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2023 elections and threat of violence         

By Sonnie Ekwowusi
29 September 2022   |   4:17 am
Recently, some hired political thugs, hoodlums and hooligans threatened the Labour party in Lagos to stop conducting a rally tagged: #Obidattti23 Forward Ever Rally” scheduled to hold in Lagos on October 1

[FILES] Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu<br />Photo/twitter/inecnigeria

Recently, some hired political thugs, hoodlums and hooligans threatened the Labour party in Lagos to stop conducting a rally tagged: #Obidattti23 Forward Ever Rally” scheduled to hold in Lagos on October 1, 2022. Also, another set of hired thugs, hooligans, hoodlums and policemen were sent to disrupt the peaceful one-million-march movement organized in Ebonyi State by the Labour Party supporters in Ebonyi State.

All these travesties of democracy are happening at the threshold of the commencement of political campaigns that would usher in the 2023 elections.

Without holding brief for the Labour party, the aforesaid threat, aggression, hooliganism and violence in both Lagos and Ebonyi States, is, to say the least, a big setback for Nigerian democracy.

Why should anyone descend to the barbaric low level of threatening another political party to refrain from carrying out their political campaign? Democracy is a learning process but I seriously doubt whether our Nigerian politicians are really and truly learning the lessons of democracy.

I had thought that the Nigerian democracy had outgrown the weaponization of threats, intimidations and violence in cowing down political opponents or disrupting their political activities. It is obvious that I was mistaken.

Impelled by an inordinate thirst for power, pomp, property, and quick money, some dirty politicians are still using threats, intimidation and violence in their bid to grab political power. Machiavellianism still reigns supreme in our national politics.

Labour must not succumb to their threat, violence, aggression and hooliganism. Rather it should simply ignore them and work harder to coast to victory in the 2023 general elections. I have perused the scrap contained in the writ issued against Labour in Lagos State by the hoodlums, and, I would advise the party to ignore the scrap. First, the makers of that scrap are hired young hoodlums and never-do-wells. Besides, the court does not act in vain.

No court makes an order that cannot be obeyed. No judge makes a court order to take away the inalienable rights of an innocent citizen or to prevent the citizen from exercising his or her constitutional right to freedom of expression, freedom of movement, freedom of association and freedom of thought, conscience and religion as enshrined in our 1999 Constitution. No judge can make an order contrary to the current Election Act to empower hooligans to continue to indulge in their illegality, hooliganism, and violence in our national politics. Therefore the threat is a violation of the Electoral Act. It is illegal and unconstitutional. Ditto for the disruption of the political rally in Ebonyi State. Look, you cannot stop anybody from exercising his or her God-given freedom. You cannot force a voter to vote for you in 2023.

Apart from threat and intimidation, politicians have formed the habit of sending their political thugs to remove, yank off or destroy the hoisted campaign banners or billboards of other political parties. There is one thing I cannot still fathom: the gullibility of the governed. Aside from the leadership crisis, the next crisis undoing Nigeria is the followership crisis.

I tell friends that violence has never been used to solve the problems of mankind. If violence is useful in the settlement of human disputes Russia would have won the Russia-Ukraine war a long time ago. Violence begets violence in the same way injustice begets injustice. Violence is a recipe for anarchy. Ours is a multi-party and multi-religious system. Therefore it makes no sense for one political party to choose to become a nuisance to other political parties or disrupt their political activities.

Life is live and let’s live. No man is a single verse. Nobody can live alone in this passing world. Man is a social animal. We are members of the same human family. We need one another in our socialization and even political processes even though our tribe, tongue and religion may differ. By using threats and violence to disrupt political activities, politicians are conveying the impression that they are incapable of winning an election except through violence, rigging, gerrymandering and election manipulation.

The current Electoral Act punishes electoral threats and electoral violence. For instance, sections 116 and 128 of the Act stipulate that anybody or group of persons disrupting a political meeting or gathering or anybody directly or indirectly, by his or herself or by another person on his or her behalf, makes use of or threatens to make use of any force, violence against any political candidates or political party commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine or imprisonment or both.

Certainly, the arrest and prosecution of these hoodlums and their sponsors would serve as a deterrent to other hoodlums and party stalwarts planning to commit the same crime.  

Legitimate competition to win power is not synonymous with the deployment of thugs to intimidate and harass political opponents. If political competitiveness is allowed to degenerate into violence the negative fallout of it might spell doom for our country. This is why the Federal government must warn all political parties to desist from wielding violence against their political opponents. INEC, the federal government and the police must ensure that hooligans and thugs do not make good threats against other parties. Nobody has a monopoly on violence. This is why the law enforcement agents must intervene now to arrest the hired hooligans and thugs.
 
As fragmented and pluralistic as our political culture is, it justifies our faith in a common creed belief in human freedom even though some politicians have shown an inclination to think otherwise despite what freedom means for modern society. We still hold this truth bequeathed to us by our nationalists and freedom fighters: freedom is our greatest achievement and our greatest bequest to posterity. Therefore all hands must be on deck to denounce hooliganism and violence that violate freedom in our national politics. In his book, Spirit of Liberty, Learned Hand, writes, inter alia, “Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women: when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it.”