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Post-election riots for what?

By Tonnie Iredia

Riots which normally follow the release of election results in Nigeria are obviously condemnable for several reasons. In the first place, rioting is an illegal method of protesting the outcome of an election because it normally leads to loss of lives and property. The riots which followed the presidential election of Saturday, April 16, 2011, were particularly destructive.

According to The Guardian newspaper, the rioters “killed many people in parts of Gombe State; burnt the family home of Vice-President Namadi Sambo in Tundun- Wada, Zaria and torched the Emir’s palace in Kano and the residence of the Emir of Zazzau.

The mob also destroyed lives, houses, places of worship and vehicles in parts of Niger, Sokoto, Taraba, Bauchi, Adamawa, Yobe and Plateau states.” Many people were also rendered homeless.

In Bauchi State, for example, when Alhaji Mohammad Manga (III), the Emir of Katagum, went on a sympathy visit to victims of the riots, he met no fewer than 500 displaced persons taking refuge at the Azare Police Barracks. Other areas where havoc and mayhem occurred are too numerous to be listed here. Suffice it to say that the nation had a terrible experience.

Unfortunately, the Nigerian public tends to encourage the brigandage. How? When a Nigerian politician is dissatisfied with elections and seeks to ventilate his grievances through a petition to the relevant election tribunal, he is usually vilified and described as a bad loser. This can encourage irrational mob action and dissuade people from following the due process of law.

This was indeed, what prompted us to disagree with INEC some weeks back when the body publicly complained about how many election cases she was facing. Agreed, the trend can distract the electoral body but as we all know, litigation even if it is unending is preferable to the loss of lives and property occasioned by post-election riots. With litigation, life continues but during riots, nothing meaningful takes place.

Thus, one of the lessons we must learn from the ugly incidents of the last one week is that we must consciously encourage aggrieved politicians to go to court even if that would make them take the shine off my ethnic neighbours who by culture are perpetually in our courts.

We must in addition desist from disparaging our judiciary the way many politicians do these days when they lose a case. The civilised thing to do when dissatisfied with a judgment is to go on appeal from one court to the other until the last relevant court gives a final ruling on the subject.

Some Nigerians also tend to think that the best politicians are those who like Speaker Dimeji Bankole and Senator Olajumoke etc, accept defeat and promptly congratulate those declared as winners.  Not “a do-or-die” posture is good but it is certainly simplistic to see it as the ideal.

Otherwise, the settlement of election dispute would not have been a segment in an election process. In earnest, it is not everyone that can clearly win an election like President Goodluck Jonathan to make opponents to accept the result without questioning. Even with Jonathan’s ordained victory which, most sane persons -voters, observers, INEC etc, believe was achieved through a transparent, free and credible process, every person is not sane.

Indeed, that an election is seen as fair by most people does not mean that nothing at all was wrong with it. Where something goes wrong, aggrieved persons can hardly rationalise that what went wrong is insignificant. Otherwise, why should any of our presidential candidates have expected to defeat Jonathan? Did they not see the massive campaigns undertaken by President Jonathan across the nation, his impressive media out-reach and his endorsement by all state governors and other parties? The answer is that some competitors have a way of not seeing certain events when it is convenient.

As a matter of fact, not all the candidates in an election strategise to win through the ballot. Some want to win by protest or at least use that strategy to mitigate the shame of failure by weeping up all manner of sentiments. In the election in issue, for example, what the opposition parties thought they could win was not the election but its incidentals like the presidential debate hence they easily collaborated to thwart the BON debate but failed to evolve a working alliance for the election proper.

We must, therefore, be patient with such people who must at the end of the day always find fault with any election result that is not in their favour. As it has happened now, there are complaints galore where Jonathan won, while it was supposedly free and fair where he lost.

However, we must examine every allegation so as to enhance the credibility of our elections and since we are all incensed by post- election riots, we need to have an open mind to the subject because supporters of the winning candidate can also provoke riots.

Some can do so instinctively; others may just be exuberant. There are also those who can become unwholesome in their constituencies in a bid to prove that they contributed to the victory of the President. Accordingly, we support the decision to institute a high-powered judicial commission of inquiry into the riots. We can no longer leave the matter in the hands of our security agencies who always profess to be “on top” of every matter which they are never able to use security intelligence to prevent. If we do, we will only hear of arrests. Indeed, the police in Kaduna have already confirmed the arrest of no fewer than 400 suspected perpetrators of election violence.

In Zaria, the 189 suspects arrested have reportedly been transferred to the Police Criminal Investigation Department in Kaduna from the Nigerian Army Depot where they were previously held. This story of arrests is a familiar one. We have always heard it. In 2003, 850 violent political thugs arrested by the police were set free, according to Tafa Balogun, through government’s intervention. Only God knows what has happened to the 60 suspects engaged in election violence who were arrested during the re-run governorship election in Delta State.

This time, we need a crack judicial commission headed by a man like the revered Supreme Court Justice G. A. Oguntade (rtd) to fish out the rioters, to identify their sponsors and most importantly, to uncover every act of omission or commission which encouraged, facilitated and ignited the riots. Taking a critical look at the just-concluded presidential election which his country has applauded, Mr. John Campbell, the British High Commissioner, says: “the devil is in the ballot collating.” Is there something he knows that we don’t?

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