Another Season of Violence in Bayelsa, Kogi

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Supporters of the ruling party clash with opposition supporters in Conakry ahead of the country's second presidential election since the end of military rule. Violence broke out in Conakry on Friday as supproters of the two parties fought in the streets, looting shops and causing at least two deaths. The opposition has long alleged irrgularities with the vote. 10/09/2015. (Tommy Trenchard)

Nseobong Okon-Ekong writes that the trait of violence trailing political process in Bayelsa and Kogi states continue unabated

The eyes of the world is on Nigeria, particularly, two states-Bayelsa and Kogi-where governorship elections are scheduled tomorrow, Saturday, November 16. There have been disturbing instances of violence that threatens to disrupt the peaceful processes in the polity.

Both Bayelsa and Kogi have a dubious history of violence marking political conduct in the two states. These ugly spectacle of carnage become heightened as political activities increase, in preparation for major elections, such as the governorship contest tomorrow. The trait of violence started from the  primaries of the political parties and have continued unabated. The inclination of influential persons to bend the rules in favour of unpopular candidates leads to skirmishes, which often balloons into full scale violence.

Apparently, the failure of major stakeholders in the race for public office to abide by the rules of engagement leaves a sore taste in the mouth. Though the major political parties and their leading persona have been engaged in different fence mending initiatives aimed at  brokering peace and gentlemanly conduct, these agreements are, at best, perfunctory and not worth more than the piece of paper they are signed.

An example of the disregard with which politicians treat these peace signing ceremonies is the incident in which the governorship candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in Kogi State, Natasha Akpoti was assaulted at the venue of the such a ceremony, in full view of security agents, who allegedly declined to help her. Akpoti’s party office had been previously burnt.

Midweek, a staff of Bayelsa Radio lost his life at a political rally from gunshots fired by hoodlums.

In total disregard of the Electoral Guidelines which forbid provocative statements, the political parties have concentrated on abusive utterances that heat up the polity, rather than, carrying out a vigorous campaign to inform the citizens of their developmental proposals.

There are 45 parties contesting in Bayelsa and 24 in Kogi, making a total of 69. But hardly has any party recommended itself to prominence on the strength of superior ideas and welfare programmes for the people. The two major political parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have been trading accusations, putting the blame for the reign of violence at each other’s doorstep. To be sure, neither of them is blameless. Each of these parties and their leaders have, by their conduct, fuelled the condition and atmosphere that encourages breakdown of law and order.

The law enforcement agents, particularly, the police appear to be accomplices in the repeated occurrence of violence in Bayelsa and Kogi. No one has been brought to book yet for any of these ugly incidents. In a situation where there is no apparent punishment to dissuade would-be trouble makers, the field appears open to more dastardly acts.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) recognises that both Kogi and Bayelsa are politically volatile. Addressing a senate session on the commission’s preparedness for the elections, INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu noted, “We have seen the kind of situation that arose during the conduct of primaries by political parties and one or two incidents in Kogi with the commencement of campaigns by political parties.” That was one month ago and the situation had not become as precarious as it is today.

To be sure, the Inspector General of Police has issued a shoot-at-sight order to deter potential trouble makers during the elections, but this is hardly the kind of measure expected to bring the escalating situation of violence under control. The proper strategy is to deploy intelligence gathering in order to prevent these ugly incidents from taking place. With the reported large cache of arms intercepted by the police, it may not be wrong to assume some of these dangerous weapons escaped the eagle eyes of security agents and are in the hands undesirable elements, some of who are ready to battle the security agents for superiority.

The topography of the two states are naturally challenging and this poses a huge obstacle to our security agents who are already overstretched and over tasked. A risk assessment for the two states does not give any comfort that security agents are on top of the situation. Faced with real threat of violence, a good number of voters are likely to remain in the safety and comfort of their homes tomorrow. At the end of the day, the people are short-changed, as they are denied the right to freely choose their representative.