VIOLENCE AND THE ELECTORAL SYSTEM

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The perks attached to political office holders must be slashed to stem the violence

In comparison with the other elections since the country’s return to democracy 20 years ago, the governorship elections in Bayelsa and Kogi States were certainly one of the most vicious. In Kogi particularly, gun violence won the day. The statistics of the dead on election day in Kogi, put at seven, may not tell the whole story. Before, during and after the votes were cast, violence was swiftly deployed to decisively settle political scores and win the electoral argument.

The chairperson of the Transition Monitoring Group, a coalition of over 400 civil rights organisations, Dr Abiola Akiyode Afolabi, said the situation in Kogi “was worrisome, given the attendant frustration and fear unleashed on various citizens who were faced with electoral intimidation, violence and killings as the case may be. The entire process was a sham and could be best described as elections programmed to fail in the sense that it fell below the standard of a credible election.”

It is more bewildering that while violence was walking the streets, the police, sent in saturated numbers to tamp down atrocities, were nowhere to be seen. Some hoodlums in “fake” police and army uniforms instead, seized the streets and scared away voters, burnt ballot boxes and drilled fear into the minds of many. But what was even brutal beyond belief–was the cold-blooded murder of a 60-year old lady, said to be a local Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leader two days after the election when her home was deliberately set on fire. What was her offence? What is the cause of this extreme aggression in our politics? What’s behind the chaos in our elections?

To be sure, the governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa were hardly the worst in incendiary violence, where acts of aggression were unleashed on Nigerians wanting to perform their civic duty. But in view of the controversy that trailed the 2019 general election as well as other stand-alone gubernatorial elections in recent years, we expected the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to have learnt its lessons from past flaws and conduct these elections with every sense of responsibility.

Besides, after the huge outcry that followed the general election where arm-wielding security personnel compromised their professional credibility in shameless partisanship, we expected a change for the better. The INEC was forthright enough then to condemn the actions of the military personnel and armed gangs who disrupted the election process particularly in Rivers and Bauchi States “resulting in the intimidation and unlawful arrest of election officials thereby disrupting the collation process…”

Indeed, in October 2015, the Nigerian Army had cause to set up a board of inquiry to investigate alleged malpractices and involvement of its personnel in Ekiti and Osun States during the 2014 governorship elections. “The essence of the investigation is to prevent future unprofessional conduct by officers and men in the performance of constitutional roles. It is to strengthen Nigerian Army’s support to democratic values and structures,” said the army. But given what transpired during the recent elections, it is evident that they learnt nothing from the previous ugly experience. Sadly, the police are increasingly being drawn to ghastly partisanship.

We have stated in this space repeatedly that the struggles for election in our polity are vicious and bloody because the stakes are very high. A win during an election can transform a hitherto struggling man to a life of luxury. The perks attached to the offices of politicians and other political office holders must be pruned drastically to expect a change in the desired direction. Besides, those caught employing the use of violence must be marked down and brought to justice. No election is worth dying for.