Breaking The Jinx Of Violent Elections In Nigeria – By Ayo Oyoze Baje
“Nigerian politicians have over the years become
more desperate and daring
in taking and retaining power;
more reckless and greedy in their use and abuse of power;
and more intolerant of opposition, criticism and efforts at replacing them”
– (Electoral Reform Committee Report, 2008, Vol. 1: 19).
As the gubernatorial election in Anambra state inches closer by the day, there is growing concern for its conduct; to serve as a litmus test for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and all the stakeholders ahead of the much-touted 2023 general elections. This is more so worrisome, amidst youth restiveness, arms proliferation, amnesty for the so called ‘repentant terrorists’ up north and the killing spree in parts of the South-East geo-political zone.
So scary and heart-rending the situation has become, with the declaration of sit-at-home by the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, as well as the killings by ‘unknown gunmen’ that the candidate of Young Progressive Party (YPP), Chief Ifeanyi Ubah recently took his campaign to Lagos state. According to media reports, no fewer than 175 persons, including soldiers, policemen and civilians have been sent to their early graves in the region within the past six months! It is so sad that the value of the life of the average Nigerian has depreciated to the zero status.
This critical issue of national significance therefore, takes one back to the lecture yours truly delivered as the Guest Lecturer at the 2018 Independence Anniversary Lecture organized by Nigeria Peace Group(NPG) at Le Paris Hotel, Lekki, Lagos. The topic was: ‘Panacea for Peaceful Elections in Nigeria- Evaluating the roles of Politicians, Citizens, Security personnel, INEC and the Civil Society’. But let us begin here with what election violence truly entails.
According to Albert (2007), electoral violence involves all forms of organized acts of threats aimed at intimidating, harming, blackmailing a political stakeholder or opponent before, during and after an election. The intention is to determine, delay or influence a political process. They could occur before, during and after all forms of elections.
We are aware that free, fair, credible and peaceful elections remain the solid foundation and bedrock on which to build the house of democracy. According to authors, Anthony Egobueze and Callistus Ojirika, writing on the topic: “Electoral Violence in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic: Implications for Political Stability,” ‘Once elections are flawed, it is an invitation to violence in the state which may snowball into political instability’.
It is not as if electoral violence in Nigeria began in recent time. No! We recall that Justice George Sowemimo in his judgment in the treasonable felony against Obafemi Awolowo and his ‘accomplices’ on September 11, 1963 observed that: “On the evidence before me, it would appear that politics generally in Nigeria has been conducted with a certain amount of bitterness… Political parties are equivalent to warring camps- elections are conducted with party thugs”. That was decades ago.
Between then and now, hundreds of Nigerians have fallen victims of various forms of electoral violence, including those who fell due to politically-motivated assassinations. For instance, at least 58 Nigerians were killed in election-related violence ahead of general polls rescheduled for March 28 and April 11, amidst electoral violence. After the April 2011 presidential voting more than 800 people were killed, according to Human Rights Watch.
As one who was fortunate to be an independent observer, indeed the Senior Research Fellow of the INEC-approved Dr. Joe Odumakin-led Women Arise for Change Initiative group, the sudden reversal of fortunes for INEC and security personnel within a week of the governorship election in September 2018 calls for serious concern.
Though one was delighted, at the massive turn-out of registered voters, pointing to an effective mass enlightenment and the promptitude with which INEC and the police discharged their duties, the rude shock of INEC declaring the election as ‘inconclusive’ still rings in my memory till this day.
It claimed that the re-run election, which one refused to observe was because of the difference of votes between the two leading candidates- PDP’s Ademola Adeleke and APC’s Gboyega Oyetola. It reminds one of the 1993 presidential election believed to have been won by Chief M.K.O.,Abiola (of blessed memory) and the sudden abortion of that democratic dream.
Subsequently, there were allegations of the brazen use of fully armed thugs, to keep some PDP voters at bay, use of cutlasses and gun shots and the brutal killing of an opposition party youth leader. Others included the maiming of some others, as well as the use of more sophisticated vote-buying gimmicks. So, what is the way forward?
To move against the insidious culture of violent politicking we have to employ the Root Cause Analytical Approach, RCAA. There are some fundamental issues bedeviling the polity which we must resolve. For instance, our concept of political leadership is that of serving the self instead of the state. Instead, it is the ‘me’ and ‘I’.
Another factor militating against credible polls is mass ignorance on the part of the largely illiterate electorate on their rights and responsibilities. Many of them do not know that power belongs to the people in a democracy. What we need is servant-leadership, as former President Umar Yar,dua (of blessed memory) rightly canvassed.
Of significance is that we must also de-monitize the polity! The high cost of accessing political power, whereby a candidate pays between N10 million and N45 million for his nomination form is injurious to credible elections. His allegiance will first go to his rotten-rich political godfather rather than the state or country he is angling to serve, if he eventually wins.
We must also reduce the pay package of politicians to be in tune with civil service salary structure and law making as part time. We must restructure the current polity to diffuse and devolve power to the federating units and weaken the centre.
Furthermore, campaigns by politicians should focus on critical issues and be devoid of character assassination, mud-slinging, muck-raking, innuendoes and insults to people and places. We have to also battle the base sentiments of religion and the North-South divide, do away with hate speeches and the born-to-rule mentality. Much as we pretend to the contrary, the lines that separate us are getting deeper and wider by the day.
Since INEC is at the heart of the conduct of elections there should be integrity test for all its members of staff, so that only those who are patriotic, selfless and live above board are employed there to serve the country. INEC must be an unbiased umpire like a committed, objective and dispassionate referee in a World Cup game. Security personnel must be neutral.
Similarly, electronic transfer of results has become a sine qua non to peaceful elections, given the increasing influence of modern technology in our daily dealings. If we, as individuals conduct electronic transfer of money to people even as examination bodies do same with the students’ annual results, what should stop INEC from doing same? The current lawmakers at the National Assembly should do themselves and the country a world of good by passing the bill. And Mister President should give speedy assent to it.
We should domesticate the mission of the Center for Preventive Action (CPA) which seeks to help prevent, defuse, or resolve deadly conflicts around the world and to expand the body of knowledge on conflict prevention.
Above all, there should be special courts set up on election matters, that will ensure speedy trials for electoral offenders. Such would serve as a strong deterrence to those with the inclination to use force, fiat, violence and might-is-right machinery to brow-beat their opponents.