Fate of post-election troublemakers
THE jailing of the former First Lady of Cote d’Ivoire, Simone Gbagbo, by the International Criminal Court (ICC), for her role in the violence that followed the 2010 elections in that country is a lesson for all troublemakers across Africa who scheme for violence during elections.
The ICC has set a historic landmark that would serve as a reference point in elections in Africa and beyond. By jailing the former powerful First Lady, the ICC has shown, for the first time, that, the days when troublemakers perpetrated mayhem under the guise of protesting against election results are over.
Henceforth, no person or group has the right to incite violence that would lead to the destruction of lives and property. If people did that in the past and went free, they can no longer do it now without facing the consequence. They will have to account for their actions and take full responsibility.
This is the bitter truth. Everyone should be mindful of what they do in the Nigerian elections because the ICC is fully on alert to catch culprits.
According to reports, Mrs. Gbagbo was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for her negative role in the Cote d’Ivoirien elections. Her husband, former President Laurent Gbagbo, is also awaiting trial at the ICC. Gbagbo, it would be recalled, refused to accept defeat and hand over to his opposition challenger, Alassane Ouattara. He stayed put in the Presidential Palace. The violence that erupted following his refusal claimed more than 3,000 lives.
The country was plunged into an avoidable unprecedented post-election crisis. At the height of the crisis in 2011, troops stormed the bunker where Gbagbo and his wife holed themselves in Abidjan. They were arrested and charged for various crimes.
The First Lady faced her trial in Abidjan. The “Iron Lady” known for her fiery speeches was accused of disturbing public order and organising armed gangs. She was also accused of personally distributing arms to death squads that operated freely in Abidjan during the five-month conflict.
In a unanimous judgment, the court sentenced her to 20 years for undermining state security. The prosecution had asked for only 10 years for the charge of disturbing public order. The Ivoirian justice system was able to bring the trial to a logical conclusion without being influenced by any one.
By doubling the sentence, the court probably, wanted to send a signal to inciters of election violence that time is up. They would either behave or face the music. Mrs. Gbagbo was tried along with 82 other supporters of her husband.
Fifteen were acquitted. Her two former allies also received 20 years in jail, among who were Gen. Bruno Dogbo Ble, former head of the Republican Guard and the ex-navy chief, Adm. Vagba Faussignaux. The other accused persons got lesser sentences. Her husband, Laurent Gbagbo, is being tried in The Hague by the ICC. He is facing a four-count charge including murder, rape and persecution. The ICC had issued an arrest warrant for Mrs. Gbagbo, which was dismissed by the Ivoirian government.
Here in Nigeria, the story could be the same if the key actors in the forthcoming elections fail to comport themselves and also control their supporters. With the presidential election due this weekend, March 28, just four days ahead, there is palpable fear across the country.
There are fears of post-election violence erupting irrespective of who wins the election. There are two key presidential candidates in the election, namely, incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and his main opposition challenger, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (rtd).
Some analysts say if President Jonathan wins the election, there would be violence from the north, probably, the way it happened in 2011. Similarly, they say if Gen. Buhari wins, the Niger Delta militants would erupt in violence.
If we go by this scary prognosis, it means that Nigeria is already between the Devil and the Blue Sea with no escape route. But how could that be? Is this the first election the country is holding? What would anyone in the North gain by engaging in violent destruction of lives and property in addition to the havoc already being perpetrated by Boko Haram? Do they want to make the North a derelict land where no one lives? In the same vein, what would the Niger Delta militants gain by, perhaps, setting the oil infrastructure ablaze, which amounts to double jeopardy? You lose election and then you decide to set your house and property on fire.
The militants should know that oil is not the only mineral resource in Nigeria. If the oil fields and facilities are set ablaze, the other zones will simply retire to their enclaves and use the resources they have.
The Niger Delta would lose. My people say you don’t get lost where your thing got lost. It is against this background that the ICC, after visiting Nigeria from February 3-5, 2015, issued a stern warning to prosecute would be promoters of election violence in the forthcoming general elections.
The ICC chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, restated the resolve of the International Criminal Court, to prosecute anyone who incites or engages in the March 28 and April 11, 2015 general elections. She said “profound human suffering” has been caused by election violence.
According to the ICC chief, “Any person who incites or engages in acts of violence in the context of the upcoming elections or otherwise – including by ordering, inciting, encouraging or contributing to the commission of crimes that fall within ICC’s jurisdiction – is liable to prosecution; either by Nigerian courts or by the ICC.
No one should doubt my Office’s resolve to prosecute individuals responsible for the commission of ICC crimes, whenever necessary.” As it were, the ICC has already begun what it calls “preliminary examinations relating to situations.”
This exercise precedes ICC’s actual investigation of crimes, which fall under the court’s jurisdiction. Indications show that Nigeria is among nine countries where the ICC’s prosecutors’ office is conducting “preliminary examinations of situations.” Apart from the ICC, some laudable positive steps have been taken to ensure a peaceful election.
The signing of the Abuja Peace Accord by the PDP and APC presidential flag bearers represents a landmark in the history of electioneering campaign in Nigeria. President Jonathan has declared on several occasions that his victory does not worth any body’s blood. General Buhari has also pledged to maintain peace.
Other key political actors at local and state levels should thread the same peaceful path. It is remarkable that neither President Jonathan nor Gen. Buhari, the key political actors, seems to be engaged in a do-or-die politics. The era of do-or-die politics is over. The ICC took no interest then but not now.