By Abdullah Abdulganiy
It is a crying shame that two decades into democratic rule, Nigeria is yet to put behind it the politics of violence. Our political elite are also yet to grasp the fact that election is not necessarily a do or die enterprise. Indeed, the society is always at the receiving end of violent political clashes and they do not speak well of the image of the country in general and its citizens in particular.
Ahead of the September 19 Edo State gubernatorial election, there are strong indications that crises would break out. Not even the security agencies could assure a violence-free poll. In a pre-election report, the Inspector-General of Police, Mr Mohammed Adamu had hinted those who cared to listen that there is high possibility of violence in the upcoming electoral contest. The handwriting is just very clear on the wall.
According to the IGP, “The Election Security Threat Analysis reveals amongst other indicators: arming and movement of political thugs, use of inciting statements during political campaigns, high likelihood of violence and possible cross attack by political opponents, misinformation/disinformation aimed at heating-up of the polity and deliberate efforts at delegitimizing government institutions involved in the electoral processes.”
Though many political parties were cleared for the governorship election, keen observers would opine that the contest is between the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP). The main actors or dramatis personae if you like are: Godwin Obaseki and Philip Shaibu of the PDP against Adams Oshiomole, Osagie Ize-Iyamu and Gani Audu of the APC. Ratio two to three!
For many political analysts, the election is a supremacy battle between former National Chairman of the APC, Oshiomole and his estranged political associate/godson, Obaseki who doubles as incumbent governor of Edo State. It is a fight to finish as both personalities have refused to give peace and conflict resolution a chance. They had a dirty fight earlier in the APC where the duo had their fingers burnt. But it appears they are not done with each other yet, as a showdown has been rightly staged. No qualms, since it is a democracy where everyone can always test his popularity and might.
The challenge, however, lies in the songs and drums of war chanted and beaten by the political warlords and their footsoldiers. Inflammatory partisan comments are being served in high dosage from both sides of the divide. There are threats of violence and mayhem. There is literally tension in the land. Intelligience reports show that arms and weapons have been smuggled into the state and stock-piled. Political thugs are also being engaged to cause disruptions and create fears. The Edo mileu is an unfriendly one at the moment.
That’s, perhaps, why the Oba of Benin, Ewuare II organised a peace meeting that had in attendance the major political contenders and other bigwigs in the state. The revered monarch warned against disruptions, declaring that election is not a do or die affair. Sadly however, despite entreaties for peace by the first-class king, the concerned persons have elected not to sheathe their swords. To them, the election is a must win, no willingness to accept defeat.
Just like the atmosphere had been before the peace meeting, the political arrowheads are still throwing tantrums and banters at each other. Headlines like, “APC, PDP trade words ahead of Edo election”; “Obaseki carpets Oshiomole”; “Shaibu in verbal war with Ize-Iyamu” are what greet news enthusiasts daily. The situation is very scary that the electoral commission, INEC also raised similar concerns, and in fact, threatened to cancel the process if care is not taken.
Verbal attacks, blackmails, bogus allegations, smear campaigns as against issue-based campaigns, presentation of ideas and manifestos, academic debates are what pervade the media — traditional and new. A natural accident that involved Oshiomole and of course claimed the lives of two members of his convoy has gotten political colouration. This is just as Shaibu is threatening fire and brimstone. He never even disguised that he controls a retinue of hooligans. All these call for deep concerns as they have adverse effects on the electorate and the smooth running of the election.
In this kind of charged environment, of course, one needs not be an Aristotle before understanding that it would be difficult for the will of the people to prevail. In fact, many electors would be browbeaten into apathy amid the unending songs of war. And the masses would be the cannon fodders. Is democracy therefore not useless in this context? Where people are hindered from exercising their franchise due mainly to threats of violence?
Yes, when elections approach, the atmosphere is expected to be and usually is different in every society. But what demarcates advanced democracies from simplistic ones is the presentation and exchange of meaningful ideas that lure and convince the electors by candidates, and not the threat of violence or spewing of inciting remarks as it’s playing out ahead of Edo and Ondo polls respectively.
I must also appreciate Channels TV for putting together a platform for debate and presentation of ideas amongst the candidates gunning for the most-coveted seat in Edo State. It’s a very brilliant one. We must learn to incorporate this initiative into our politics and politicking moving forward so that discerning voters can form an informed choice at the poll.
Again, it’s high time discussions to make politics less-incentive kicked off. Cutting cost of political offices is long overdue. Politics, like I have always maintained, is supposed to be a platform to serve fatherland and not an avenue to enrich one’s pocket. The huge monetization of politics in our clime is what attracts unpatriotic elements to it. They see it as an avenue to get their share of the national cake. And this explains why it’s perceived and rightly taken as a do or die affair.
The Vice President of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osibanjo and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila had, indeed, of recent, decried the high cost of governance and politics in the country, with both lending their voices to reducing governance cost. It’s, however, appalling that we move on quickly on issues in Nigeria, as there is no green light that discussions have progressed in that regard. I hope the Speaker relives the discussion in the House.
The Edo election, all things being equal, is just five days away, and this is but a clarion call on election stakeholders: politicians, INEC officials, international observers, local observers, journalists, security agents to allow a free, fair, credible, transparent and violence-free election. The drums of war beaten by political overlords in the build up to the contest is deafening. They should allow peace to reign and let the people decide without external interference/aggression. This is the hallmark of the democracy our heroes past laboured to install in the country. Indeed, many would witness the beginning of a war, but few actually see the end.
Every day is no Christmas. Win some, lose some is what defines competitions. I hope the tensed atmosphere will subside just as it miraculously did in the 2015 general election where everyone thought all hell would be let loose. It, however, to the surprise of many ended in praise as then President Goodluck Jonathan not only embraced defeat, but also congratulated the announced winner of the poll, incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari.
Whoever loses out in the forthcoming election should not resort to self-help, but rather follow the recognised and established judicial process. Despite its obvious shortcomings, the Tribunal has been able to secure and restore the stolen mandate of candidates in various elections, even in Edo State in particular.
The masses should also go about their voting in a peaceful way, guard their votes and follow guidelines and tips rolled out by the authorities. They should not allow themselves to be cajoled into being deployed as instruments of violence. These times will also pass, and only the living can wait to tell the story. In all, vote don’t fight!