Thursday, January 13, 2011

Reward as incentive for electoral violence

April 2011 polls in Nigeria looms. Preparations are at fever pitch by the various actors and stakeholders in the electoral process. Independent National Electoral Commission had blown the whistle for the official commencement of preparations for the general elections with the release of timetable for the polls on 23 November 2010. One of the key institutions in the electoral process is the political party who fields candidates to contest the elections.

Up from three in 1999, 30 in 2003, 50 in 2007, now 63 political parties have been registered to participate in the 2011 polls. In accordance with INEC’s timetable, and also in consonance with section 87 of Electoral Act 2010 which stipulates the candidates’ nomination process, political parties have between 26 November 2010 and 15 January 2011 for the conduct of their primaries.

With the commencement of active politicking, incidences of electoral violence have soared. It is noteworthy that electoral violence refers to all forms of organised acts or threats be it physical, psychological or structural aimed at intimidating, harming, blackmailing political stakeholders before, during and after an election with a view to determining, delaying or otherwise influencing the electoral process. Physical violence is the most recognisable form of electoral violence.

The manifestation of these are in assassinations and attempted assassinations, attacks on party offices and contestants’ homes, fights between supporters of rival parties, factions and candidates, riots and rampages, etc. Psychological violence involves the use of intimidation and harassment by politicians and their supporters, while structural violence occurs when exclusionary or discriminatory policies are taken against certain groups. Part of the manifestation of structural violence is the setting of stringent condition for party nomination and constant shift in date and time for party primaries or convention.

All the aforementioned forms of violence have been on the increase in Nigeria in the last couple of months. Some of the incidences of kidnapping are politically motivated. One of such is the abduction in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State in October 2010 of the wife of former Military Administrator of Ogun State, Sam Ewang by unknown gunmen who apart from demanding for huge ransom also asked the former MILAD to drop his gubernatorial ambition before his wife could be released. The twin bombing in Abuja on 1 October 2010, the 2010 Christmas Eve bombings in Jos and the New Year eve bombing in Mogadishu barracks in Abuja have all been said to be politically motivated.

Furthermore, the murder of Oyo State factional leader of National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Alhaji Lateef Salako (alias Eleweomo) at the venue of Oyo State Peoples Democratic Party congress in Ona Ara Local Government Area on Thursday, 30 December 2010 as well as the murder on Saturday, 1 January 2011 of Dr. Akpan Akpudo, a PDP Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly aspirant in Uyo, were other cases in point.

The question is, why do the political elites take pleasure in maiming and killing people if their motive, as they often claim, is to serve the people? My hypothesis is that most of the members of Nigeria’s political class are actually in politics for personal aggrandisement and not for altruistic reasons. Moreover, there is a correlation between the humongous emoluments members of the Nigerian ruling class receive for doing little or nothing and the lure of various contestants to adopt Machiavellian principle of ‘the end justifies the means’ in the pursuit of their political ambition. Nigeria currently operates the principle of ‘winners-take-all’ under the first-past-the-post electoral system otherwise known as ‘majoritarian’ system where by virtue of as small as one vote, one contestant wins everything while the defeated candidates lose everything and are left to lick their wounds or electoral misfortunes. This iniquitous system is what the Justice Uwais Electoral Reform Committee wants to change by proposing the adoption of the Proportional Representation (PR) system which would have spread the benefit of elections. Unfortunately, the Executive Council of the Federation, the Council of State and the National Assembly rejected this laudable idea.

Another contributory factor to the increased incidences of electoral violence is the culture of impunity which has by error of omission or commission been instituted in Nigeria so much so that culprits or perpetrators of electoral violence escaped justice. High rate of unemployment and poverty have equally provided a fertile ground for recruitment of miscreants to be used as foot soldiers for perpetration of electoral violence.

In order to mitigate these pervasive incidences of electoral violence, efforts must be made to considerably reduce the perks of office for political office holders. The current situation where the political elites, some of whom are of blinking intelligence, use all manner of foul means to access political office only to amass unconscionable wealth does not augur well for Nigeria’s electoral democracy and national development. In some developed democracies, persons in government are there to serve the interest of the public. Not so in Nigeria! A pauper of today, once he or she is able to scheme his or her way into political office within few months becomes ‘stinking’ rich, all because of the perverted reward system of the office. True, politics is about authoritative allocation of values, however, such values being dispensed must not have deleterious effect on the society.

As preparations are in top gear for the 2011 general elections, our armed forces must be overhauled to engage in pro-active and preventive security. The intelligence gathering departments of all the security agencies must be properly staffed and equipped to forestall crimes and criminality as well as respond rapidly when they occur. Arrowheads and masterminds of electoral violence must be fished out alongside their foot-soldiers and prosecuted in the law court. The credibility of 2011 elections is not only hinged on making votes count, but also on having a free poll devoid of bloodshed, intimidation and destruction.