Election-related violence, leading to the destruction of property, killings and arson, is on the rise across the country and already attracting local and international attention. From Oyo State to Lagos State, Cross River State to Rivers State, and Kwara State to Edo State, violence has returned to the political space with fierce intensity. In a recent report, the International Crisis Group, said Nigeria’s politics could slide dangerously towards violence before, during and after the February 2015 elections. With about two months to the polls, mitigating bloodshed requires urgent improvements in security and electoral arrangements, as well as in political mindsets.
The setting looks strikingly familiar. As the ICG painted the scenario, factional feuds within the two leading parties could degenerate into violence during their national and state primaries. Competing claims to the Presidency, between northern leaders and their Niger Delta counterparts, could also result in violence in either or both regions, particularly after the polls. As was the case in 2011, clashes could erupt in some northern states if the All Progressives Congress picks a northerner as its torch-bearer and he loses the polls; there is similarly a high risk of violence if the Peoples Democratic Party loses the presidency, particularly in the Niger Delta, home region of the party’s candidate, President Goodluck Jonathan.
Although inter-party elections start in February, already, in-house (party) primaries have been a theatre of unrestrained violence. Oyo State exploded in violence late in November when thugs descended on the campaign team of Governor Abiola Ajimobi in Ibadan, the state capital. The thugs, who wielded assorted weapons, killed a policeman, wounded others and destroyed valuable property.
Two days later, in what looked like a reprisal, hoodlums violated the peace of different areas in the state capital. One of those affected in the mayhem was Rashidi Ladoja, the former governor of the state, whose late father’s house was burnt down. In spite of the fact that a security officer was killed, nothing tangible has been done by the police to bring the perpetrators to justice other than the usual inconsequential arrests that end up in botched prosecutions.
In Lagos, four persons were brutally murdered last week as the APC conducted its legislative primaries in the Ebute-Meta area of the state. Several cars were vandalised and shops looted in the mayhem. “They (the attackers) were about 100. They had double-barrelled guns, cutlasses and other weapons. They shot in the air and attacked people,” a perplexed resident said. The PDP primaries in the state have been no less combustible. The precincts of the party’s headquarters have been a “no-go” area for some time now.
In Cross River, the PDP headquarters in Calabar, the state capital, was engulfed by a bomb attack late in November. The secretariat had been shut following the acrimonious PDP congress of November 1. In Kwara State, the PDP primaries in the Ilorin West Local Government Area degenerated into large-scale violence. Three persons were killed in skirmishes among party thugs in the past few weeks. The development is deeply worrying.
The police have issued notices of the dangerous road ahead as the contest for lucrative political offices gathers momentum. Police commissioners in Lagos, Edo and Ogun states have complained that politicians are stockpiling massive weapons to be used before and during the elections. Of serious concern, however, is the seeming helplessness of the police in the spiralling violence. Nigeria lost its way in the First Republic (1960-1966) largely because the police failed to deal with the violence that attended the 1965 elections. Instead of being answerable to the constitution, the police were used in a spurious state of emergency declared in the old Western Region, a development that resulted in Operation weti e, and the eventual military coup of January 15, 1966. Behaving in the same partisan manner, the police contributed to the downfall of the Second Republic by aiding the ruling party’s electoral heist in 1983.
This is another defining moment for our country. The power of coercion resides with the state, as represented by a security agency like the police. Police chiefs should take the bull by the horns and strip politicians of the capacity to cause violence. To prevent history from repeating itself, we must learn some real lessons from our past. Politicians are conducting themselves in open defiance of the law. Their “win at all costs” attitude could spell disaster for the civil political experiment, though it has lasted for 15 unbroken years. Public office must be seen as an avenue to serve the people. Politicians must eschew their do-or-die attitude to get to office if they are really determined to drag Nigeria out of its malaise.
We anticipate that as the general election date draws closer, desperate politicians will stop at nothing to grab power. The police need a change of strategy. The Inspector-General of Police, Suleiman Abba, appears not to have a well-articulated solution to contain the surging violence. He must move the police away from the heat of partisan warring. He can start by setting targets for state commissioners of police to reduce violence in their commands.