By Jide Ajani, Editor, Northern Operations
Elections in Nigeria have always witnessed a plethora of violent incidents. But, in spite of repeated assurances that this year’s elections would be different, the magnifying spectre of violence in the week before the polls has created a cumulus of fear in the land. This report examines the reasons for this.
Even if they had planned to ambush one another, they never planned for the outcome. At this rate, they may not have citizens left to govern. The continuing tussle between Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State and his former friend, John Akpan Udoedeghe, has left many wondering what would happen on the day of election!
With no fewer than 200 brand new cars and 500 motorised tricycles burnt, about a dozen lives lost, the fear of violence became real in Akwa Ibom last Tuesday.
While the governor is of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, the other, a defector, is of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN.
ACN claims its campaign convoy was ambushed by PDP supporters while PDP is insisting that the ACN governorship candidate instigated his supporters against the people of the state. Between these two claims lay the silly reason for the wanton destruction of lives and property.
As if last week signposted itself to be a reminder that anything could happen during the elections , incidents of violence were recorded in Jos, Plateau state; Pambegua, Kaduna State; Ilogbo, Ijero-Ekiti, Ekiti State; Akure, Ondo State; Hadejia, Jigawa State; Osogbo, Osun State; Ibadan, Oyo State; and Bayelsa State. Meanwhile, in Kwara State, the police authorities have declared 148 persons wanted for their suspected involvement in political violence.
Before the recent spate of violence, Bayelsa State had already set a record of the state where campaign rallies or political gatherings had witnessed bombings.
On Wednesday, December 29, 2010, two explosions rocked the campaign rally of a PDP aspirant, Beinmo Rufus-Spiff, sending shock waves across the state of more trouble days ahead in the build-up to the polls. Whoever planted the explosive devices, suspected to be dynamites, at the venue of the rally, succeeded in disrupting the event! Two days later, the now infamous December 31, 2010 bombing of a Mammy market in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, left many in horror. Four people were kiled in the blast.
The events of last week, coming just days to the elections, created new dimensions in fear and horror.
The Akwa Ibom incident, where IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), were used in its most basic form, sends disturbing signals – petrol bombs were used.
And, by whatever arrangements the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, puts in place, how would it deal with IEDs?
The policemen who would be on duty, how would they protect voters and electoral officers from such acts of wanton violence?
In the event of a sudden upheaval, how does INEC respond? Meanwhile, the Osogbo incident involved an alleged direct confrontation which involved a number of punches being thrown by the state Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC. He allegedly attacked a journalist on suspicion that he was out to do him in.
For instance, the crisis in Hadejia involved PDP, ACN and Congress for Progressive Change, CPC. The parties’ supporters engaged in a free-for-all at the council headquarters.
In Ekiti State, Mr. Femi Bamisile, a former Speaker of the Ekiti State House of Assembly, escaped being shot, but his driver received a bullet in the leg. In the ensuing violence, police allegedly shot and killed one Ayo Kehinde Faluyi and Michael Ipindola.
In response to the worsening acts of political violence in the land, President Goodluck Jonathan, after the Federal Executive Council, FEC, meeting of last Wednesday, disclosed government’s resolve to be decisive in dealing with the menace.
The Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, Emmanuel Ihenacho of Internal Affairs, and Humphrey Abbah of Police Affairs Ministry, conveyed Jonathan’s resolve during a media briefing after the FEC meeting.
Jonathan said he would be decisive against “anyone, any party, any group that threatened the life and property of others.” Still on Jonathan’s message, Maku said: “FEC reviewed the increasing political violence across the country and the president believed that anyone seeking to lead Nigeria or seeking to participate in the leadership of Nigeria at any level is to respect the law of the land, is to respect safety of life and property. That is why today (Wednesday), Mr. President called on all security agencies as we go into the elections to step up the effort to contain the violence.
He believes that no one is above the law. The campaign must show that we are prepared to lead our country to the era of stability. Democracy is about due process, it is about rule of law, it is about regulations.’’
“Mr. President,” Maku continued, “therefore, appealed to all politicians to respect the law of the land, to put Nigeria first, to put lives of the citizens first. He calls on every party to work hard to prevail on their supporters to obey the laws of the land. Violence cannot be an instrument for getting power in a democracy. The electioneering process is about persuasion, it is about stating your covenant with the people, it is about debate, it is about discussion ,it should not be turned into warfare where people will come out with guns, machetes,and sticks.” In case Jonathan needed reminding, the miscreants in Akwa Ibom State went a dangerous step further by using petrol bombs.
Abbah, the man in charge of the Police Affairs Ministry, added the weight of his ministry: “We will apply the law to all manner of men, to everybody without exception. So, please, in our collective interest, we want to appeal to everybody to run away from violence. Go and canvass for votes, go and cast your votes without resorting to violence. Government in its responsibility will arrest the situation. To those of us who are law-abiding, we want to assure you that your security is assured.”
To be fair to Mr. President, how does he control the mandibular exuberance of politicians who go to rallies to incite the citizens?
How does Jonathan plan to keep in check over-excited political party agents on the day of election when their every act could make or mar the process?
Better still, what would Prof. Attahiru Jega, the INEC chairman, do, when politicians decide to don their robe of dishonour?
Already, former governors of Oyo and Ekiti states, Lam Adesina, and Olusegun Oni; ex-Minister of Aviation, Babatunde Omotoba, as well as a one-time deputy governor of Ekiti State, Mrs. Biodun Olujinmi, have come out to express their concern about the orgy of violence that may grip the nation during the elections.
They may be right. Even the State Security Service, SSS, has expressed that much concern (See Abuja Bulletin story on security). The Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, just last week organised a security meeting in Kaduna where it invited retired services chiefs of all the forces including the SSS and Directorate of Military Intelligence, DMI, to jaw-jaw on the increasing spate of violence in the country. It resolved that more needs be done by the authourities. Its meeting was called to discuss the rising spate of ethno-religious crises in the northern part of the country.
All things being equal, on the day of election, Nigerians would just get by and the international observers would issue their statement which would likely put Nigeria’s election in a straightjacket which typifies a cross between “free and fair, acceptable or meeting minimum standards.”