By Tonnie Iredia
The level of violence in Nigeria today is no doubt mind boggling. How they happen intermittently but seamlessly have become puzzling. While some analysts have used the insurgency in the North-East to explain the level of violence in that region, the continuing destruction of public facilities especially in the South-East has not been that easy to rationalize.
What makes it more difficult to comprehend is that the same public buildings and other facilities are in every part of the country. So, who is fighting this war against federal facilities in mainly the South-East and a few other places? What is at stake and what are the objectives of those behind the development?
At a forum where these questions were asked recently, one resource person proffered what looked like a proverb wrapped in theory; that when a thief is among those helping a person to search for a lost ornament, the owner can never find it. The rest of us at the gathering were left to relate the proverb to the situation in some states where crime patterns and modalities appear common, yet perpetrators are able to commit more havoc by the day unhindered.
The case of destruction to police formations in the South-East looks bizarre bearing in mind that the victims are police operatives supposedly equipped by society to combat crime and bring order to humanity. The inevitable question is how then can the same police protect others while they are virtually overwhelmed in their home front? The development obviously calls for public condemnation because the trend helps no one.
Some days back, cerebral former Enugu state governor, Chimaroke Nnamani called on those involved to come forward with their grievances to the dialogue table. Perhaps Nnamani knows something the rest of us are unaware of. But if the police were caught unawares when some stations were burnt initially, why is the senseless mayhem continuing unabated?
We can’t rule out insider abuses, because without prejudice to several well-meaning operatives, such abuses in the police and other organizations are getting rampant. Two days ago, the police claimed that persons arrested for vandalizing Railway facilities included two Police officers, a staff of the Nigerian Railway Corporation, a special adviser to the Nasarawa state governor, a supervisory councilor for education in Nasarawa-Eggon local government area and one operative of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps.
Although many people have shown more interest in the police case, the attacks on installations and facilities of the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC are no less worrisome. The attacks which the Chairman of the Commission, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu described as ‘unjustifiable aggression’ appears to be spreading across the country.
According to Yakubu, there have been no casualties so far, but the damage to the physical infrastructure and electoral materials was total. Nothing was salvaged – from ballot boxes and voting cubicles to generating sets and office furniture and equipment. While it is easy to agree with the chairman that the attacks took the form of aggression not everyone would be persuaded that it is also unjustifiable.
It is true that destruction by aggrieved persons is illegal because that is not what the due process of law prescribes. But let no one forget that what those who won elections by vicious and fake means which others may react to violently also offended the law. Two wrongs, they say do not make a right. Is any of the wrongs justifiable? This is the type of lie, his Majesty, the Oni of Ife, a few days ago, admirably admonished us all to stop telling to ourselves.
In an election, where people rigged to win and sometimes after inflicting injuries on others, will the aggrieved listen to our sermon to follow the rule of law? While no well-meaning person can justify violence, it is important to call on INEC to increase her capacity to do her job to the satisfaction of a greater number than is the case now. Many candidates and their political parties are quite often embittered by partisanship of election personnel in the country.
We are concerned about this because there are many avoidable lapses in INEC’s operations that can be redressed but alas, not much premium is placed on seemingly simple matters that are left hanging until they can no longer be satisfactorily handled. Why for instance, would it be so difficult for government to appoint statutory officials for INEC?
In November last year, the tenure of the chairman and at least 5 of his national commissioners expired. Only the chairman was reappointed and since then INEC has functioned with half its proper team. Government knows at the point of appointment when the tenure of an official would expire, yet when it happens, there is always so much of foot dragging as if the appointment of suitable Nigerians to the commission is as hard as uprooting insurgency.
Painfully, when at last some nominations are made, they would include persons who are prima facie unqualified. Why then does it take so long? Is it that some people are searching everywhere for those who can assist them to rig elections? This is one area where the difference between Nigeria and other developed countries is quite clear.
In other climes, people are quite conscious not just about the letters of the constitution but more about the spirit of the constitution. One reason many people in Nigeria want everything written out in our constitution is because of the failure of those in power to be persuaded by the spirit of a law. In the recruitment of INEC officials, our constitution rightly provides for persons of proven integrity.
Where the spirit of the law matters to people, no one would nominate his party member to play the role of a referee in an election between the ruling party and others. But in Nigeria we have to amend our constitution so as to formally state: that to be a member of INEC, an appointee must be persons of proven integrity who must in addition not have been involved in partisan politics.
Whether formally stated or not, why will persons privileged to be in power appoint anyone who is incapable of being impartial to do the job of a referee? Democracy does not work well with such immature minds especially at state level where results of local government elections are collated in government house. Again, INEC job is sensitive and technical; those who are employed require ample training to become proficient but when we wait till it is too late to appoint the executives, who then between staff and commissioners supervises the other when the latter are brought-in close to elections?
The original arrangement was to make prompt appointments such that when a group is leaving there are old hands from whom new appointees can learn the ropes. As of today that is no longer happening. Instead of a 12-member commission Yakubu now functions with only 6 national commissioners. How do they supervise the zones especially in an age where the body is committed to introducing several innovations for free and fair elections?
This is why we imagine that the destruction to INEC offices, though terrible, is not as problematic as the current state in which INEC operates with half engine. If nothing is done quickly, disaster in the coming set of elections is a logical consequence.