent National Electoral Commission in Ogun, Osun and Imo states, even as campaign billboards of opponents have been destroyed, according to reports. Specifically, campaign billboards of the PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, and Obi have been destroyed in Kogi and Ebonyi states.
Some weeks ago, the campaign convoy of the APC presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu, and that of Atiku were attacked by political thugs. While Tinubu was reportedly attacked in his home state of Lagos, Atiku met his ordeal in Kaduna and Borno states shortly after flagging off the campaign in those states. In both incidents, Atiku’s handlers and the PDP blamed the APC, noting that the attackers chanted the names of their chieftains while the violence was being perpetrated. Surprisingly, the police initially dismissed the Borno incident as a lie until the Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba, ordered an investigation into the attack. The PDP claimed scores of people were injured and that a whopping 100 vehicles were vandalised.
Speaking on the spate of violence ahead of the polls, Executive Director, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, Emmanuel Onwubiko, noted that attacks and killings in the South-East and on INEC facilities in the region and other parts of the country earlier this year were plots to make sure the 2023 polls were shifted.
He said if the attack on the facilities of INEC and police continued in the South-East or South-South, the Federal Government could opt for self-perpetuation in office through tenure extension, relying on section 135(3) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
On the reported killings of Igbo youths and discovery of 33 corpses at the Federal Medical Centre, Owerri, Onwubiko expressed shock at the development, saying, “We are worried by the reports of killings of many innocent young people by the soldiers and police, whereas the unknown gunmen are actually seen operating unhindered, which goes to show that the activities of these attackers may be the handiwork of enemies of the South-East and persons who are working for key persons at the centre to create chaos and anarchy to make the postponement of the 2023 general elections inevitable.”
HURIWA noted that if the mindless killings across the country do not stop, Section 135(3) of the constitution might be invoked. The Section provides that ‘if the federation is at war in which Nigeria is physically involved and the President considers that it is not practicable to hold elections, the National Assembly may, by resolution, extend the period of four years’.
Urging INEC officials and security agencies to demonstrate to Nigerians that they were not part of the supposed plot to extend the tenure of any public office holder, it challenged the Chairman of INEC, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, to partner with security forces to protect their strategic national assets in all parts of Nigeria before, during and after the polls.
“By the way, INEC conducted 2019 elections in Yobe and Borno states amid Boko Haram attacks. Why is INEC already raising the alarm that the 2023 polls may be marred? INEC must not be allowed to push Nigeria into a state of civil war,” Onwubiko added.
Although, there have always been incidents of violence in the months leading to elections, the founder, Women Arise, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, argued that there was the need to objectively query if the country was witnessing a spike in attacks across the country ahead of next year’s elections.
She said, “The truth is that we have always had violence in the polity, but the question we need to answer truthfully is if we are experiencing an escalation? Again, are these attacks on INEC facilities meant to disrupt the coming elections or with another motive? Who are the people behind these attacks? All these questions should be answered by the law enforcement agencies before we can add our voices. Otherwise, we might just be speculating. All efforts must be made to unravel the negative forces behind these attacks.”
Speaking on the matter with Saturday PUNCH, elder statesman, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, noted that pre-election violence recorded in some parts of the country in the past few months were a wake-up call to the Federal Government and security agencies to live up to their constitutional responsibilities.
He said politicians must learn to play by the rules, stressing that time had come for Nigerians to demonstrate to the rest of the international community that elections could be held without fear of the worst happening.
He stated, “First, I want to say that violence is not good. Nobody gains from it. As a result, everything must be done by the Federal Government and the security agencies to stop these acts of violence before the elections.
“It is pointless to remove your opponent’s campaign billboards because in the end, those who want to vote for him or her will still do so. I have always stated that the power of ideas is what will convince voters to make up their minds on who to vote for. You don’t win an army of supporters by being violent. You don’t become popular before the public simply because your supporters are violent. If anything, violence will make people run away from you.”
He further argued that the non-application of relevant laws in the past was partly to blame for the culture of violence during electioneering in the nation’s polity.
He added, “If you study the history of elections in this country, you will understand what I am saying. Let’s even restrict it to the elections we had recently. I mean the 2015 and 2019 elections. Those arrested for sundry electioneering offences; were they punished? What about the pre-election violence recorded by INEC? Were those behind the crimes prosecuted and jailed?
“You see, if crimes are not addressed, what you see will be more crimes. Sanctions act as a deterrent but if nothing happens to criminals, more people will go into it and the cycle continues. It is our hope that the new Electoral Act will bark and bite. We hope the police authorities too will match words with action because the world wants to witness free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria in 2023.”
Speaking at an event on ‘Credible election reporting’ recently, Deputy Director, Voter Education and Publicity, Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Chukwuemeka Ugboaja, lamented the ugly incidents of electoral violence.
He said, “We will keep appealing to the security agencies to protect Nigerians and INEC facilities. Elections are not war. If you don’t win today, you can win tomorrow. We can’t do anything else other than to trust our security forces to live up to their constitutional responsibility at all times.”
On his part, security expert and certified golden member, International Security Association, Jackson Ojo, told our correspondent that violent attacks on perceived political opponents and INEC facilities paints Nigeria in a bad light. He said if not checked, it could degenerate into a crisis whose end could not be predicted.
Ojo said, “In this country, we have a lot of unresolved killings linked to electioneering. Given that these cases were not properly handled and justice denied the families of affected persons, there is always a possibility of someone nursing a pain. How he or she would react, no matter how long, remains in the realm of speculation.
“When some people openly go scot-free after unleashing horror on public institutions, what do you expect? They will come back bigger, believing nothing will happen. I recall one governorship primary not long ago in which some delegates destroyed ballot boxes and papers in the full glare of the public, with cameras capturing everything they did. Did anything happen to them? We are talking of ballot boxes and papers printed with taxpayers’ money. They did it and nothing happened to them.”
He said many people had been killed at the ward, local government and state levels but some were not even reported. He lamented that even when the cases were reported, the killers were sometimes seen roaming about as if they were above the law.
He said, “It is a good thing that the IG of Police spoke not long ago about the imperative of bringing the full weight of the law to bear on perpetrators of electoral violence in compliance with the amended Electoral Act. Good as that promise sounded, Nigerians need to be convinced that offenders would not only be arrested and paraded but also prosecuted and jailed in the event of conviction,” he said.
In his contribution, Roland Igbadumhe, a member of the APC and former aide to the then governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, wants stiffer sanctions against politicians who failed to caution their supporters. According to him, perpetrators of violence are in business because they have powerful forces urging them on.
Igbadumhe added, “We need to understand that perpetrators of violence have huge backers who pay them to cause mayhem. It has become a trade for some people and they have been on it for years. They are hired to destroy billboards or intimidate supporters of the opponents of those who hired them. The major problem is the failure of security personnel to take the centre stage during rallies and campaigns.
“How were thugs able to strike in Kaduna and Borno states during the PDP campaigns? How was it possible to attack Tinubu’s convoy in Lagos? Sometimes, the police give up, maybe they think it is not appropriate to play the hero in such scenarios. But if the police don’t take charge, these non-state actors will continue to paint this country in bad colours.
“For a start, the world will like to see what becomes of the perpetrators of those three attacks and the destruction of billboards in other places. If the police cannot fish out those behind these incidents, there will be no need to tell us that people will face the music for their crimes in 2023.
“Election is a process. The law does not say only those who did acts of violence in the course of the election should be punished. Let’s start with those who destroy billboards to put fears in the minds of those preparing to stab others in 2023.”
The spike in violence ahead of the polls is reportedly courting the attention of the National Peace Committee, which only a few weeks ago, brought all the 18 presidential candidates and their political parties to sign a peace accord ahead of the polls.
The event, attended by former military Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar (retd), and the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Matthew Kukah, elicited optimism on the part of many Nigerians given their expressed readiness to accept the outcome of the polls, provided the exercise is adjudged to be free, fair and credible.
Worrisome, however, is that supporters of the same gladiators, who pledged their commitment to peace, are largely responsible for the show of shame in the land.
It thus appears that there is indeed a need for the principal contenders; Atiku Abubakar, Bola Tinubu, Peter Obi and Rabiu Kwakwanso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party to publicly address their supporters, denounce whatever violent behaviour that can be traced to them if only to send a strong message that indeed, they are all for violent-free polls.