The November 16 Kogi State governorship election has been won and lost at the polls. Further battles, if any, will have to shift to the courtroom. As usual but sadly in an upgraded fashion, the election was trailed by violence, bloodletting, tears and bizarre killings by non-state actors in virtually all parts of the state. However, the most hideous of these barbarous acts happened in Ochadamu in Ofu Local Government Area of the state, shortly after the declaration of Mr. Yahaya Bello as the winner of the governorship election. Some suspected political thugs allegedly locked up Salome Acheju Abuh, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Woman Leader, in her house and doused the house with petrol, before setting it ablaze. The house was razed and so was the human content in it that became unrecognisable charred remains while the perpetrators of the gruesome act and a senseless crowd reportedly cheered wildly. It was an organised post-election violence that happened in broad daylight and perhaps for hours without the intervention of security agents to salvage the situation. In other words, for a considerable period, Ochadamu, that tiny portion of Nigeria, was in a Hobbesian state of nature where everyone did what they pleased. It was a tale of barbaric and horrendous spectacle that diminishes humanity.
Given the enormity of the cruel act and its implications for orderliness in the society, and in particular the rule of law, it is disappointing that the presidency’s reaction came very late. It took six clear days after the incident before President Muhammadu Buhari through Femi Adesina, one of his media aides, issued a release condemning the act and calling for a painstaking investigation that would culminate in the apprehension and punishment of the culprits. According to him, “President Buhari charges all security agencies involved in the investigation to do a thorough and expeditious job on the matter, so that justice could be served without fear or favour.” The president’s statement in the circumstance was apposite except that it should have been released much earlier. Even if the presidency wanted to get its facts right before issuing a statement, that should not have taken nearly a week. All that was needed was to confirm the veracity of the incident from the security agencies, all of which are at its beck and call.
It is noteworthy that there had been releases by the United Nations and other international bodies and it is in fact being suggested in some quarters that it was the embarrassment that forced the president to talk. Nonetheless, the presidency is known for its uncanny penchant for tardiness. This is uncalled for, irrespective of its motives. Perhaps it should be stressed that the aphorism, ‘Slow and steady wins the race’, is fast yielding ground to another one that harps on ‘speed and accuracy’ in the interest of rapid socioeconomic progress, especially in climes like Nigeria where there is a yawning developmental gap to be filled. And indeed, in a special and emergency situation such as the one at issue, no leadership has the luxury of reticence or vacillation. It would be construed as unfeeling, insensitive or interested.
Not a few have even observed that the president congratulated the winner almost immediately after the independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) announcement, saying that Mr. Bello’s victory was hard-won. And the question is being asked as to why a congratulatory message could be issued with spontaneous immediacy but the official position on the ghoulish act in Ochadamu could not be made public in like manner. Interestingly, it was only after the president reacted that the police arrested suspects. Would the police have said or done anything if the president did not speak up? Certainly, it is in the interest of the citizenry that the presidency endeavours to always give the right body language and speak up timeously whenever necessary in order to give the right signals to the security agencies to do their job. This is imperative because, whether anyone is willing to acknowledge it or not, the security agencies see regime security as their primary duty, any other mandate is secondary and largely depends on the disposition of the government.
The murder of Salome Abuh, especially the macabre circumstances around it, raises question about the level of respect some people have for the sanctity of human life when the contending issue is political contestation. And it may be difficult to stymie a recurrence unless some primary questions are addressed, including the appropriateness of the electoral system, the timeliness and decisiveness of official reaction to acts of electoral violence, and more importantly, the disproportionate reward for electoral victory that literally catapults victors from penury to stupendous affluence overnight. It is axiomatic that when the stake is high, contestants tend to get desperate.
There is also the annoying submission that Abuh’s murder was carried out in retaliation. How can any sane person trivialise murder by saying that it was a reprisal? Even if it was a reprisal, does that take anything away from its being criminal? Has the rule of law been so relegated that reprisal has become a tenable excuse for criminality? Perhaps the police should obtain some useful information from those who are alleging a reprisal because they obviously have more information about the chilling incident than ordinary Nigerians. To be sure, we are aware that violence is not the exclusive preserve of any political party. Virtually all major political parties engage in acts of unabashed aggression and barbarism. But even at that, the law does not permit anyone to resort to self-help when he/she is wronged. Recourse must always be made to the justice system, as imperfect as it seems.
Meanwhile, the police having failed woefully to avert the needless disaster must now ensure that the murder suspects they claimed to have arrested are painstakingly investigated and diligently prosecuted. The killers must be served their just deserts.