Nigeria Today

August 23, 2020

Political violence: More sermons, less action

By Tonnie Iredia

Nigerians who had feared that the Edo State governorship election slated for September 19, 2020, would be violent may have since concluded that nothing would be done to avert the expected disaster.

Anyone who has followed events in the state in the last one year, that is, well before the electioneering period must have seen that the better part of the period for governance since after the last election in 2016, had been seized by political gladiators to continue with electioneering without end.

This column had pleaded long ago for such interest groups to remember that election as a contest is not a goal, but a means towards instituting a government that would thereafter develop the state and improve the welfare of the people. No one listened to us notwithstanding that the state was then ravaged by Lassa fever.

We always knew therefore, that the nearer to voting day, the higher the level of desperation to instal a governor of the choice of the gladiators. We are virtually there now, yet no signs of cessation of violence and no one appears to be in a position to call our political class to order.

On Saturday, July 25, 2020 there were reports of violent altercations between the supporters of the two leading political parties in the state near the palace of the revered Oba of Benin, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Ewuare II. It was a day; one of the two parties had scheduled to flag off its campaigns.

If that party had an appointment to be in the palace that day, how come their bitter rivals were able to hang around the same premises? Did our intelligence agencies not get a wind of the likely presence of supporters of both groups at the palace?

If so, what was done to avert the crisis that eventually occurred there that day? We hear some vehicles were smashed and that there were gun shots which inflicted injuries. So, who were the aggressors, was anyone arrested and questioned?

Were the security agencies able to identify the brains behind such unpardonable incidents near the Royal Palace of all places? These questions are exceedingly relevant because the purpose of having law enforcement agencies in society is to maintain law and order.

Where such agencies present a helpless picture in the midst of political violence and threat to societal peace, people should understandably be apprehensive.

It would therefore not be irrational to argue that political violence subsists in the state because nothing has been done or is being done to those who perpetuate the unacceptable culture of political violence as if it is an integral part of politics and elections.

About a week ago, Edo state was again in the news for what it has become known for – political tension as teams of security agents reportedly drafted from various commands in the state laid siege to the Chief Anthony Enahoro Complex, housing the state legislature at the Ring road in Benin, the state capital.

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They were at the complex supposedly to protect the area from any invasion following speculations of alleged plot by some politicians to take control of the house. Who gave such ambitious people the power to do so? Was it by sheer force or through judicial pronouncement in line with the due process of law?

As usual, there were several theories propounded to explain the situation. Some said a new majority had emerged in the house and that the police had a directive from the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) to protect the said majority to carry out their legislative duties. AGF???? Till date, the issues of that day have remained hazy and virtually incomprehensible.

The state’s Commissioner of Police CP who probably would have helped us to understand events has himself been busy frantically explaining his non-partisan disposition. A statement credited to the CP Johnson Kokumon, stated the following: (a) the security agencies will leave no stone unturned;

(b) we have created a conducive atmosphere for the forthcoming gubernatorial election. (c) we want to assure Edo people that the pre-election period would be safe and conducive for campaigns, during and after the election, to ensure there is no breach of law and order.

In other words, the police were as usual, ‘on top of the matter’ but nothing was said about whether or not any person or group committed any offence and if so, what had been done to such offenders. If so, political violence cannot end as what those to tackle would always present, is inexplicable body language.

The implication is that there would be recurrence of such unwholesome behaviour and those who feel aggrieved would begin to plan their own offensive since nothing is ever done to condemn what is wrong.

Electioneering campaigns are now in full swing and the parties are all over the state singing and dancing – a strategy that has become quite popular in the state for canvassing for votes. So, not many people know what the parties and their candidates are planning to do for us.

But that would have been bearable if all they believe in doing is to entertain the people. Painfully that has not been all. Tied to their campaign movements has been brigandage and threats to lives and property – a trend which no societal institution appears ready to handle.

Going by several reports of vandalization already done by political thugs, in several locations, there are fears that the coming Edo election might take the same pattern as that of the last Kogi governorship election where a candidate was manhandled and intimidated in the presence of the INEC chair and the Inspector General of Police.

If that could happen who can stop its recurrence in Edo where the law enforcement agencies and the electoral body appear to have joined religious leaders in unending sermons on the need to stop political violence in the state?

If all is well in Edo why have the National President, Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN), Dr Felix Omobude, and the three Catholic dioceses in the state been fervently praying for a quick intervention in what Omobude called the unfolding political violence in Edo State ahead of the Sept. 19 Governorship election?

While prayers are good, the panacea seems to be for INEC to employ technology and other strategies to nullify any mischievous electoral gains. Unfortunately, that is not likely to happen. Asked by the media the other day what the electoral referee was doing about the charged atmosphere, Dr Johnson Alalibo the Resident Electoral Commissioner in Edo state sounded helpless.

He simply said “INEC had written to all political parties on the type of language and words they should use during the campaigns and jingles in various media organizations.” What would happen to those who ignore such counselling?

Well, a statement from the headquarters of the Commission said INEC would not hesitate to halt the elections if the actions of political actors threaten law and order before or during the polls. But then, what would INEC do to gladiators who assiduously work for the cancellation of the election because that would favour them? Would it be another sermon?