Election times are not the best of times in Nigeria as politicians have refused to see their election as service but an avenue to amass wealth and gain prominence. Hence, they resort to violence to secure power by all means fair or foul
| By Olu Ojewale | Dec 26, 2016 @ 01:00 GMT |
IF there is one thing that has been the bane of free and fair election in Nigeria, it is electoral violence. Violence, either before, during and after elections has become a permanent feature in Nigeria’s body politics. All the major elections held across the country seem to have attested to this with the latest being the December 10 rerun legislative elections in Rivers State.
All well-meaning Nigerians must be concerned about the fallout of the rerun of the Rivers State legislative elections. Rivers, perhaps, the most volatile state where there cannot be a free and fair election, lived up to its notoriety on the Election Day.
By the time the polls were closed, two policemen had been killed in an ambush, while the fate of the police officers and members of the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, who were also abducted during the ambush by some cultists at Uju community, Ogba Egbema Ndoni Local Government Area of the state were yet to be determined.
Alkali Mohammed, a deputy superintendent of Police, who was leading about 12 officers of MOPOL 48 on election security duty, was said to have run into heavy gunfire. Three of the officers escaped, while five officers are still missing. Mohammed and his orderly who were killed in the ambush were beheaded.
The Police headquarters in Abuja, on Wednesday, December 14, paraded five suspects arrested for allegedly hijacking electoral materials during the legislative rerun election in Rivers State on Saturday, December 10. The suspects’ names were given as Noble Nwaerema, Dike Deinpiribo, Valentine Alalibo, Onwunari Warmate and Iloke Stephen.
Donald Awunah, a deputy commissioner of Police and the Force public relations officer, said that arms and ammunition recovered from the suspects included, one AK47 rifle, one assault rifle, six magazines and 112 rounds of live ammunition.
The suspects were similarly caught with a green Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, branded bag, eight booklets of ballot papers meant for Emohua Local Government Area; one INEC accreditation incident reports booklet; one statement of results booklet and one blood-stained All Progressives Congress, APC, agent card.
The Police spokesman said that Nwaerema was arrested on December 10, by the state Anti-Robbery Squad operatives along the Rumusi Elele Road, adding that the suspects claimed that he was hired by the youth president of Itu-Ikwere community together with eight others imported from a neighbouring state.
“They invaded Emohua Local Government and carted away electoral materials meant for polling units within the area; intelligence report confirmed the electoral materials were taken to a government facility and escorted by armed personnel,” Awunah stated.
He said that the quartet of Deinpiribo, Alalibo, Warmate and Stephen belonged to a group of cultists and professional political thugs.
Awunah said that the suspects claimed to have been engaged by one Boma Goodhead who procured two Ak47 rifles and commissioned one Iryo, his driver, to convey the weapons in his black Toyota Prado SUV and handed same to the suspects in Degema.
The spokesman stated that the suspects were responsible for several armed attacks that took place during the elections in places like Abonnema, Emuoha, Elele, Eteche and Omoku where a police officer was gruesomely killed.
“The rifles and 112 rounds of ammunition were recovered from them, other members of the killer gang fled and detectives are on their trail,” he emphasised.
Awunah said that some security personnel were arrested for professional misconduct, “actions, inactions, omission and commission that were detrimental to the electoral process.”
At press time, it appeared that the Police were yet to apprehend those responsible for the killing of Mohammed and his orderly. But Ibrahim Idris, inspector general of Police, was reported to have set up a special squad to unravel the circumstances surrounding the death of the officers.
Aside from the killing of the two policemen, there were also reports of violence in various parts of the state. Two persons were reportedly killed in Tia and Bodo City in Gokana and Tia local government areas during the elections for national and state assemblies.
There were reported cases of ballot snatching and diversion of electoral materials such as result sheets in other polling units. A good number of politicians from the APC and Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, were accused of leading thugs to snatch ballot boxes and divert electoral materials.
Nevertheless, the war of words among the politicians in the state has continued as they chose to pass the buck instead of uniting their people in the state. For instance, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State has claimed that the violence unleashed on the state during the rerun elections was the handiwork of some politicians and selected governors of the All Progressives Congress, APC.
Wike alleged that the violence and theft of mandate of a few constituencies in the state by security agencies were bankrolled by the governors of Plateau, Benue, Kano and Bauchi states through the donation of N1billon each. He also accused the ruling APC of using “federal might” to ensure the return of the APC candidates at all costs.
Responding, Chris Finebone, state publicity secretary of the APC, described the allegation as mere imagination, adding that no APC governor donated money in respect of the rerun election. Finebone said: “I think the whole obsession with federal might by Governor Wike stems from his use of federal might to rig himself to power in 2015, the APC has nothing to do with that. Governor Wike should exorcise the spirit of what he did in 2015 so that he will be free from his present hallucination around federal might that is not in use today unlike it was done during the last PDP federal administration.”
There were similar cries of federal might as Edo and Ondo states went to the polls this year to elect their new governors.
Mercifully, the violence experienced in Edo State did not claim lives as feared.However, leading thousands of his party supporters in protest, Osagie Ize-Iyamu, governorship candidate of the PDP, in the election, said the results of the election were different from those collated at the polling units and declared at different wards.
“The PDP in Edo State, after carefully reviewing the events of yesterday September 28, 2016, totally rejects the purported outcome of the voting exercise and the results announced by INEC,’’ Ize-Iayamu said.
“Firstly, we are in total amazement at the details of the results released by the INEC because all of them are fake and not the figures announced at various units and as collated at various wards across the state. The fake results announced by INEC entirely are fabrication which do not reflect the true picture of what transpired during the election,’’ he added.
His statement apparently led to violent protests in different parts of the state on Thursday, September 29, who took over major streets and roads leading to the INEC office in the state. The angry chanted:”All we are saying, give us democracy.”
Similarly, the governorship election in Ondo State had its own fair share of violence before the actual poll. As preparation for the Ondo governorship election climaxed on Friday, November 25, there were reports of an outbreak of violence in Owo, one of the metropolitan cities in the state. The violence led to the death of two persons. An eyewitness account said that the fight erupted between supporters of two major political parties running for Saturday’s November 26, governorship election. Apart from the two who were killed, several houses were burnt during heavy fighting also on Thursday night.
The state APC claimed that “the attack was meant to provoke violent reaction” from its members, “to cause break down of law and order, to give the INEC an excuse to postpone tomorrow’s election.” Eventually, the election held without any violence during or aftermath.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that Nigerian politicians, of all shades and colours, cannot be absolved from heating the politics during election times. But what is frightening about it all is that, no matter how highly placed, none of them appear to have the decorum to guide their utterances when seeking to get to power.
John Odigie-Oyegun, national chairman of the APC, will go down in history as one elder statesman who threw caution into the wind when he urged members of his party to retaliate whatever action they got from loyalists of the PDP.
Odigie-Oyegun, who spoke at the mega rally of the APC at the Yakubu Gowon Stadium in Port Harcourt, on Thursday, December 8, described the rerun as “the beginning of a rescue mission” and encouraged the people not to be intimidated. He said: “I am glad with what I am hearing here today; very glad. If they push you, push them back. If they slap you, slap them back.”
Frantz Fanon, a Martiniquais-French who later became a psychiatrist, philosopher, revolutionary and writer, once said that “‘violence begets violence,” a maxim that was developed in the era of anti-colonial struggles, says it all. This rather makes it simply to see why Nigerian politicians are bent on employing violence to settle what they cannot do through the ballot.
It appears, they have the army of unemployed youths as ready-made battalion to pick from. Besides, the desperation of the political class to grab or retain power by all means seems to have been the norm since former President Olusegun Obasanjo set the stage for the 2007 elections with his maxim of do-or-die election, and which both local and international observers succinctly described as the worst election in Nigeria’s history, not only for its violence but also for the massive rigging that ensued.
In any case, many school of thoughts have identified several reasons for electoral violence in Nigeria. Prominent among them is corruption, a menace which has eaten deep in virtually all strata of the Nigerian society. The electoral system is not immune from this as monies often change hands during electioneering period to induce, silence or influence the process of election.
There is also lack of internal democracy in political parties, which has forced many aspirants to work against candidates of their political parties.
Another point being advanced is lack adequate security, which politicians sometimes take advantage of to perpetuate acts of violence. Several media reports have shown how security personnel were on ground when these acts were committed, but looked the other way because of their inability to save the situation.
There is also misinterpretation of politics, which gives impression that violence in politics is a normal thing.
Some persons have also argued that Nigeria lacks democratic culture. Decades of military rule has been blamed for this. It is believed that many Nigerian leaders are still struggling to come to terms that there is democracy on ground.
On his part, Babatunde Fashola, a former governor of Lagos State and now minister of Works, Power and Housing, once put the blame of electoral violence on alleged disempowerment of the electorate. Fashola, while blaming the electoral empire for contributing to electoral violence, said: “The seed of violence is sown when people perceive that they are being disenfranchised either by denying them the freedom to vote or through delay of electoral material.
He also added that another possible reason for electoral violence is the refusal of politicians to accept defeat, adding that: “Another possible cause of electoral violence is a reaction to a possible stimulus, a stimulus that suggests, ‘well we will do what we like to get power and you go and do what you like’.”
That notwithstanding, Nigeria is replete with electoral violence dating back to 1960, without any serious political will to stop it. In 2007, President Umoru Yar” Adua having admitted that the election which brought him to power was flawed tried to sanitise the electoral system by setting up the Mohammadu Uwais Electoral Committee. Among other recommendations the Committee called for the establishment of an Electoral Offences Tribunal. The Yar’Adua Administration rejected the recommendation without any justification.
However, following the political violence which greeted the announcement of the results of the presidential election in some states in the North and Akwa Ibom in April 2011, President Goodluck Jonathan set up the Ahmed Lemu Panel to investigate the crisis. From the detailed report of the Panel, 943 people were killed while 838 others were injured. While the federal government has paid more than N10 billion as reparation to the victims of the riots, the 626 suspects who were arrested in connection with arson, culpable homicide and other grave offences perpetrated during the civil disturbances were left off the hook for lack of political will to try them.
Convinced that electoral offenders ought to be prosecuted in order to stop electoral violence the Panel equally made a strong case for the setting up of “an autonomous and constitutionally recognised electoral Offences Tribunal, but which may be an ad hoc body as it may not have much to do in between election periods.”
In accepting the recommendation, former President Goodluck Jonathan promised to take all necessary actions to establish the tribunal. But this has never happened.
In absence of the tribunal, Femi Falana, SAN, has argued that section 150 of the Electoral Act has empowered the INEC, to deal with and prosecute electoral offenders. “But since the INEC lacks the capacity to discharge the onerous statutory duty, the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, should take up the task of prosecuting electoral offenders throughout the country. To ensure the success of the proposal the NBA should be prepared to collaborate with the Body of Attorneys-General and the Nigeria Police Force. Unless electoral offenders are punished as envisaged by the Electoral Act and the Constitution the subversion of the democratic process will continue unabated,” Falana said.
From all indications, it appears that electoral violence will be with Nigeria as long as Nigerian leaders continue to reap from its evil effects to perpetuate themselves in power.