Political violence is gradually rearing its ugly head again in Nigeria. Campaigns for the 2023 general election are ongoing. Rather than discuss issues and woo the electorate with good manifestoes, some politicians have decided to throw a spanner in the works of Nigeria’s democracy by goading their supporters and thugs into unleashing violence on innocent people and political opponents.
On Wednesday, November 9, 2022, there were reports that the campaign convoy of the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, was attacked in Maiduguri. One person reportedly died and over 100 people were said to have been injured and hospitalised while many vehicles were vandalised. The spokesman of the PDP Presidential Campaign Team, Dino Melaye, blamed the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the attack. The ruling party, Melaye said, deployed their thugs to attack their convoy with stones, sticks, machetes as they left the Shehu of Borno’s palace for Ramat Square that fateful day. The APC, the Borno State Government and the Borno State Police Command had denied the allegations though, saying the rally held peacefully.
A similar incident occurred in Lagos in October against the campaign train of the Lagos PDP governorship candidate, Dr. Olajide Adediran, popularly known as Jandor. According to reports, a group of miscreants waylaid the campaign team while returning from visitation to members of the party at the Badagry area of the state. Many members of the entourage reportedly sustained injuries. In Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, it was also alleged that some hoodlums attacked and injured supporters of the APC during a campaign rally in October. The rally was in support of the presidential candidate of the party, Bola Tinubu, and the governorship candidate, Teslim Folarin, and other candidates of the party.
Also last month, there were similar allegations of attacks on the PDP presidential campaign rally in Kaduna State by political thugs. This prompted the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu, to express some worries, saying recent developments had diminished the essence of the peace accord signed recently by political parties.
Beyond physical attacks, there have been some other incidents which portray intolerance on the part of some political parties. In some states, opposition parties are denied access to government media. They are not also allowed to erect their billboards or use other public utilities for campaigns. This is against Section 95(2) of the Electoral Act which warns that state apparatus including the media shall not be employed to the advantage or disadvantage of any political party or candidate at any election. All these violent and intolerant tendencies did not start today. In the First and Second Republic, Nigeria contended with a good dose of this problem. ‘Operation Wetie’, the political crisis which occurred in the South-West in the early 1960s, is a typical example. That crisis, precipitated largely by the political struggle for power between Chiefs Ladoke Akintola and Obafemi Awolowo, led to the destruction of many lives and property and engendered the January 15, 1966 coup. In the Second Republic, some politicians armed thugs in different states and used them to attack their opponents.
The INEC Chairman had warned recently that the spate of insecurity in the country might affect the work of the commission. He expressed worry over the security of the commission’s officials, materials and even voters themselves. We pray the attack on rallies do not graduate to attacks on voters on the Election Day. Earlier in September, INEC rolled out the guidelines for political campaigns. Among these guidelines is prohibition of physical attacks on supporters of any one party by another or destruction of campaign materials.
Even the Electoral Act 2022 also provides the dos and don’ts on political campaigns and elections. Attacks on political rallies clearly contravene Sections 91(4) and 93(1) of the Electoral Act. Section 92(5) of the Act stipulates that “a political party, aspirant or candidate of a political party shall not retain, organise, train or equip any person or group of persons for the purpose of enabling them to be employed for the use or display of physical force or coercion in promoting any political objective or interests, or in such manner as to arouse reasonable apprehension that they are organised, trained or equipped for that purpose.” In his Democracy Day speech this year, President Muhammadu Buhari promised to provide free, fair and transparent elections in 2023. We must note that free and fair polls start with adequate security before, during and after elections.
We condemn the attacks on political rallies and urge political parties, their candidates and supporters to help to curb this ugly trend. They should adhere strictly to the code of conduct for political campaigns. They must not obstruct or interfere with any meeting, rally or any campaign activity of another party. And they must instruct their members and supporters not to carry arms or any object that can cause injury to a political rally or any other political function. It is incumbent on security agencies to deal with attacks on political rallies. They are expected to provide adequate security during rallies and throughout the political campaign period.
INEC should ensure that it enforces the guidelines it has given for campaigns. It should not just monitor the rallies and campaigns, it should ensure that it’s violence-free. Any breach of these guidelines should be severely punished.