The attack on former Central Bank Governor Charles Chukwuma Soludo and the murder of three of his security men in the last week of March 2021 has resonated, unfortunately, the diabolical nature of politics in Nigeria. The political environment is too violent for any decent man or woman to operate in. What happened to Soludo was most unfortunate. It was obvious the attack was aimed to eliminate him, given that three of his security aides lost their lives during the shoot-out.
The incident was unexpected. It was deadly, particularly as it took place at an event in Soludo’s own community. If a man is not safe in his community of origin, where else do you expect the man to feel safeguarded and protected?
Whatever might be the motive for the attack, politics cannot be ruled out completely. The Anambra State governorship election is scheduled to take place on November 6 this year. And Soludo is a frontline candidate to contest that position. That much information is out there in the public domain. Notwithstanding this fact, no one expected this level of extreme violence directed at Soludo eight months ahead of the election. Anambra State has never been associated with open display of violent behaviour by political candidates before or during any election.
The prize for office of governor is high. It is an enviable position but, I would argue, it is not a golden trophy for which anyone would like to sacrifice their life. Life is too important, precious, and treasured to be wasted in the course of seeking a political office. Elections come and go. There might be winners and there might be losers. But, like elections, the winners and the losers will not last forever. That is why life is ephemeral.
The attack on Soludo might have occurred in a local community setting but the implications will be felt outside the community and Anambra State. It has set off uneasiness about what is likely to happen in future elections that will follow the state governorship election in November.
Nigerian politicians are known for their philosophy of do-or-die. It is embedded in that pointless idea that they must eliminate their opponents rather than lose an election. It is politics of bitterness. It is politics that does not brook or accept the existence of challengers. It is no different to what you will find in an animal kingdom where rivalry is not allowed.
Our politics differs significantly from the way politics is played in the civilised world. Rather than recognise and harness the talents of candidates, politicians aim to extinguish the lives of their rivals so they can have the space to operate without opposition.
As the attack on Soludo suggested, long before the state governorship election and indeed long before the 2023 national election, despondent politicians have been engineering plots to force themselves on voters. When voters are unwilling to be intimidated or harassed, politicians contrive evil plans to incapacitate their adversaries.
Unprecedented levels of aggression must be considered against the background of an atmosphere in which political candidates do not accept official election results. It is important to examine and understand why political candidates use threatening words and violence during election campaigns. Every candidate makes no secret of their willpower to emerge triumphant through infringement of the rules. There is a bit of resoluteness about the way politicians gear up for elections. They see defeat as an inexcusable option.
In September 2018, former Foreign Affairs Minister, Ibrahim Gambari, examined the atmosphere leading to the 2019 general election and noted the prevalence of inflammatory language. He said quick actions must be taken to avert further spread of bitterness that could scuttle the entire election process. Gambari cautioned that lawlessness must be avoided before and during an election.
In a similar expression of concern, Major-General David Jemibewon (rtd) conveyed his sadness over the chaotic situation in Nigeria months before the 2019 election. He said in an interview published in The Sun of Saturday, September 8, 2018: “I am very disappointed in the way things are moving in the country. Nigeria does not seem to be making progress in areas where we think we would have improved and moved forward. We seem to have gone back to the reverse so that we are far behind what we used to be. We should be making progress in every field but we do not seem to be making progress anywhere except in negative efforts.”
Confrontational words used by politicians on campaign platforms are a cause for concern. They are an indication of what is to come in 2023. Beyond the use of provocative words, political candidates are busy accumulating lethal weapons they plan to deploy to tilt the outcomes of elections in their favour. It is this narrow-mindedness, the winner-takes-all mentality, and the use of hostile language that suggest that expectations of peaceful elections in 2023 might just be an illusion, the senseless search for an unattainable target.
Part of the reason why we must worry about the prevalence of violence months before election of any kind is the impact it would have on everyone’s psyche. When voters believe that elections are not worth having in Nigeria because of pervasive breaches of electoral laws, voter turnout could be low. A general election that lacks credibility and public support is not worth the valuable time and financial investment that are made by citizens and the government.
The danger we all face is that, if the 2023 general election is disrupted by unparalleled violence, it could trigger a chain of events that could potentially result in the breakup of Nigeria. In 2023, the willingness of Nigerian politicians to appreciate the election process, respect voters, and accept election results will be on test. How political candidates behave during campaigns and during elections will serve as a measure of their readiness to accept the verdict of voters.
Peaceful conduct of election remains the objective of the government and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). But it is a goal that has repeatedly overwhelmed INEC, and challenged its preparedness ahead of every election. For the past six decades, only a handful of general elections conducted in Nigeria could be deemed to be unrestricted, even-handed, trustworthy, and non-violent.
Nigerian politicians and their supporters showcase the despicable side of democracy that is marked by violence, vote-buying, ballot box-snatching, intimidation of voters, and audacious thumb-printing of ballot papers even before the election. These are the hallmarks of the primitive brand of democracy. It is the democracy that privileges politicians who disrupt election processes over those who uphold the rule of law.
It was Waziri Ibrahim, Second Republic politician and founder of the Great Nigeria People’s Party (GNPP), who preached the gospel of “politics without bitterness”. His political creed captured the attention of everyone, including his political opponents. In advocating his philosophy, Waziri argued that, even in a strained political environment, politicians could still be refined in their behaviour and their words.
The current cohort of Nigerian politicians must learn to be civil, polished, gracious, accommodating, and considerate. Political office is not everything. Life must continue after an election.