It is only one month since INEC blew the whistle for the campaigns to begin. And within that one month there have been serious cases of campaign violence and related incidents. The most prominent is perhaps the harassment of the campaign convoy of the former Vice President and presidential candidate of the PDP, Mr Atiku Abubakar. The thugs pelted the Atiku’s convoy while on its way to the Palace of the Shehu of Borno. Several vehicles were said to be vandalised while 70 persons were hospitalised. The Borno State PDP Chairman, Zamna Gaddama alleged that the attack was carried out by some miscreants from the APC. He said that the attack occurred at three points from the airport to the Shehu of Borno’s palace. On the other hand the Director of Media and Publicity for the APC Presidential Campaign Council, Mr Bayo Onanuga said that the attack could be the result of the infighting in the Borno State chapter of the PDP. He insisted that the APC had no hand in the attack.
Eventhough both the APC and PDP had confirmed that indeed the Atiku convoy had been attacked the Borno State Police Spokesman, Assistant Superintendent of Police, Sani Mohammed said that there was no attack of the convoy at all because the State Commissioner of Police was even there. This crude denial didn’t stand because the Inspector General of Police, Usman Baba was quick to shoot down the denial. He said that the Spokesman spoke too soon, meaning, in plain language, that the Spokesman lied. He confirmed that an attack indeed occurred and that the police are investigating it.
This is not the first time that Atiku’s convoy has been attacked. His team had come under similar attack during a rally in Kaduna on October 17 this year. This happened a few days after thugs attacked the supporters of the party in Zamfara State leading to the death of one person while several others sustained injuries. It is clear that these attacks are directed at the convoys and supporters of the three leading parties APC, PDP, LP as well as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Just last week, the Ogun State office of INEC was torched and 65, 000 PVCs were destroyed. Why INEC which is not contesting in any of the elections is a target baffles me. Is it that they do not want elections conducted or they simply want chaos in that area of our life as a nation?
In March last year, the INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu said that 11 offices, 1105 ballot boxes, 694 voting cubicles, 429 electric generating sets and 13 Toyota Hilux vehicles had been lost. This occurred mainly in the South Eastern states of the country. The idea is either to undermine the country’s effort at cementing our democracy or simply to destabilise the country. Neither of them is desirable because it means that these vital assets have to be replaced from time to time with money that could have been used to do something useful. Of course, it is on record that many INEC offices and equipment have been attacked and vandalised over the years, and the Commission had to find the funds to replace them.
Now INEC’s woes have increased a few months to the elections. Flood has overrun at least 20 of its offices. This means that new offices have to be found in flood-free parts of the country while the damaged or destroyed assets have to be replaced if the elections have to be held as scheduled.
To compound its problems INEC is grappling with 600 court cases. Some cases are genuine while most of them are frivolous. The habit has been formed by many Nigerian politicians who either lose primary elections within their parties or who seek to earn tickets for which they are not qualified to go to the courts for redemption. That puts INEC in a difficult situation, much like being between the rock and the hard place. INEC has to decide whether to obey its own procedure or to yield to the decision of the courts whether fair or foul. And because there are several layers of courts that determine these cases, INEC’s problem becomes more complicated as it sometimes has to wait for the matter to be decided by the Supreme Court.
INEC is worried not only by the attacks on its offices but also by the emerging trend of party supporters being attacked by opposing parties. So far it is the three major parties that have been victims of attacks. What that means is that most of the attacks are probably initiated by political opponents who want to disrupt the campaigns of opposing parties that they believe are strong contenders for votes. That is why none of the wannabe parties is complaining of attacks on their party convoys or supporters. One way of reducing these conflicts is for the parties and the police in all states to agree on different dates, venues and time for campaigns. When this is done then the police must enforce those decisions stringently to avoid conflicts. Any violation of such an agreement that leads to violence will amount to a violation of the Electoral Act 2022.
We are told that there are more than eight million arms in illegal hands in Nigeria. That is why there is so much violence in various parts of the country. The police must make serious efforts to recover these arms from those who hold them illegally, because in this election season they are likely to be used to inflict violence and try to change the will of the voting public. There is too much violence inflicted on the public already by an assortment of criminals. We do not need election violence to be added to the trauma to which we are currently subjected. President Muhammadu Buhari has warned the various parties to rein in their thugs and hooligans and give the country the opportunity to have free, fair and credible elections in 2023. This is an assignment for the candidates but the truth of the matter is that these thugs and hooligans are sponsored by the candidates at various levels. That is why violence has become an undesirable part of our elections. It is the politicians that sponsor violence because they want to win by hook or crook. And why do they want to win by hook or crook? It is because political offices in Nigeria are the most lucrative in the whole world. It will take more than verbal warnings to achieve violence-free elections. The Peace Accord Committee working with various peace-loving organisations, should monitor compliance of the terms of agreement that politicians at the governorship and presidential levels sign. Also I believe that the enactment of the Electoral offences and Tribunal Act by the National Assembly will serve as a deterrent to the commission of offences related to campaigns and elections. One hopes that the National Assembly will pluck up the courage to pass the bill before its tenure runs out in June next year. That will be a major contribution to election sanity in the country. Infact, the time to deal with it is now because the federal legislators, like most other politicians, are in the field campaigning already. If this bill is not passed now it may not receive the attention of the National Assembly when in the months to come it will not be able to form a quorum for legislative business.
I have seen on NTA, an advertisement by the National Orientation Agency (NOA) condemning election violence and other vices. This advertisement should be extended to other electronic and print media because we need massive publicity to discourage perpetrators of violence. The Government can negotiate with the various media for concessionary advert rates so that this message can be widely disseminated on all platforms, including social and traditional media. This ought to be a national campaign massively conducted on a multiplicity of media outlets throughout the country while the security agencies step up their push for a violence free campaign and election. This ought to be the concern of everybody, politicians and non-politicians alike because when violence occurs nobody can be sure who will get caught in its web.
I sympathise with the INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu because while he and his colleagues would certainly want to do a good job by conducting elections that are seen to be manifestly free, fair and credible a number of obstacles are piled on his way. Not the least is this issue of violence which is beyond his own control. He has been holding meetings with the security agencies on how to have violence-free elections but it is obvious that the security agencies are already overstretched and overwhelmed by the massive violence in the polity. They have had to deal with not only Boko Haram terrorists but other terrorists, bandits, armed robbers, kidnappers and assassins who are compounding the country’s intractable security situation. So INEC is dealing with problems that are not part of its portfolio, problems of insecurity, problems of multiple court cases in multiple courts, problems of conflicting court cases by various courts, and also the problem of money in a country where lack of money has become a major governance problem. Added to this is the alleged push by some disgruntled politicians who think that they may be on the wrong side of INEC’s decision to get Yakubu replaced. That is why all lovers of democracy must fully support INEC to conduct free, fair and credible elections. That is the choice of Nigerians. That is the choice of Nigeria.