It is sad and shameful that after over two decades of uninterrupted democracy, the electoral process is in the news again, for the wrong reasons. Though there had been much hue and cry over electoral violence, we shall not stop to sound notes of warning, for as long as the drumbeats of war are reverberating. Nigeria is already battling with violence in many parts of the country and it would be an overwhelming job for the already worn-out policemen and other forces to curtail another crisis in Edo and Ondo states. Another spate of violence in these two states may be disastrous and inimical to the stability of the country.
The Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, who recently shocked the nation when he raised the alarm that politicians in Edo and Ondo states were arming thugs ahead of the governorship elections in both states, revealed the latest threat to peace.
Though, such information is not entirely new to Nigerians, what is however different is the level of sophistication of weapons and the magnitude of the involvement of key stakeholders this time. The IGP, while warning politicians and their supporters, assured that the Force will not hesitate to bring the full weight of the law on anyone or group, irrespective of status that may want to sabotage the security arrangement put in place for the elections.
The police boss gave the stern warning after reviewing the Election Security Threat Assessment Reports submitted by the Commissioners of Police from both states. Also, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had sufficiently warned candidates and political parties participating in both elections that it will not take kindly attempts to compromise the electoral process by inviting violence. The Commission similarly warned the electorate against violence during the polls.
Though there had been rumour making the rounds that the elections may be postponed over threats of violence by political parties and their candidates, the electoral umpire has doused tension, saying that it will not shift the date of the governorship elections slated for September 19 and October 10 in Edo and Ondo states respectively.
To stem the tide of violence, INEC National Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, said the Commission would continue to engage, not just the candidates and their parties, but also the Campaign Councils. Its National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education, Festus Okoye, said though the Commission is disturbed by the situation in Edo State, it is not considering postponing the polls. The security officers and the electoral umpire were not alone, as the traditional institution was also forced to raise concerns and sought for peaceful polls.
The Oba of Benin, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Ewuare II, met with political leaders and their parties, where he sued for peace and urged them to emulate the action of former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015 when he lost to President Muhammadu Buhari. All these interventions are a clear indication that we may witness a repeat of our appalling character of electoral violence, if measures are not taken to ensure peace.
The furious moves by key players to outdo one other, the violence being witnessed in the states, especially in Edo, suggest that peaceful elections may be far-fetched. While violence in Ondo has historically been relatively low, the same cannot be said of Edo State. During the 2016 exercise, there were reported cases of violence leading to fatalities in Edo State.
It is worrisome that INEC and the security agencies seem helpless when it comes to bringing perpetrators of violence to justice. The alarm raised by the IGP should not only prepare INEC for the elections, it should also be taken seriously by the Commission, the police and all the political parties, as well as all well-meaning Nigerians. INEC, by its mandate, has the mechanism and structure to check the conduct of erring parties and their candidates and, as such, it should not give the impression that it is helpless.
INEC must continue to draw the attention of the security agencies to the despicable acts of politicians who are bent on disturbing the peace of the nation. Nobody is above the law and the status of any should not be an impediment to justice. INEC should allow only the law to guide its duties so that civility and healthy competition are not sacrificed.
The supporters of political gladiators and party loyalists must also note that the conflicts in political circles are not excuses for wanton destruction of lives and property. They must be made to drop all the weapons in their possession because the proliferation of small arms has been instrumental in the prevalence of electoral violence. Desperate and power drunk politicians, who often sponsor unemployed youths to carry out assaults on their perceived political opponents with a view to manipulating election results to their advantage, must also be brought to book, to serve as deterrence to others.
There is no gain saying that electoral violence has left many dead, while millions of Nigerians had been disenfranchised due to thuggery, disruption of political campaigns, fighting at polling stations and the use of dangerous weapons to intimidate voters, among many others. No doubt, it would always lead to a fatal end or cause bodily injury to all and sundry. This must stop. Enough is enough.