As we move towards the 2019 general elections, one issue that should be of concern to critical stakeholders is how to conduct violence free elections. If the elections are ever marred by violence, it will be a minus for our democracy. Events in some parts of the country since the past few weeks have tended to question the preparedness of some politicians to imbibe the culture of decent political conduct.
When this unsavoury development is weighed against the background of efforts made to deliberately and systematically discourage the negative aspect of our political behaviour, then, there is cause for worry. With a few months to the general elections, the party primaries which were conducted to elect candidates provided the ample opportunity for cases of electoral violence in some parts of the country. In Suleja, Niger State, for instance, two persons were recently confirmed killed while 15 others sustained various degree of injuries following a clash between supporters of two rival of House of Representatives aspirants from a particular political party. No fewer than 10 vehicles belonging to the aspirants were also reportedly vandalised during the fracas.
Some people have argued that democracy is by nature chaotic and that it is out of chaos that a stable polity emerges. This thesis amount to giving democracy a bad name in order to justify the violence that has become part of our politics. The truth of the matter is that, some of our politicians are far from being patriotic and this explains why they place their narrow interests above the national interest. It is not surprising therefore, that they regard politics, not as a game to be played with the spirit of give and take but rather as a battle to be fought with all weapons and to be won at all costs. In any contest involving two people there must be a winner and a loser, and that there is always a second chance. This also explains why political opponent should not be regarded as enemies rather clean competitors in a game that is supposed to be characterised by the spirit of sportsmanship, since all those involve are expected to have been motivated by the desire to contribute their quota to national development.
Unfortunately, youths have most times being used as political tools by selfish politicians to cause electoral violence. During electoral process, they are recruited and used as instruments of maiming, wanton destruction, election rigging, thuggery and violence. No political violence has ever taken place in Nigeria without its facilitation on the ground by the youth. This appears in form of political thuggery which had been seen as criminalisation of politics.
Among other factors which make youth vulnerable to the acceptance of thuggery activities are the phenomenon of god fatherism, unemployment, corruption, lack of internal democracy, inadequate security, poverty, inordinate ambition by political party leaders and money politics. As critical segment of the society and leaders of tomorrow, the youth should have a significant and crucial role to play in promoting free, fair and violence free electoral process. Youth involvement in political violence especially, thuggery can undermine democratic development and their chances of involvement in the main stream politics
Electoral violence is dangerous as it is capable of undermining the growth of democracy and by implication our national development, it also has implication on the continued dominance of the old politicians in political sphere while the youths who are future leaders will find it very difficult to achieve their political ambition. Political violence can also create tension and fear in the atmosphere and there by discouraging women and other credible people from participating in political activities. Electoral violence has in the past led to loss of several lives and property. It has capacity and capability to retard social and economic progress of our nation. It is a menace that must be fought and exterminated in our polity.
There is the need therefore for politicians and youths to eschew all forms of violence capable of derailing the current democratic governance and our peaceful co-existence. If the political events that have taken place in Nigeria since our political independence are still fresh in our memory, particularly the crisis that engulfed the western part of the country during the first republic, in which many lives and properties were lost, most Nigerian’s would like to discourage politics of violence and thuggery. These crises eventually led to the collapse of the first republic and consequently seizure of power by military from democratically elected governments. Ahead of 2019 general elections in the country, politicians are urged to imbibe the spirit of tolerance, maturity and accommodation. There is the need to embrace dialogue as a veritable tool for resolving political conflicts and differences.
There is no gain in violence. Failure in a particular election is not an end of life, and hence electoral defeat should be accepted without rancour and bitterness. Politics of ethnicity, religion and regionalism should be rejected for politics of ideas, issues, policies and good programmes. Manipulation by selfish politicians to subvert the popular will of the people should also be rejected.
If democracy is actually for the living and not for the dead, there is the need for us to embrace peace and reject violence. This we must do, to promote and defend democracy. Our leaders also have a duty to ensure that their followers embrace dialogue in resolving our political conflict and differences. The on-going grassroots enlightenment campaign by the National Orientation Agency (NOA), to mobilise and sensitise Nigerians on the evil of electoral violence is also a positive development in the right direction.
The Director-General of the National Orientation Agency (NOA) has recently paid advocacy visits to media houses to solicit for support and cooperation in the campaign against electoral violence in the country. The NOA has a comprehensive network with structures reaching the grassroots. Apart from the National Headquarters and the state Directorates, the Agency has offices in all the 774 local government areas. With this structure on ground and injection of funds, the Agency is thus better equipped than any other outfit to effectively mobilise and sensitise Nigerians to the evils of violence in our electoral process.