The path to next month’s national elections in Nigeria, and the expectations for a peaceful process among even the most optimistic among us, now points to a need for intense worry: welcome to elections Nigeriana, a true season of violence, mayhem, and our legacy pattern of electoral killings and destructions.
Four years ago, in the very elections that brought the incumbent federal administration and many state governments to power, several citizens were killed in election-related violence. Sadly too, on account of a national sensibility now numbed to the shock of tragic human feelings, all that simply passed, and life continued as usual.
This will shock few. With the iridescent lucre to be made in office, the jaw-dropping levels of political finance contributions to facilitate it, the astounding absence of accountability in government, and with streets awash with guns, the Nigerian political office is perhaps, on global aggregate, the most besought investment portfolio in the market for political power in the world today.
History is repeating itself again and last week, as the All Progressives Congress [APC] presidential candidate, Muhammad Buhari, launched his campaign in Port Harcourt, gunmen ambushed and shot at members of the party on their way to the venue. As the week ended, an angry mob in Jos burned down a campaign bus plastered with President Jonathan’s posters, and a day after, the APC office in Okrika, Rivers state, was bombed while a property belonging to the PDP in Gombe state was destroyed.
Up in Kaduna, while attending the 40th anniversary of the Emir of Zazzau, Vice President Namadi Sambo faced verbal assault and threats of violence from a mob shouting ba mu so (we don’t want), and in overt and covert tones, campaign organisations are mapping out areas that their candidates must avoid during tours for fear of violence.
This is not to add comments attributed, and still not rebutted, to Governor Sule Lamido of Jigawa, who asked party supporters not to “spare” any non-PDP member who misbehaves in the build-up to the polls, on election day and afterwards.
The governor reportedly gave the directive at the weekend when he addressed PDP’s supporters in Buji Local Government Area, according to the news aggregator, Daily Post, which quotes him as saying the order to deal with opponents was limited to former PDP members who defected to the All Progressives Congress (APC) and had been “making noise” about bringing change to the state and the nation.
“This order does not include people like Gen. Mohammadu Buhari and his people, who were in real opposition right from the beginning….But those in the PDP before, in the state and the nation, people like Senator Danjuma Goje, Rabiu Kwankwaso, Aliyu Wamako and the host of others shouting change” Mr. Lamido reportedly said in a sense of generosity.
Earlier in November, the governor of Katsina state, Shehu Shema, was caught on video calling on his supporters to kill and crush political opponents, whom he described as “cockroaches”.
The video, depicting the governor making the threat, went viral after it was posted on the Internet on November 12. It showed the governor, dressed in white agbada and brown sandals, standing on a red carpet, and addressing a crowd in what seemed like a political rally. He spoke in Hausa.
Mr. Shema likened opposition politicians to “cockroaches” before asking the crowd what to do if they found the nocturnal insect in their apartments.
The crowd chorused “Kill them!”
“Crush them!” the governor responded, agreeing with the crowd. Mr. Shema later claimed the comments were interpreted out of context.
This blatant absurdity and mindlessness by our politicians and their supporters must stop today, and all actors to this election must promptly come to understand the compelling reasons Nigerians genuinely worry about elections that are conducted without integrity, especially where state and/or elite sponsored violence become institutionalized mechanism to abridge franchise, and, ultimately, our democracy.
With probably over 12,000 citizens killed in the ongoing fascistic campaigns of Boko Haram in the northeast; with the low-intensity insurgency in the south south region, and with the armed banditry in just every corner of middle Nigeria, this complexion of deadly internal conflict requires effective and meaningful citizens involvement and interface through vigorous debates and information exchange for any sustainable solution to emerge.
That context, however, can only be enabled through an election that has integrity in process and outcome, and, simply put, that means an election free of violence and the high stake tension, which has now enveloped the land.
What is more, if parties and candidates manage to trade the key issues in contention, if they appreciate the organic link between elections and democracy, it will be clear, at the very least, that the two critically absent elements in our governance mode today– development and security– can only be restored through an election defined by integrity.
The alternative is that both process and outcome of the election will lead to a government that lacks public confidence, trust, and therefore the legitimacy that gives democracy meaning.
Whatever our differences as a people, and there are many, electoral violence is not one of the solutions. What will solve the problem of inequity in the polity, of poverty, of improving governance, of empowerment for the marginalized segments of our community, of corruption, and development, is democracy, which is made possible only when we have an election with integrity.
Toward this end, political, religious and traditional rulers must educate their followers on the need to show restrain. Elections are popularity contests not tests of terror. Those who lose can wait for another cycle and that’s the beauty of the game. It is not, as we say, a do or die affair.
The Independent National Electoral Commission, on its part, must conduct an election that is beyond reproach. It must avoid the tardiness that leads to late arrival of voting materials, insufficient ballots and personnel and thus a disenfranchised and disaffected voting population. People are more likely to abide by the results of an election if they see evidence that the elections are free and fair.
As for the judiciary, it must quickly show that it cannot be the plaything of politicians. Issues of elections should be handled with dispatch and in accordance with the Rule of Law. It must ensure that it polices judicial officers and punish attempts at circumventing the process in favour of certain candidates.
The judicial enquiries set up in the aftermath of the 2011 elections to investigate the violence that occurred are unanimous in their conclusion that the utterances of politicians contributed in heating up the polity and making supporters believe that it was okay to become violent if the results do not favour their candidates.
To this end, the two leading presidential candidates, Messrs Buhari and Jonathan must reign in their attack dogs. If they only take time to publicly rebuke and dissociate themselves from any supporter who uses vile language, they would have sent the right signals that violence has no justification in matters of election.
To be sure, democracy is not a magic bullet. It is the outcome of trials and errors. What is clear though is that it works, and no other system of government known to mankind has proved better or superior to it.
About three million people of various hues and creed matched against violence in France last Sunday. The message: we will not be intimidated, we will not be divided, and we will not succumb to anarchy.
Now, that is something worth emulating.