The Abuja Accord signed by the presidential candidates of the political parties commits them, their agents, and their parties to violence-free elections. Against the backdrop of campaigns that are largely characterised by emotiveness, threats and hate speeches, personal attacks, and mere promises of great things to come, the agreement was a good step that should reduce the pervasive fears. This, unfortunately, has not been borne out by events since.
From Lagos where a certain Eyitayo Peters was killed in inter-party fracas the other day through Jos and Suleja where the buses of the PDP presidential campaign were burnt, to Bauchi, Taraba and Katsina where the convoy of President Goodluck Jonathan was pelted with stones, there is cause to believe that the desire for peaceful campaign and electioneering shared among the top hierarchies of the political parties have not percolated down to their supporters. Notwithstanding the possibility of irresponsible acts here and there by rogue supporters, it would appear that both the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) are yet to instil sufficient discipline in their members. It behoves respective party leadership to ensure that their supporters adhere to the letter and spirit of the Abuja Accord. Indeed, this is the first test of the capability of any political party to manage a more complex and far larger Nigeria.
It is a matter for regret, indeed shame, that a decade and a half into the practice of multi-party democracy, electoral contest in Nigeria still gives patriotic Nigerians, as well as the world, sleepless nights so much that foreign countries, small and big, have cause to offer either advice or issue warning on good behaviour to Nigeria’s political actors. The U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry has visited with a warning that persons linked with election violence will be denied entry visa into his country. That speaks much for the low esteem in which the Nigerian political elite and their collaborators are held by outsiders.
At the root of this disheartening situation is, for obvious reasons, the politics of desperation played by public office seekers.
In this country and in these times, the legitimate and not-so-legitimate reward for public office is stupendous to the point of obscenity. Some have even appropriately described political office in Nigeria as the passport into ‘financial heaven’. This in turn explains why most aspirants would kill, maim, and destroy by themselves or through their paid thugs, not to serve the public but for self-service. The point needs to be made, therefore, that whatever party forms the next government, it is extremely necessary – and a matter of patriotism too – that legislation must be enacted and firmly implemented to make public office less financially attractive.
Besides the presidential campaign that is heating up the polity, governorship candidates and other contestants for various political posts are making unguarded statements and unleashing mayhem, interparty and even intra-party squabbles are acted out on the streets to the inconvenience of all Nigerians. Clearly, political maturity and tolerance are lacking in the conduct of Nigerian politicians as indicated, for example, by PDP-APC dispute the other day over the use of a stadium in Port Harcourt. In view of this, and also given the passion with which political beliefs are held, besides other motives, it may be too much to expect absolutely violence-free electioneering.
However, to minimise violence in the coming elections, all the political parties should as a matter of urgency, ensure the buy-in of the Abuja Accord by the leadership at the state, local government, and ward levels. Indeed, local leaders must be held vicariously liable and punished accordingly for the misbehaviour that occurs within their immediate environment and which brings the party into disrepute. Secondly, for too long, election-related violence had gone largely unpunished. The crime and punishment mechanism must be fully activated to deter unruly elements. In this connection, it is noteworthy that both President Goodluck Jonathan and the inspector-general of police have repeatedly warned against acts of violence. Now is the time that they must walk their talk.
If, indeed, the desire is to serve Nigeria and its people, all the political parties, their candidates and their supporters must eschew violence in these elections.