The February 2023 general elections are about three months away and politicians from all over the country are busy campaigning to win the votes of the electorate. This is the way it should be. But the sad news is that the level of intolerance by political actors and their followers is a bad augury for our fledgling democracy.
The dangers were brought to the fore by the Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba, during a meeting with the chairmen of leading political parties at the Force Headquarters in Abuja last Thursday.
The police chief disclosed that in less than two months after the commencement of electioneering campaigns, no fewer than 52 cases of politically motivated, intra and inter-party violence have so far been recorded across 22 states.
He said in order to curb these acts of violence, including the attacks on assets and facilities of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in some parts of the country, the police were collaborating with other security agencies to beef up security and upscale the deployment of security teams to all INEC assets and facilities nationwide.
The IGP assured: “On our part, the Nigeria Police Force, working in collaboration with other security agencies have resolved to enhance intelligence gathering, share and utilise same to stem acts of political violence, upscale the deployment of security teams to all INEC assets and facilities nationwide with teams drawn from the police, Nigerian Army, Department of State Services, Nigeria Civil and Security Defence Corps and the Federal Fire Service to take decisive lawful action against purveyors of hate speech, incitement to violence, mobilisation of thugs and other violations, including the prompt arrest, investigation, and prosecution of offenders in line with the provisions of Sections 92 and 93 of the Electoral Act 2022 as amended.”
He said the meeting became expedient following a noticeable trend within the national political space which, if not promptly addressed, could evolve into a potent threat to not just our national security but the electoral process.
He noted that political violence manifested in different forms. Among them were violence targeted at the personnel and assets of INEC as recently witnessed in Ogun and Osun states, as well as inter-party intolerance and violence, which often became particularly pronounced during campaigns, elections, and post-elections phases.
He regretted the activities of some state governors who use political thugs and sub-national security outfits under their control to disrupt seamless and statutorily guaranteed campaigns of rival political parties, noting that such traits of political intolerance often inflamed political tension among party supporters.
Only recently, a middle aged man was electrocuted in Ibadan while destroying a campaign billboard of the Oyo state gubernatorial candidate of the Accord Party, Mr. Adebayo Adelabu. Eye witnesses said that residents of the area had already warned the man against the destruction of the campaign billboard.
Some other campaign billboards that have been vandalised, destroyed or totally removed in the state in recent times were those of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), All Progressives Congress (APC), Accord Party (AP), New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) and Social Democratic Party (SDP). It is also customary to see opposition posters being defaced, torn off or replaced by campaign materials of their parties overnight.
The habit of governors and political heavyweights using their positions and influence to frustrate their opponents is as old as democratic practice in the country. It has become the norm whenever election periods set in. Denying opposition parties equal access to state-controlled media to sell their party programmes and/or facilities to hold rallies is anti-democratic, repulsive and uncivilised.
All these crude tactics would make Niccolo Machiavelli quake in his grave in mockery. It clearly shows that the governors and their ilk are jittery of facing their opponents in a free and fair contest, and are desperately ready to do anything possible to win election, irrespective of the people’s feelings and aspirations.
Our governors should remember that the contract they have with their electorate was sealed by an oath they took to give every citizen in their state equal treatment. Any action taken by them with the aim of precluding the opposition from enjoying equal treatment in the elections is not just contrary to their oath of office but crude politics at its best.
We advise our governors to sheathe their tongues, show restraint and give the opposition equal opportunity to market their manifestoes to the electorate. This is the time to sustain our democracy. Nigeria deserves no less.
The forthcoming general elections are meant to serve as a wake-up call to build or rebuild a nation in need of redemption from the current socio-economic challenges. The security agencies are also enjoined to live up to their responsibilities. Nigerian politicians are bad losers who see politics as a do-or-die affair. The full wrath of the law should be brought down on those who run afoul of it, regardless of their status.