For the discerning, the violence that engulfed the All Progressives Congress governorship rally on January 8 is a foretaste of what lies ahead of the February general election. In broad daylight, rival National Union of Road Transport Workers members attacked one another and innocent party supporters as the APC candidate, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, inaugurated his campaign in Ikeja. It was a terrifying show of shame, which ended in injuries, stabbings and deaths. It is deeply disturbing that 20 years into the Fourth Republic, political violence has been consolidated as one of the channels of political contest.
In the viral video of the turmoil, thugs were seen unleashing violence on people. They dispossessed them of their phones, money and other personal effects. Gunshots rent the air, forcing attendees to flee. For an intra-party exercise, this is frightening. It can be partly traced to the winner-takes-it-all nature of politics in Nigeria: the political class fights tooth and nail to get into office.
Strangely, during the chaos, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode tried valiantly to deliver his speech. But when the mayhem peaked, he too was forced to abandon the rally. Sanwo-Olu gave a schematic vote of thanks; the rally ended abruptly. When a governor and top state officials are at a rally, security should be guaranteed. In Nigeria, it is the reverse. The melee thus hallmarks the insecurity in the country.
In all, three persons reportedly died in the mayhem. No fewer than nine others were stabbed; two journalists were seriously injured. The most “prominent” victim was Musiliu Akinsanya aka MC Oluomo. There are insinuations that the ranking NURTW official is an electoral asset, being close to the political leadership in the state. Political bigwigs reportedly frequented his hospital bed to identify with him before he was discharged. Media reports stated that the police posted scores of officers to man the hospital, as if he was a public official. By doing so, these politicians and the police authorities are glorifying violence and touting.
These days, bloodshed, kidnapping, robbery and political brigandage have combined to make life miserable, nasty, short and brutish. This does not augur well for Nigerians, who yearn for issue-based campaigns and politics devoid of violence.
Like Lagos, Political mayhem is already getting out of hand in some other states. In Kwara, the plague cuts across the two major parties – the APC and the Peoples Democratic Party. Supporters of these two parties attacked one another recently in Ilorin, the state capital. The APC governorship candidate, AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, had a close shave with death when thugs fired indiscriminately during the party’s rally. AbdulRazaq claimed that two of his supporters died in the shootings. At the same time, rival party supporters attacked the neighbourhood of Senate President, Bukola Saraki, in the city, inflicting injuries on residents.
Political violence has also birthed in Enugu State. Last December, the campaign office of a factional APC governorship candidate was attacked. Two buses were torched and three others vandalised. On January 13, the Enugu State Police Command said that three space vehicles and three medium sized buses belonging to the PDP were set ablaze in the state capital. Three persons were reportedly killed in Wukari after thugs attacked the campaign team of the Taraba State APC governorship candidate, Sani Abubakar, last week.
Last May, rival APC hoodlums sacked a Rivers State High Court in Port Harcourt, which was about to deliver its ruling in a suit on which faction was the authentic one. At least two deaths were recorded. In Ebonyi State, one death was recorded during the APC primaries for the House of Representatives for the Ikwo/Ezza South Constituency in October 2018.
In Nigeria’s do-or-die politics, NURTW kingpins and their foot soldiers have been hijacked as tools for violence and bloodbath. They translate their fight for supremacy in union affairs to politics, where politicians, who are ready to win by crooked means, recruit, pay and arm them to achieve their personal agenda. In 2008, Saka Saula, an NURTW kingpin, was shot dead in his Iyana-Ipaja home in Lagos. Much earlier, Bayo “Success” Ogundare was notorious in the Second Republic in Lagos for masterminding stunning violence on behalf of politicians.
To curb this trend, the police must be proactive. With sophisticated equipment, law enforcement can identify troublemakers. By undertaking a forensic analysis of the video of the APC rally in Lagos, the police can fish out the perpetrators of the violence, especially those who attacked people with machetes, knives and guns. Without prosecuting the offenders, it is impossible to rein in political violence. Therefore, the police should bring all the actors in the fracas to book.
Going forward, open street campaigns should only be approved when there is an adequate number of police to monitor rallies. In recognition of the combustible politics that is growing in its territory, Kwara has temporarily banned open rallies. Although it is a tough call, this could force politicians to employ other means of engaging in electioneering.
So, politicians should not associate with gangsters. Elsewhere, doing otherwise earns them rejection from voters. This was why Emmanuel Macron, the French president, fired his then bodyguard and security adviser, Alexandre Benalla, after he was filmed attacking a May Day protester in 2018. Conversely, NURTW chiefs are protected by state agents. This is sickening. The police should move against those who persist in this perfidy.