Niger Republic

By Ikechukwu Amaechi

A HIGHLY disturbing video surfaced online on Sunday, October 2, which should give every well-meaning Nigerian cause for concern. Two supporters of the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Mr. Peter Obi, claimed in the video that they escaped being lynched at the Oshodi motor park, by a whisker.

It was sheer providence that a Good Samaritan, a Nigerian soldier, happened to be in the vicinity at the time to rescue them from the bloodthirsty touts who had already beaten them to a pulp and were about making a bonfire of them before the soldier stepped in. 

What was their crime? Nothing other than the fact that they were in possession of the insignias of the Labour Party. Hear one of the victims: “When the touts, who were ordered by their superiors, seized my friend, I took to my heels to the motor park and boarded a cab.

While the cab was loading, the touts traced me to the cab, forced me out and took me to where my friend was also kept. Their superior ordered that we should be beaten, killed and set ablaze. We were beaten like common criminals. They flogged us and were about to set us on fire before a soldier came to our rescue. Our crime is that we are not supporting their candidate.” 

The Lagos State Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, Benjamin Hundeyin, confirmed the story on Monday. “I chatted with the victims and I advised them to report the matter to the nearest police station. I went as far as putting the Divisional Police Officer, DPO, on notice, and he is still on standby, waiting for them; but as I am speaking with you, they have not reported to the police,” Hundeyin said. 

Of course, the poor chaps are afraid to make a formal report at any police station in Lagos for reasons that are too obvious. In any case, which other report does the PPRO need before commencing investigation since he had already spoken to the victims, who identified the villains? Truth be told, if they had been killed, nothing would have happened. The “owners of Lagos” on whose behest the violence was meted, would have ensured that. They always protect their touts and for them, thuggery, a euphemism for structure, comes with the territory. But it shouldn’t.

This attack coming a day after the Obidients took Lagos by storm with massive rallies is a pointer to how skittish those who ridiculed some political actors only yesterday as being active only in the social media have become. They no longer control the narrative as they used to do. The democratisation of the media landscape which the social media has occasioned shifted the paradigm fundamentally and gave the power back to the people.

In such a dynamic milieu where the youths are now playing a pre-eminent role, those who had always invested in violence as tool for accessing political power, need to have a rethink. Resorting to physical violence and intimidation as a counterpoise to the prevailing realities is not only harebrained but also goes against all that democracy seeks to promote. 

As Jean-Claude Frécon, president of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, observed recently: “There can be no democracy without the integrity of electoral choice.” Elections, the world over, provide an important opportunity to advance the democratisation process and encourage political liberalisation. For any election to be deemed free and fair, certain civil liberties – freedoms of speech, association and assembly – are sine-qua-non. 

Election is the pivot on which the wheel of democracy rotates. Through the ballot, people exercise their power to choose or change their leaders. Because elections are a key moment in democratic life, if that freedom is obviated and denied through violence and intimidation as some people are trying to do in Lagos, then free, fair and credible elections suffer irreversible damage ab-initio.

It is instructive that the Oshodi attack took place only two days after all the presidential candidates, except one, personally signed a peace accord as directed by the National Peace Committee in Abuja. It is equally telling that fingers of blame for the contemptible attack are pointing in the same direction. 

At that event, the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Alkali Baba Usman, promised to protect all stakeholders even as he warned against the vile acts of intimidation, physical force or coercion and outright violence against opponents. Well, the IGP may well know that such preachment cuts no ice with these merchants of violence.

For them politics is synonymous with thuggery, bullying and sundry atrocities. They are devotees in the Machiavellian ‘the end justifies the means’ shrine of political malevolence. Nothing stands between them and power. And when new realities threaten their quest for domination, they don’t take prisoners, they kill, literally.  

Now, therefore, is the time for the Police chief to walk his talk. He shouldn’t wait until people are actually burnt to death because of their political preferences before acting. He should act now. What happened to the two Labour Party supporters this week is not mere happenstance. It was orchestrated by the same malcontents behind the attacks in Oshodi and Okota in 2019.

For those who may have forgotten, on February 23, 2019, thugs invaded polling booths in Okota, a Lagos suburb, and maimed voters after making a bonfire of ballot boxes, result sheets and other vital INEC documents in the full glare of the camera. It was unprecedented. They did all that without any restraint from the security agents who were there. Nobody was arrested. Nobody was prosecuted. And almost four years after, nobody is serving time for the heinous crime.

Why were those areas targeted for attacks? Simple! Both Oshodi and Okota are the strongholds of the PDP. In 2015, the APC lost all legislative elections in Okota and Oshodi to the PDP, and that was recorded as a crime against some people in Lagos. The attack by thugs on Alaba International Market traders who went to the secretariat of Ojo Local Government Area, to register and collect their Permanent Voter Cards, PVCs, on Thursday, June 9, followed the same pattern. Till date, nobody has been prosecuted for that crime. 

These attacks are beyond the pale. As Peter Obi, whose supporters are bearing the brunt of this intemperate political behaviour in Lagos, said: “Elections are not deemed free and fair when a certain group employs the tool of intimidation to ensure that the opposition is silenced, both at the campaigns and at the polls.”

Now is the time for state actors to walk their talk by underscoring the imperativeness of respecting civil liberties. Peaceful assembly and unfettered electioneering campaigns are constitutionally guaranteed rights to every citizen, not privileges to be extended to so-called settlers by self-proclaimed aborigines. They are inalienable liberties that cannot be breached willfully by powerful politicians with an elephantine sense of entitlement. Enough of this brigandage!

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