Assistant Director, Youth, INEC headquarters, Samuel Bassey speaks
As events are beginning to reveal, the forthcoming gubernatorial elections in Edo and Ondo states scheduled for September 14 and October 10 respectively, may witness a repeat of our appalling national character of electoral violence if forceful measures are not taken to ensure peace.
The frenetic moves by key players to outdo each other, the violent clashes witnessed in some districts, especially in Edo and the silence of mediating forces suggest that peaceful elections may be far-fetched. This is sad and shameful after more than two decades into uninterrupted democratisation.
In this country, studies have shown that one of the primary factors responsible for election violence is the perception that holding political offices or directing participation in partisan politics is the birthright or exclusive occupation of certain individuals or social group. With little or no preparation for genuine political engagement, some individuals, under the protection of state power or some powerful political influence have turned political offices into their private business concerns. Such candidates would stop at nothing to get to power.
Moreover, election period provides expedient circumstances for security operatives to engage in unjustified acts of partisanship, lawlessness and needless violence. It is usually an opportunity for influential politicians to buy security operatives to their sides with promises of some good fortune, and an auspicious time unscrupulous officials in the security and law enforcement system compromise their constitutional duties for personal gratification. It has also been observed that during elections, there is a tendency for the electoral commission to be abused through deliberate mismanagement of resources and haphazard logistics to favour certain candidates.
The proliferation of small arms in the country has also been instrumental in the prevalence of electoral violence. As the frequent interception and seizures of truckloads of ammunition by the Nigerian Customs Service tend to suggest, and as a United Nations report indicated a few years ago, Nigeria accounted for about 350 million of the 500 million small arms circulating in the region. In the hands of unauthorised persons including thugs, aggrieved politicians and mischief-makers, these small arms become instruments of terror on perceived political opponents.
Apart from the general problems associated with elections in Nigeria, the forthcoming elections have peculiar problems of their own. Chief among these is the volatile language and toxic utterances of the campaign managers of the two political parties contesting for the seat in Edo State. The shameless exchange of diatribes between Kano State Governor Abdullahi Ganduje, who is the national campaign officer of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike, who is his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) counterpart, is an insufferable act of inciting violence in an already intrigue-prone Edo.
Equally indicted in the Edo crisis is the unclear role of the self-seeking political puppeteer and former chairman of the APC and former governor of the state, Adams Oshiomhole. By the way, his ubiquitous presence afflicts the political space in Edo. Oshiomhole, boasted of having crumbled god-fatherism in Edo State, seems to have overshadowed the APC governorship candidate, Mr. Pastor Ize-Iyamu. Oshiomhole’s posturing is uncalled for. It is a vengeful exercise of a battered ego that must be curtailed before it becomes destructive. He is not the APC candidate for the Edo State governorship election.
Just as volatile as Edo State, political transitions in Ondo State are often characterised by militancy, desperation and barefaced confrontation. The incidence of desperation and carpet-crossing on the part of some contestants suggest deep-seated intentions beyond service and governance. In the three-party contest for the governorship seat, Nigerians have witnessed pre-elections bickering and intrigues that would have surpassed the show of shame in Edo State had the judiciary not risen to the occasion.
In all this, it is worrisome that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and security agencies have been silent. Any alarm raised about suspected violence as the electorate in Edo and Ondo prepare for elections should be taken seriously, not only by the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) and the police but also by political parties and well-meaning Nigerians. This country is already palpitating with, and very much embroiled in violence for its own survival. Another spate of violence is disastrous and inimical to the stability of the country.
Because Nigerians assume that INEC has mechanism and structure to check the conduct of erring politicians, parties and candidates, INEC should not give the impression that it has been compromised. It should draw the attention of the security agencies to the despicable acts of political actors who are bent on sacrificing decency, civility and healthy competition on the altar of electoral victory. It does not matter what the status of the person may be, they should not be seen to be above the law. They should not be deterred by the gubernatorial shenanigans and peccadilloes in Bayelsa State. They should allow only the letter and spirit of the law to guide their acts.
Furthermore, it is in times like this that genuine and honest non-partisan intervention of traditional institutions must be felt. Whilst we recognise the fact that certain persons who ought to be custodians of peace and order in the traditional order are also interested parties in political conflicts, it is high time these respected members of the society extricated themselves from the patronage of partisanship and conduct themselves as the true moral guardians, which their positions have imposed on them.
To this end, genuine religious leaders, traditional monarchs and community leaders should openly but sincerely speak out against violence, irrespective of the partisan leaning of the community. Specifically, the respected Oba of Benin, Ewuare II, should use his authority to cause the people to eschew violence. He must use his legal and traditional authorities to protect Nigerian citizens and residents in his domain from every form of intimidation and assault by influential politicians. The same admonition goes to his counterparts in Ondo State.
As The Guardian has repeatedly counselled, an election is not a ‘‘do or die affair’’ and no person’s blood is worth spilling for an electoral office. Political positions are a call to service. They are neither personal enterprises motivated by profits nor are they bloody sports for which violent and fatal competitions are means. If that is the case, then it is senseless and a great disservice to the millions of law-abiding Nigerians who have resolved to conduct themselves befittingly at the elections. It is unacceptable for a bunch of miscreants, be they agents of parties or cohorts of influential politicians or recruited hoodlums to jeopardise such a well-regarded exercise.
In the main, we urge politicians to desist from incensing the polity by disseminating hate speeches.