ELECTIONS AND CRIMINAL CARTELS

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Containing the activities of criminal elements will require the active support of critical stakeholders

In a television interview last month, Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello confirmed what most Nigerians already know: That those who seek public offices in the country employ the services of thugs who eventually become a menace to the larger society. “When politicians begin to stop the use of thugs, touts, or some other group of criminals, that is when we will begin to have safety and security in our land,” said the governor. He added that because these miscreants are usually dumped when election is over, they had no other options than to become “hydra-headed monsters” in the society. Bello, whose female supporters were captured in a trending video canvassing that opponents be shot during his last re-election, of course played the saint.

However, it is important to focus on the message rather than the messenger. The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) once carried out a survey which revealed that prices of machetes usually go up before elections and drop immediately after. Which is why it is always laughable when politicians declare their endless ‘wars’ against those felons considering that there is a nexus between do-or-die politics and organised crime in our country. Over the years many violent cults and criminal gangs owed their origins to political campaign organisations. It is also a fact that most of these notorious criminals usually graduate from motor parks to political thuggery before eventually venturing into the more lucrative business of robbery, kidnapping, and banditry.

At all the election periods in Nigeria, wraps of Indian hemp and other related substances are almost always freely distributed among the waiting ‘army’ of violent men that take over campaign trains, brandishing axes, clubs and other dangerous weapons. When the illustrious ‘guest’ finally arrives the scene, the entire wagon of these street urchins are then herded into vehicles that move to the campaign ground for the usual show of strength with their opponent. Besides, it is not uncommon for an elected governor to beg known criminal gang leaders to restrain their ‘boys’ so that some peace and security could reign in their states. Yet until we smash this evil triad, we cannot successfully deal with the issue of law and order in Nigeria.

But the problem persists because the authorities have been willing collaborators. For instance, there have been several bans on the indiscriminate use of siren, revolving lights, tinted glasses and police supernumerary (SPY) plate numbers by those the police describe as ‘unathorised persons’ in the public and on highways across the country. Suspected criminals continue to hide under the cover of certain official privileges and courtesies to evade police and other security checks.

It is also a notorious fact that majority of these criminal elements who terrorise innocent people are well known to many of our political gladiators. They are also known by many clerics who pray for them before embarking on their nefarious operations. Members of the killer squad set up and funded by influential politicians are equally well known to the law enforcement institutions. Therefore, smashing these gangs of sundry criminal elements in our society will only require the willingness to act on the part of critical stakeholders at all levels.

There have been talks about enacting laws or creating some tribunals for electoral violence but it is a waste of time. If we want to fight violent crime in Nigeria, we must first break the nexus between politicians and gang leaders they use while seeking power. That is where to begin. There are enough laws in the country to deal with this challenge. What has always been lacking is the political will.