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No to pre-election violence

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JEGA

Attahiru Jega

THE eruption of violence, with its trail of explosions, gunshots and intimidation that marred the All Progressives Congress (APC) gubernatorial campaign in Okrika, Rivers State, the other day, is a bitter reminder that elections are still a ‘do or die’ affair in many parts of the country. In the attack, said to have been unleashed by political thugs, no fewer than 50 people, amongst whom were four policemen and a journalist, were injured and a policeman feared dead, as thousands of people scampered for safety at the sound of explosions. Since then, there have been similar mayhem across the country at political rallies.
This is very regrettable given the assurance of a violence-free election promised by politicians during publicised peace pacts amongst parties.
What makes the Okrika violence peculiar, and as such worrisome, is its frequency and the characters represented by the parties in battle. Before this latest spate of violence, providing security for the APC rally by the police had been a matter of concern for its high command as if it were hamstrung to carry out its constitutional duty of protecting lives and property. When the APC had concluded plans to organise a rally for early February, the Rivers State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Dan Bature, had even counseled for a change of date to enable the police provide adequate security.
Before then, on January 24, 2015, gunmen were alleged to have stormed the venue of an APC meeting, destroying vehicles, assaulting people and preventing the rally from holding. Ten days earlier, that is on January 11, 2015, the APC Secretariat in Okrika Local Council Area had been attacked. These acts of violence were not spontaneous mob action, they were orchestrated; and if they are then who did it?
It is common knowledge that Nigeria’s First Lady, Patience Jonathan is from Okrika. It is also common knowledge that her meddlesomeness have led to frequent altercations with perceived enemies of the president, the most notable being the one with Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi.
Besides, from a more extensive social angle, what kind of elections and leaders are these warring politicians engendering? What impression are they passing to well meaning Nigerians who hold the civil government very dearly, and are convinced that Nigeria’s socio-economic and political development is hinged on the continuous refinement of man’s capacity to adopt democratic values?
Violence in whatever circumstance is reprehensible. It is undemocratic, primitive, and antithetical to the credibility of elections. What is made obvious by electoral violence is the irreverent transvaluation of electioneering from a sacred political duty or an act of social contract to a havoc-wreaking orgy of senseless gangsterism. People, who indulge in violence when dignified and enlightened confrontation should suffice, have no ideas of how to move the country forward. If elections, sacred as they are amongst civilised communities, have become an arena for carnage, then, by all means, it is a disincentive to good people who may want to exercise their franchise according to the dictates of their conscience.
Addressing the problem of violence demands more than just advisory submissions to the deaf; it demands courageous deployment of the cudgel of the law. Both Section 227 of the Constitution and Section 81 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) which prescribes punishments for contravention of Section 227 of the Constitution, are legal provisions addressing electoral violence. Thus, while laws exist to advance the good of the common man, there is a glaring absence of political will to implement these laws. Given the impunity with which people have violated electoral laws and have gone scot-free, it seems that there would be no end to election violence until some people are sanctioned for engaging in violence. Perpetrators of electoral violence and their sponsors, however high they may be, must be arrested and prosecuted, and those found culpable should face sanction.
Thus the police, INEC and government must find ways to put an end to this. If the police and other security agencies are desirous of curbing electoral violence, they must begin by taking pro-active measures to reduce the amassment of small and light weapons. Moreover, community chieftains and religious leaders should counsel their people not to avail themselves as willing tools to be used wantonly by ignoble politicians and mischief makers.
It is a sad and lamentable episode in Nigeria’s political history that politicians have continued to resort to primitive, bully tactics to win votes. It is incredible to imagine the kind of leader that will emerge from elections marred by violence.
At this stage of Nigeria’s political development, elections require nobility and decency, as well as edifying statements that create understanding. If politicians and their spin doctors must resort to any face-off it should be educative, informative, and edifying speeches that must build bridges and refashion the country for better. It is a pity such are very far from these climes.



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