As Nigerian politicians strategise and perfect last minute permutations for the 2019 general elections, feelers from two oncoming elections, namely the Ekiti State governorship election coming up on July 14, and the Osun State equivalent coming up in October this year would be dress rehearsal and the barometer for measuring the election pressure. If the APC primaries that took place a few weeks ago in Ekiti were anything to go by, then the animosities, clashes and violence witnessed portend great danger ahead.
Among other things, they raise fears that the state may witness a repeat of violence that has always characterised governorship elections in the state. Since Nigeria’s renascent democracy, Ekiti State has always displayed its political volatility through pre-election and post-election violence. Like Ekiti, other states of the federation also have a tendency for election violence. It is for this reason that the alarmed raised by the Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II, over the growing political friction ahead of the 2019 general elections should not be treated with levity.
Every alarm raised about suspected violence in the conduct of an election should be taken seriously not only by the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) and the police, but also by political parties and the totality of Nigerians. This is because Nigeria is very much embroiled in violence for its own survival, that any additional spate of violence is disastrous and inimical to the stability of the country.
Experience in the country has shown that there are many factors responsible for election violence. Notable amongst them is the misconstrued thinking that holding political offices or directing participation in partisan politics is the birthright or exclusive occupation of certain individuals or social group. With little or no preparation for genuine political engagement, some individuals, under the protection of state power or some powerful political influence have turned political offices into their private business concerns. Such candidates would stop at nothing to get to power.
Furthermore, election periods are moments when security operatives engage in unjustified acts of partisanship, lawlessness and needless violence. Perhaps tempted by promises of some good fortune from influential politicians, actors in the security and law enforcement system compromise their all constitutional duties for personal gratification. Just like the abuse of security and law enforcement apparatus, there is a tendency for the electoral commission to be viewed as being abused through deliberate mismanagement of resources and haphazard logistics in order to favour a candidate. This may lead to violence.
Another factor responsible for the frequent spate of violence during elections is the proliferation of small arms in the country. In recent times the Nigeria Customs Service had intercepted and seized truckloads of pump action rifles, supposedly said to have originated from China through Turkey. Despite the fact that Nigeria is a signatory to treaties and conventions of many international organizations condemning the trafficking, purchase and proliferation of small arms and light weapons, these weapons have found their way into the hands of unauthorized persons including thugs, politicians and mischief makers. A United Nations report a few years ago claimed that Nigeria accounted for about 350 million of the 500 million small arms circulating in the region; that is, 70 per cent of illicit weapons circulating in the sub-region are domiciled in Nigeria.
As has always been the admonition of great thinkers and experienced statesmen, political positions are a call to service. They are neither personal enterprises motivated by profits nor are bloody sports for which violent and fatal competitions are means. If that is the case, then it is senseless and a great disservice to the millions of law-abiding Nigerians who have resolved to conduct themselves befittingly at the elections. It is unacceptable for a bunch of miscreants, be they agents of parties or cohorts of influential politicians or recruited hoodlums to jeopardize such well-regarded exercise.
To this end, politicians should desist from incensing the polity by disseminating hate speeches and unnecessarily polarizing the electorate. When the elections are over, the electorate still remains one people that must be developed wholesomely, and the governor ceases to become a partisan administrator. The security operatives, on their part, should conduct themselves with the dignity and integrity expected of a national institution. They should know that their primary duty is to protect lives and properties of citizens, and not loyalty to parties or persons.
Just as this newspaper has always cautioned, an election is not a ‘do or die’ affair. Although the election will be a keen contest between a former governor of the state and a candidate of the present governor, this caution should continually resonate in the ears of the people of Ekiti as they come out en masse to exercise their franchise. Irrespective of the animosity amongst the interest groups, the people of Ekiti should vote rightly and choose wisely. If the Ekiti people get things right by conducting themselves as befitting voters and eschewing violence, and if the security agencies are going to be diligent in discharging their duties, and if INEC is faithful to its readiness, then the prospect is high that the Ekiti State governorship election will become a veritable model of a credible, free and fair election.