2023: Arms proliferation in the hands of paid political thugs threaten democracy



INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu: INEC office set ablaze in Enugu

By Ayo Oyoze Baje
Since the 2019 general elections up till 2022, we have recorded 50 attacks in 15 states of the federation. The ones we recorded in 2022 are the ones we considered systematic and coordinated. They are targeted at derailing our commission from conducting free and credible elections. We are recovering and will recover.”

— Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu(Chairman of INEC)

The demons of democracy are up and running; rearing their ugly heads through muck-raking, mud-slinging and smear campaigns against their perceived political foes. These, unfortunately degenerate into violent campaigns, as our top political actors, making a mockery of the peace accord some of the political candidates have signed.

By so doing they leave the substance of articulating pragmatic vision of good governance to chasing the shadows of self-aggrandizement, all driven by the jungle mantra of might-is-right! But should political and financial muscle be right under a 21st century Nigerian democratic dispensation? The answer should be obvious to discerning citizens.

Unfortunately, these are getting fewer by the day, worsened of course, by the current poverty situation. If not, how do we explain the political paradox, of hundreds of thousands of those who should be raising their collective voices and angst against the social and economic mess we have found ourselves in daily trooping to campaign grounds to clap for their unrelenting oppressors? That is, after collecting some insulting amounts of between two thousand naira(N2,000) to five thousand (N5,000) pittance! But there is a worse-case scenario to worry about.

One of such frictional factors, out to derail the current democratic process is arms proliferation in the hands of paid political thugs already unleashing mayhem on Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC) facilities. As at May 30, 2021. it was reported that the attacks occurred in 14 states between February 2019 and May 2021. At least 41 offices of the electoral commission, INEC, were attacked across Nigeria by armed non-state actors. Imo State topped the log with the most attacks during the stated period.

“These are attacks as a result of election-related violence, protests unrelated to elections and activities of thugs and unknown gunmen. The list does not include damages to facilities as a result of fire accidents, natural disasters such as flooding or rain/windstorms, the snatching/destruction of electoral materials during elections, burglary and attack on election duty officials.” INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmud Yakubu, said.

The commission said there were 18 attacks on its facilities during the ENDSARS protests in year 2020 and 11 attacks carried out by gunmen. Currently, the electoral body plans supplementary budget to replace destroyed buildings, equipment, and other facilities after attacks in Ebonyi, Osun and Ogun states. Are these attacks not dragging the nation financially backward? Of course, they are.

Unknown to the masterminds behind the mayhem: “Violence itself is retrogressive, the politically violent are primitive.” So said NjauKihia. Good enough, that the INEC Chairman, has warned, and rightly so, that violence may mar the 2023 general elections and prevent presidential poll winners from emerging!

Speaking at a two-day workshop on political violence and election security organised by the National Defence College in collaboration with African Global Empowerment and Development Network, the INEC chairman, insisted that there must be an end to the attacks on its facilities. In fact, he added that if the attacks continued till next year, in addition to the insecurity in the land they could impede the successful conduct of the polls.

For yours truly, instead of recurring electoral violence such overtly ambitious political horsemen should be more interested on how to get Nigeria out of the ignoble pits of pervasive poverty, increasing ignorance, debilitating diseases and clipping the ever-widening wings of the hawks of insecurity. Added to these challenges are the highest rates of inflation and debt profile in Nigeria’s chequered history. But sad to say that their quest for power is how to personalize it, to serve the self rather than the state, as one has always reiterated.

The next high hurdle placed on the path of INEC towards the conduct of the 2023 general elections is massive vote-buying. Both the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) have raised a timely alarm over the unpatriotic act by power-poaching politicians buying Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) from registered voters with the obnoxious aim to harvest their Voter Identification Numbers (VIN).

While the National Commissioner overseeing the FCT, Nasarawa, Kaduna and Plateau states, Mohammed Haruna, INEC has reminded us that no eligible voter will vote on election days without the PVC, the Northern Elders Forum, (NEF), through its Director of Publicity and Advocacy, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, has described the move as a brazen attempt to suppress votes in the Northern geo-political axis.

Going by these despicable antics, several eligible voters are likely to be disenfranchised. That explains why the Inspector General of Police and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC boss have warned Nigerian politicians against inducement as the survey puts 33 states on vote-buying watchlist! The import of this heinous crime on Nigeria’s democracy should not be lost on us.

That reminds one of the warnings given by the Deputy Editor of Women’s Day, Andra Chantim who stated that: “If we don’t vote, we are ignoring history and giving away the future.” The spate of violence however, clearly shows that Nigerian politicians have learnt little or nothing from the sad experiences of violent elections that have adversely affected African countries such as Uganda, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Congo.

In a research on the continent’s electoral violence, entitled: ‘Dataset of Countries at Risk of Electoral Violence (CREV)’ Nigeria inclusive, as conducted by Sarah Birch and David Muchlinski they warned that: “Electoral violence is increasingly affecting elections around the world”.

Research have shown that in places that already have authoritarian governments, bloodshed during election season does not come as a surprise. It is an organized strategy effectively used to keep votes from being free and fair. This is part of the broader toolkit that many autocratic leaders use to repress and manipulate the citizenry.

They cited Zimbabwe and Belarus as useful examples. For instance, during dictator Robert Mugabe’s 30-year rule of Zimbabwe, his ZANU-PF party allowed opposition candidates to run for office – but regularly used violence to neutralize and intimidate the electoral opposition. Even after Mugabe’s ouster in a 2017 coup, the country’s new rulers continued this strategy.

The August 2020 Belarusian presidential election saw embattled President Victor Lukashenko use similar tactics to declare his win. Opposition candidates and party members were arrested and threatened in the lead-up to the highly contested August election, spurring massive protests.

As far as Nigeria is concerned, we may have to listen to my long-drawn clarion call to drastically reduce the high cost of accessing political power through the huge costs of party nomination forms, cut down on the high pay packages and emoluments of political office holders and indeed look for patriotic Volunteers in Government (ViG). We need true servant-leaders.

If not done, unfortunately, election-related violence will persist for the foreseeable future. That is according to Matthew Frank, a researcher at the One Earth Foundation, who insists that in democracies and non-democracies alike, strategic attacks serve those who have power and want to keep it.

A stitch in time will save nine!