Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Escalating violence ahead of elections

“All of us here have passed through the electoral process furnace before now…and I suspect we would mostly agree that never before have we been subjected to this level of sheer venom, crudity of vulgar abuse of language in such prodigal quantities as in this current political exercise. The very gift of communication, considered the distinguishing mark of cultured humanity even in polemical situations, has been debased, affecting even thought processes, I often suspect.”
–Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, at a book launch recently.
On Monday, March 16, 2015, I was a guest on a radio programme anchored by a popular presenter, Inya Ode, on Nigeria Info 95.1 FM Abuja. For an hour and a half, we discussed the ugly phenomenon of hate speech in the context of the ongoing electoral campaign. The programme which was live also had audience phoning in and sending messages via social media – Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp. I was pleasantly educated by the in-depth knowledge of Nigerians about the goings on in the polity. Aside from being a regular guest of many radio and television stations discussing topical national issues, I am primarily a development worker.
In the lead up to the 2015 general election, I have been involved in a number of salutary things that could contribute to successful, credible, free, fair and peaceful polls. One of such areas I have worked assiduously is in the mitigation of election violence and peace education. I am involved in research, training and advocacy on non-violence elections. I have also been among eminent researchers for the National Association for Peaceful Elections in Nigeria on hotspots analysis and training of election violence observers; CLEEN Foundation on Security Threat Assessment and UKAID on Election Risk Analysis. I have also been involved in training of senior staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission on Alternative Dispute Resolution. I am a pacifist by nature and it has been my pleasure being involved in promoting peaceful elections.
Quite unfortunately, my interventions as well as those who have spent enormous resources to ensure peaceful 2015 elections, which include musician Tu-Face Idibia and his colleagues campaign against election violence, may have yielded little positive results. I am worried and very disturbed by the sustained culture of election related violence in Nigeria. The desperation exhibited by the two main political parties namely the Peoples Democratic Party and the All Progressives Congress has been very untoward. Propaganda has been elevated to a state of art while foul language, inciting comments, inflammatory statements, name-calling and character assassination pervade the political environment.
In the lead up to the forthcoming elections, three strands of violence have been on display. These are Psychological violence, Structural violence and Physical violence. Psychological violence includes intimidation and harassment of political opponents and even the citizens. Hate speech is a form of psychological violence as it is meant to incite. When a party says it will form a parallel government or party stalwarts say that monkeys and baboons will be soaked in blood or that all political cockroaches should be killed or that a candidate is “brain dead” or that anyone who chanted a party slogan should be stoned, they are all classic examples of psychological violence. Even the inciting comments being made against Prof Attahiru Jega and the trenchant call for his resignation or sack are tantamount to psychological violence not only on the leadership of INEC but on the institution itself and the electoral process.
Structural violence which amount to exclusionary or discriminatory policies against certain groups has also been witnessed in the run-up to the forthcoming polls. For instance, we saw this during the party nomination process last November and December. Nomination forms were priced out of the reach of people of average financial means. It was simply a case of the highest bidder winning the party primaries of some political parties. It would be recalled that the PDP denied Prof. (Mrs) Akasoba Duke-Abiola nomination form despite paying the required fee. Even in terms of the way the primaries of some of the political parties were conducted, an uneven playing field was created in favour of anointed or “consensus” candidates. This is structural violence. This was partly responsible for the conduct of parallel party primaries in some of the leading political parties. Other forms of structural violence we have witnessed are the abuse of state and administrative resources by incumbent political office holders. For instance, security agents have been allegedly used to deal with opposition members.
Physical violence has been on display in all of its infamy. Political assassinations and attempted assassinations, attacks on party offices and contestants’ homes, fights between supporters of rival parties, factions and candidates, riots and rampages have been exhibited. The National Human Rights Commission on Friday, February 13, published an 80-page report titled, ‘’Pre-election Report and Advisory on Violence in Nigeria’s 2015 General Elections’’. In the referenced report, NHRC claimed that no fewer than 58 persons had been killed in election-related violence in 22 states from December 3, 2014 to February 13, 2015. Is this not worrisome? Since that report was made public in February, the country has recorded many more political deaths in states like Oyo and Rivers. Let me cite few instances of such deaths.
On Tuesday, February 17, several All Progressives Congress supporters reportedly scampered to safety when explosions and gunshots boomed at the Okrika National Secondary School field in Rivers State. By the time normalcy was restored, five police officers were allegedly shot. While one of them died on the spot, four others were reportedly in critical conditions in the hospital. Some other APC supporters were declared missing while equipment at the venue were set ablaze. Several cars, including three belonging to the police, were also reportedly destroyed.
On Saturday, March 14 media reports had it that unknown gunmen shot dead two PDP stalwarts in Abonema town, in the Akuku-Toru Local Government Area of Rivers State. The victims were identified as Mr. Ibima Olunta, and Goodfellow Bobmanuel. Olunta was alleged to be the chairman, Ward 2, Abonema while Bobmanuel was a PDP councillorship aspirant, Ward 2 in the local government area. Two members of the Accord Party in Ibadan, one Kehinde Bello and Sarafa Adedeji were on March 1 shot dead and 15 injured by suspected political thugs in Odinjo area of Ibadan, Oyo State. These are just few of several election related violence this motherland has suffered in the lead up to the looming polls.
The ironic thing is that all these are happening despite the widely celebrated peace accord signed by party chairmen and their presidential candidates on January 14, 2015 in Abuja. This peace accord had also been signed by governorship candidates and party chairmen in the states. I have pointed out in my column on Wednesday, January 21, 2015 that:
“The Abuja Peace Accord is desirable, reasonable and is a useful alternative dispute resolution mechanism. It is well crafted but is it enforceable? True that the intentions of the framers are noble but they need to be reminded that there are non-violence clauses in the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, as amended, the 2010 Electoral Act, as amended, the Code of Conduct for Political Parties, and in the Constitutions of each of the political parties; why then do we continue to experience high level of violence in our polity and elections? It’s simply because the enforcement has been weak. How many of the perpetrators of the 2011 pre and post-election violence had been punished for their dastardly acts? This culture of impunity is majorly responsible for the festering of election related violence.” Need I add more?
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