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This massive show of force

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Here is what is currently trending. The acting inspector-general of police, Mohammed Adamu, has deployed seven DIGs, 10 AIGs and 277 commissioners of police for poll duty tomorrow. The Nigeria Air Force has deployed aircraft to flash points.

You could easily mistake these for the ratcheting up of the war against Boko Haram in the North-East and the killer bandits in Zamfara State in the North-West. You would be wrong. This is what it now takes to ensure that INEC conducts the governorship and the state houses of assembly elections peacefully tomorrow. It is an enormous task and enormously has the Nigerian state responded to the challenges with all the arsenals at its disposal. It should make us happy.

Arguably, these steps have been taken to ensure that you and I go to the polls and return home with neither bleeding heads nor broken limbs. The massive presence of the security forces provides the umbrella under which we can safely perform our civic duty. After all, we can hear the ominous sound of war drums in some parts of the country. The logic in this unusual deployment of security forces rests on the fact it is incumbent on the Nigerian state, the conductor-in-chief of the general elections, to ensure that our freedom to go out there and decide the political fate of the men and women who seek our endorsement must not be abridged by the desperados who have no qualms in resorting to violence to win. If we fear to go out to vote, then tomorrow’s elections, the second and last tranche of the 2019 general elections that would draw the curtain down on what the press has dubbed decision 2019, would have the feel and smell of rotten eggs thrown in the face of the Nigerian state. The implications of this for the country and its people are huge. Perish the thought.

Still, however you look at it, the deployment of this level of security forces on election duty says something about the sorry pass in which we now find ourselves. The needless militarisation of our elections steadily crept up on the country from 1979 when the generals found it necessary to deploy armed soldiers on electoral duty in the final phase of the transition to civil rule programme. We have been stuck with this ever since because it is easier to follow the beaten path and get it done with than to interrogate this system of conducting peaceful elections superintended by so much state force.

It would be foolish to deny that our elections are violence-prone. Many of the third world countries are in the same boat here with us. But their response to this challenge is different from ours. They still manage to conduct this basic civic duty with minimum rather than maximum security force. A civic duty such as casting votes should not invite a show of force by the Nigerian state. But we are conditioned by years of military rule, a form of government that relies on power and the naked show of power. Those years of military rule taught us that the way to go in meeting all our challenges is for the Nigerian state to visibly show its snarling face with its fingers on the trigger. I am afraid, it has not worked.

The truth is that the Nigerian state does not really possess the monopoly of violence any more. We are a nation under the gun with perhaps more guns in private hands than ever before. You would recall what it took the late President Umaru Yar’Adua to persuade the militants in the Niger Delta to submit their arms and ammunitions to government to end their virtual siege on the region and take their hands off the nation’s economic jugular. Political thugs used to be unarmed young men recruited by politicians at critical political moments. Their weapons then were no more lethal than clubs used to injure the heads of the political opponents of their pay masters. Political thuggery has become a profession that pays well. These thugs have since graduated and moved up in importance. They no longer use clubs; they use sophisticated small arms, not merely to intimidate but to kill, if need be.

These young men are not afraid of the police. They have the means to take on the police at any time. I do not think the military frightens them either. After all, what makes a soldier a soldier is the weapon. And the thugs have the weapons and are prepared to use it to meet force with force. As the late K.O. Mbadiwe would say, if the state forces meet the private forces, there could be cataclysm.

Let us quit pretending. All our politicians believe that it takes more than civilised conduct to win elections. There is no such person as a gentleman politician. They all subscribe to the do-or-die philosophy that excuses their determination to win by mostly crook. I have argued on these pages before and I do so again here: the conduct of peaceful elections is the responsibility of the politicians. Their desperation for power forces them to resort to whatever means would help them achieve their unholy objectives. The steps taken by the National Peace Committee headed by the former head of state, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, to commit the presidential candidates to the peaceful conduct of the elections was intended to drive this point home and force the politicians to accept responsibility for what happens in the general elections. But nothing changed on February 23. It is naïve to think that the politicians have suddenly morphed into peace converts.

This may sound depressing but there is no way to put it less delicately: we have a long way to go to put things right in the country. The problem is that we are unwilling to seriously try. If the status quo serves vested interests, why tinker with it? The progressive militarisation of our elections and indeed, the electoral process, forces us to do what we should not do: involve the armed forces in election duty. Their involvement during the military rule was inevitable but inexcusable in civilian administrations. There are obvious consequences in not training and equipping the police to sufficiently perform their primary duty of policing the people and the land. The continued use of the military for civil duties is plainly wrong. It cannot but leave stains on the military uniforms.

It would be wonderful if tomorrow’s elections are not marred by violence any where in the land. But that is a pious wish I cannot help entertaining. The truth is that we tremble as the clock takes us closer each hour towards the conclusion of the elections tomorrow. We know only too well that the political thugs and their pay masters are oiling their guns. We know the riggers are at work, perfecting their thousand and one methods of undermining the choices of the people. Still, we lose nothing by hoping that despite these ominous signs, it would still be possible for us to show that we, the voters, have a greater stake in the peaceful conduct of the elections than the desperate elective office seekers. Let us wrap up the 2019 general elections with peace, not blood; not least because the world expects us to demonstrate maturity as office seekers and voters.


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