Attacked LP Secretariat
James Sowole, in Akure, reports that violence is gradually returning to the political landscape of Ondo State as electioneering intensifies ahead of the October 20 election
One of the major achievements of the current administration in Ondo State is the creation of a peaceful political environment through the deliberate implementation of policies and programmes that try to reduce the incentive for thuggery, brigandage and hooliganism.
The proactive policies of the admini-stration led to the productive engagement of many notorious young men, a situation that makes many parts of the state particularly, Akure, the state capital, peaceful.
However, the relative peace which the state had been enjoying started diminishing with the increase in political activities towards the October 20 governorship election in the Sunshine state, where 13 political parties are contesting. Out of these 13 political parties, only three are seen to be actually in the race, while the others are largely perceived to be contesting because their candidates want to exercise their fundamental human rights.
There has, therefore, been an increasing tempo of activities around the three major political parties – Action Congress of Nigeria, Peoples Democratic Party, and the ruling Labour Party.
Expectedly, LP is at the centre of the storm, as the other two parties are pursuing vigorously and differently the ultimate aim of sending the ruling party out of the Alagbaka Government House. In pursuance of this goal, the ruling party and the other two, particularly, ACN, have increasingly exchanged cross words, sometimes snowballing into physical fights. LP and ACN have accused each other of planning to rig the forthcoming poll. For now, there have not been any reported cases of attack between the PDP and the ACN.
The first major clash between LP and ACN supporters was in Akure during the Adebayo Adefarati Memorial Lecture while the second one was on the day that the three main political parties concluded the ratification of their governorship candidates for the election. Since after the two clashes, which involved the vandalisation of property, particularly motor vehicles, including that of the former chairman of the LP, Dr Olaiya Oni, leaders and officials of the two parties have engaged in a cold war over who was responsible for what.
Pre-empting what may happen more in the course of the electioneering, the Independent National Electoral Commission and the security agencies, particularly, the Nigeria Police and the State Security Service, have compelled each of the three major candidates to prepare and submit a timetable containing details of their campaigns, including towns and local government to be visited and specific days.
The police have warned that the ratified schedule should be adhered to strictly, adding that any amendment must be cleared from the security agency and INEC while campaign periods should not extend beyond 5pm to prevent clashes under the cover of darkness. The schedules had been largely complied with until recently when campaigns started extending beyond the 5pm limit.
Campaign of Calumny
At the initial stage, the campaigns tried to be issue-based, as the candidates concentrated on what the electorate should be expecting if voted into power.
However, the song has changed markedly in the last two weeks with the employment of open abuses and foul language, especially against the incumbent governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, at rallies organised by the opposition parties.
As the tempo increased, violent attacks were introduced in what the LP described as an attempt to provoke its members to retaliate and charge the environment.
Since the commencement of the real electioneering, the first attack that was, however, nipped in the bud by security agencies was on the night that preceded the flag off of the Mimiko campaign at Owo, when the LP said suspected hoodlums attacked those that were assembling equipment meant to be used the next day. Some suspects were arrested in connection with the incident and charged to court.
At Idanre, which is one of the strongholds of the LP, there have been several reported cases of attacks and attempted attacks reported by the LP, which the police equally quelled before any escalation.
The PDP has also reported that its party members and supporters were prevented from holding meetings by suspected LP supporters, who attacked them violently.
With the rising tempo of electioneering occasioned by the visit of the national leaders of the ACN and the PDP, more violent crises have been recorded, mainly targeted at the ruling LP. One of the attacks took place at Owo, the hometown of the ACN candidate, and another at Ondo Town, the hometown of the incumbent governor.
The Mimiko Campaign Organisation said leaders and members of the LP were attacked on Tuesday night by thugs suspected to be loyal to the ACN and the PDP after the two parties hosted their national leaders, who came to campaign for their candidates in Ikare and Akure, respectively.
The organisation, according to the director of publicity and media relations, Mr Kolawole Olabisi, is vindicated by the latest development, as it had cried out in the recent past that the ACN and the PDP were out to foment trouble with a view to stampeding the electorate.
Olabisi said a member of the House of Representatives, representing Owo/Ose Federal Constituency, Mr Eni Omosule; Chairman of the State Environmental Task Force, Mr Gbenga Atiba; and a Senior Special Assistant to the Ondo State Governor on Direct Labour Agency, Mrs Mobolaji Suara, narrowly escaped death on Tuesday when they were attacked by thugs at Uka. He said Suara was shot in the arm while Atiba was clubbed on the head after several bullets fired at him missed their targets, and their vehicles were said to have been damaged.
Olabisi, in a statement, described the latest attack as part of the game plan of the opposition to clamp down on the top echelon of the LP by attacking them, maiming, and, possibly, killing them in their desperation to annex the state. The director, who mentioned prominent indigenes of the ancient town that were said to be behind the attack and who he said are leaders of the opposition parties, urged the security agencies to investigate and get to the root of the attack which he described as unprovoked.
Though, the Ondo State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Danladi Mshebwala, confirmed the incident, he said he was not aware that there was any form of shooting during the attack on the LP chieftains.
While the victims of the Tuesday attack in Owo were still nursing their wounds, supporters of the ACN and the PDP clashed at Ondo town after the second day of the ACN rally, tagged “Redemption Rally” in the town. During the violence, some people were said to have sustained variously degrees of injury, while campaign billboards, vehicles and other things were destroyed at Itanla Junction in Ondo.
THISDAY learnt that the trouble started when some men suspected to be members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), barricaded the only exit point from Ondo to Akure to protest the open abuse and derogatory remarks against the incumbent governor, who is an indigene of the town, by leaders and supporters of the ACN at the rally.
Confirming the attack, the Deputy Commissioner of Police in the state, Henry Fadairo, said some arrests were made by the police at the scene of the clash.
There are signs that more violence may occur between the ACN and LP as the director of the Akeredolu Campaign Organisation, Mr. Idowu Ajanaku, has alleged that LP thugs planned to attack ACN members on their way to Ore for the Ondo South Redemption Rally.
Ajanaku, in a public service announcement on a private radio station, Adaba 88.9 FM, on Thursday, threatened that the ACN may be forced to react if the attack continued, saying members of the party are not cowards.
Mimiko said at a recent interactive session with the media in Akure that what he feared about the election was the desperation of an opposition party in the state, an apparent reference to the ACN.
He said, “The fear I have is that one of the opposition parties here has expressed their desperation. We have also seen some ugly signs. They may be ready to go to any length, including provoking violence.
“If you go out there and interview people, I can bet you that 87 to 90 per cent of the people will tell you that the biggest achievement of this administration is that there is an atmosphere of peace. We have been able to achieve peace in this place. The only anxiety I have is for people not to translate their desperation into an uproar.”
Amid the accusations and counteraccusations concerning violence and plans to foment trouble ahead of the election, the environment is getting charged and tension is mounting daily. The issue-based campaign that was the hallmark of the Ondo State governorship electioneering has been boxed to the backseat as personal attacks take the centre stage.
Many believe the security agencies must brace up and face the emerging spectre of crisis ahead of the October 20 governorship poll to avoid a breakdown of law and order during or after the election.