Reports of political thugs and youths pelting the entourage of President Goodluck Jonathan with stones represent a dangerous dimension to electioneering. Not only does this reprehensible conduct constitute a grave security risk, it also demonstrates gross disrespect to the dignity and office of the President. Political, traditional, community and religious leaders everywhere should move in quickly to rein in these unruly youths before they ignite a fatal crisis. Democracy gives the people the freedom to make choices about their lives, to develop their potential as human beings and to live free from fear, harassment and discrimination. This must be respected.
On January 30, miscreants described as “aggrieved youths,” attacked the convoy of the President while he was in Jalingo, Taraba State, in continuation of his re-election campaign. Reports said that the convoy was pelted with stones as it moved towards Muri from the Jalingo airport. Though the President was unhurt, some vehicles in the motorcade had shattered windscreens and windows.
But that was neither the first attack on Jonathan while on the hustings, nor was it an isolated case. Several days earlier, his entourage had been subjected to a similar barrage of attacks with stones and water sachets as he addressed a rally at the Bauchi city square. Again, vehicles were damaged and clashes ensued between the thugs and security men. Also, in Katsina and Daura, Katsina State, thugs and other miscreants hurled stones as the President’s convoy moved into the North-Western state to sell his candidature to the electorate. The harassment continued in Adamawa and Gombe states, where stone throwers were at their nefarious game.
This is an unacceptable activity that should not be allowed to become part of our already sordid political culture. Instead of treating it as a continuation of their political rivalry, the leading political parties should rise above partisan posturing and join forces to stamp out the madness.
Unchecked, it has the potential to provoke a political crisis. For one thing, the President travels with a full complement of security personnel – Police, Department of State Services guards and soldiers. All are heavily armed and are primed to react to any security threat against him. A hasty reaction could cause the deaths of the stone throwers and bystanders. The fallout could provoke riots.
In our own peculiar polity, where 101 years of amalgamation has not forged a nation, but remains an agglomeration of often mutually hostile nationalities, sects and regions, the reactions will further polarise the country. Already, Niger Delta militants, who have been threatening for over three years to resort to violence should Jonathan lose the 2015 election, are hypocritically latching on to the spate of stoning to threaten reprisals against northern ethnic nationalities.
The North’s political, traditional and religious elite have not remonstrated strongly enough with the miscreants perpetrating the outrage in their region. If Jonathan had been from their ranks and was so attacked in the southern states, would they have reacted differently? They should condemn the stone throwers with the same vigour they have condemned the ex-Niger Delta militants who have been threatening war if Jonathan is not re-elected.
The miscreants should be told that every Nigerian has a right to move freely anywhere in the country and canvass votes without being molested or assaulted. And one may not like his person or may be opposed to his policies, but Jonathan is the President and the office deserves respect and dignity. Anger at public office holders is a worldwide phenomenon, but should never degenerate into hurling harmful missiles at an official’s entourage.
In the West, pelting officials with tomatoes, pudding, eggs and custard has become an “acceptable” form of protest. Among Arabs and, lately, around the world, shoe-throwing at unpopular officials is an insult that, though uncomfortable, is less harmful than stones. Former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and the incumbent, David Cameron, have at various times been pelted with eggs and tomatoes.
In Iran, the 2009 election protests featured shoes thrown at government and opposition figures by their respective supporters. Anti-corruption protesters gathered in 2012 at the residence of the German president, waving the soles of their shoes to express disapproval of his links to a loan scandal. In 2013, Taiwan’s police spent US$16,000 to purchase 149 nets to catch shoes that were being regularly thrown at President Ma Ying-jeon by protesters!
But throwing stones is simply barbaric and such primitive practices should be firmly discouraged. They can cause much more damage than potatoes or water. The police should investigate and bring the perpetrators to book. The culpability of politicians is already evident in the revelation by Governor Isa Yuguda that it was actually some ruling party chiefs who organised the Bauchi stoning “to embarrass the governor.” Similar accusations and counter-accusations have been made by factions of the Peoples Democratic Party in Katsina, Gombe and Sokoto, including allegations of party thugs disguising as opposition party stalwarts. These and other allegations against the opposition should be investigated.
Sadly, our politicians have turned politics into merchandise and warfare. Our youths should be reminded that these elite send their own children to the best schools overseas while arming less privileged youths with stones, cutlasses, swords and guns to wreak violence on others.
Those who deplore any politician’s actions or performance can protest with their votes. Throwing stones and assaulting an entourage are criminal acts and the police should quickly apply the full weight of the law on the perpetrators.