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Emerging dangers ahead of 2019

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INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu

Against the backdrop of rising political threats in the polity, Nigeria may be in for yet another rough, vexatious and grueling prelude to another ritual of elections in 2019.

The signs are no less ominous: from the destruction of the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) secretariat in Borno State to the shamefully organised threats that forced a two-time governor of Kano, Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, to suspend his visit to the state for his scheduled series of political rallies.

Palpable tension is gradually building up and at the centre of it all, is the ruling All Progressives Congress.  At a rally held by the APC faction of Kano Governor, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje in the state on Tuesday, January 30, 2018, hundreds of youth were seen brandishing various kinds of weapons.   

The pictures were scary and beyond imagination.  Cudgels, cutlasses, knives, daggers and other dangerous weapons have replaced brooms, widely-known symbol of the APC in Kano. It was a declaration of war, as best as one can interpret it.

Having studied the character of Nigerian election cycle since 1999, I believe it is unlikely there will be a let-off in the rising tension in the political space. The state has vacillated too much; and, there is always no proactive mechanism in place to arrest this dangerous slide in elections season.  The usual last-minute interventions by stakeholders to douse tension always come too late. This time round, the situation is not helped by a recent comment by President Muhammadu Buhari that he is not in a hurry to do anything.

At a time when forces of evil are virtually encircling the country; when killings and threats from Fulani herdsmen are agitating the nation and putting it under constant threat of food terrorism; when Boko Haram is still a present threat; when things are not looking good for the ordinary Nigerians; it is regrettable and worrisome that the President is unperturbed and has had the comfort of mind to tell Nigerians not to expect him to act with dispatch.  

I will always reflect on historical antecedents, he said. There is no doubt that Nigerians expect a better attitude from Buhari, who has seen it all at over 75.

Political desperation is rising.  The reported demolition of PDP secretariat located at Dandal Way, Maiduguri by a combined team of Mobile Police Force and officials of the Government of Borno State represents a gradual build-up of hostility in the Northeast.  

Initially, we thought the threats were part of the usual persecutions we have been facing all these years but when the Governor revoked the building’s certificate of occupancy, we knew his desperation to take us out has taken a new dimension, said Baba Isa, a PDP chieftain.

The owner of the building that was recently acquired by the PDP was said to have come under intense pressure from the state government to revoke a lease agreement with the opposition party, but he did not budge.  Certainly, this is a desperation taking too far.  

Although, the party has said this sudden strategy to silence us won’t work, but we should be perturbed that this can unsettle the polity. Borno State Governor Ibrahim Shettima should be very wary of allowing politics to feed on insecurity in his state.  

Power is very transient in a democracy, and there is every possibility he could be at the receiving end tomorrow. This gathering storm is unhelpful to anyone.

In a similar development, the country should also be very worried that the threats coming out of Kano have now succeeded in forcing Kwankwaso and his Kwankwassiya movement to cancel a series of planned rallies and visits to different parts of the state.  

As irritating as it could be, it is even more dangerous that the Police allowed this cancellation to happen in the first place without factoring the consequential effects on the country at large.  There is a high possibility of a bandwagon effect by other political actors, who may replicate this unsavoury development in their states. This is going to complicate issues for the Police and give them more problems to contend with in the days ahead.

For a while now, the news coming out of Kano State, a conservatively-politically conscious terrain, has not been palatable. There has been no love lost between the governor and Senator Kwankwaso. There had been reported pockets of skirmishes between some political thugs loyal to the governor and members of the Kwankwassiya movement in the last one year.  

The frosty relationship between Kwankwaso and his former deputy has become of serious concern to those who had watched the two working together effectively for over 14 years, since 1999. Ganduje served as the deputy to Kwankwaso between 1999 and 2003, and between 2011 and 2015.

From 2003 to 2007, Ganduje also served as the special Adviser (Political) to him as a Minister of Defence. He also served as member of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) through the goodwill of Kwankwaso. When Kwankwaso supported him to emerge as his successor, it was applauded across the country.

Although, things started looking bad between the duo before the swearing-in of Ganduje, it was not until the presidential ambition of Kwankwaso started gaining momentum that things became tensed.

Every effort made by some stakeholders to reunite the two has failed. While Kwankwaso’s presidential bid for 2019 may be rattling the Presidency, it is not impossible that the hawks in Aso Rock could be using Ganduje to deny him a space in Kano, to test his popularity.

Some members of the Kwankwassiya have boasted that their crowd would dwarf those who came out to welcome President Buhari, any day any time Kwankwaso visits the state again.

Since APC came to power, the Presidency has been giving vent to a growing politics of isolationism within the party. They have practically cut to size, virtually all the major players who helped him to win the presidential election. The likes of Bukola Saraki, Atiku Abubakar, Kwankwaso and even Bola Tinubu, will certainly have tales of political woes to share one day. Nigerians are aware that the Buhari presidency would not have been possible without these political gladiators.

My fear now is that some governors, who are intolerant of opposition in their respective states, are bound to capitalise on this regrettable loophole, to undermine political opponents. Stopping Kwankwaso from coming to Kano by the police was an unwise decision.

Judging by the nature of our politicians, they are going to have much more to contend with in the weeks ahead. Ordinarily, the police ought to have given cover to and allow Kwankwaso and his movement to conduct his political business without any crisis or molestation. You cannot stop Kwankwaso indefinitely. Never.

This is the time for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), civil society, the Police, civil defence and other stakeholders, to put in place a proactive mechanism for engaging political actors, especially those who are desperate to have their ways at all cost.

At this juncture, the police must avoid taking sides with the ruling party or the presidency to undermine political opponents.

• Atoye wrote from Abuja.


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