ELECTORAL violence has been an ugly face of our political culture. It comes before, during and after most elections. The only election that went without the slightest stirrings of electoral violence was the annulled 1993 presidential election won by the late Chief Moshood Abiola. That of 2011, which was highly acclaimed by local and international observers, would also have been violence-free but for the organised killing of many youth corps members who helped the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to carry out the assignment in parts of the north.
Unfortunately, long before the current campaign season, many political actors, especially those in the camp of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) were stoking an atmosphere of apprehension. When supporters of General Muhammadu Buhari, the candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) in the 2011 presidential election, paid him a visit on May 15th 2012, he wept openly and threatened that if the 2015 election was rigged, “dog and baboon will soak in blood”. Since the APC started its campaigns, it has been threatening to set up a “parallel government” if the 2015 elections are “rigged”. Nigerian politicians never lose elections. They are usually “rigged” out.
The INEC decided to bind the leadership of the contending political parties by bringing their leaders and presidential candidates together in Abuja on January 13th 2015 to sign a peace accord. It was conducted under the chairmanship of former Commonwealth Secretary General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, with former Secretary General of the United Nations, Dr. Kofi Annan, being among the august international witnesses. The following day, pictures of the two major contenders, President Goodluck Jonathan and the presidential candidate of the APC, General Muhammadu Buhari, adorned the front pages of newspapers, embracing for the peaceful conduct of the elections.
It is very gratifying to note that the two leaders have conducted themselves with great decorum. They have faced the substance of the electoral issues and desisted from making any inflammatory remarks beyond the usual, legitimate campaign jabs and sound bites. But the same cannot be said for the rank and file and some of their supporters who have lived up to the old habit of disrupting the peace. Both PDP and APC have been culpable almost in equal measure.
PDP governors of Kaduna, Katsina and Ekiti states have made very virulent anti-opposition speeches. Governor Ramalan Yero of Kaduna and Shehu Shema of Katsina have been on record threatening fire and brimstone against the APC, whose supporters have been alleged to be behind the campaign of intimidation in the North against GEJ’s supporters. Governor Ayo Fayose sponsored adverts in some national dailies making what has now come to be seen as a “death wish” on General Buhari.
APC campaign office has been reportedly bombed in Rivers State, while their supporters on the way to the Buhari flag-off campaign in Port Harcourt were also allegedly shot at.
On the other hand, APC supporters have reportedly razed buses belonging to the President Jonathan campaign group in Jos while shouting: “we don’t want Jonathan”. The president has been personally attacked while on campaign visits to Katsina and Bauchi. In fact, a picture of the North being a no-go area for the president over his alleged but unfounded “hatred” for the region had long been painted, with text messages flying and threatening to kill key supporters of the president in the north. The situation was so bad that fears were entertained for the safety of those trying to paste posters of the president or move around in his branded campaign vehicles.
However, this orchestrated and artificially machinated atmosphere of hatred for President Jonathan was completely doused when he started his visits to parts of the North. When he was in Maiduguri recently to visit the soldiers, especially the injured ones, and see the internally-displaced persons in their camps, he was happily and cheeringly received by the ordinary Nigerian people who have no business with the politically-engineered campaign of calumny against the president. Everywhere he has gone in the north, nothing we saw on the television screens confirmed the lies and propaganda that the people of the North see him as their “enemy”. He has also spent much time to explain his stewardship in the past four years, which suggests that in terms of projects and appointments, the North has been the lion’s share beneficiary of the Jonathan administration.
General Buhari, on the hand, has also had a very smooth and successful campaign tour of the southern parts of the country. From Port Harcourt to Uyo, from Calabar to Owerri, from Owerri to Lagos and Abeokuta, Buhari and the APC presidential campaign train have been well received. Many were pleasantly surprised to see a large turn-out of Bayelsa people when Buhari berthed there. In fact, in Aba, the heartland of Jonathan’s South East support base, Buhari was even conferred with a chieftaincy title by the traditional ruler of Eziama Aba, Isaac Ikonne. That is as it should be.
Nigerians, let us bear in mind that every Nigerian has the constitutional right to campaign in any part of the country. Any person who tries to stop or intimidate, harass or threaten any candidate in any part of the country is an enemy of Nigeria’s unity. If you attack a presidential candidate in your part of the country, you are inviting revenge attack on your candidate in another part of the country where has his supporters. Jonathan has been attacked twice in the North, not by ordinary,peace-loving northerners but people sent to do so by disgruntled politicians. It is disgruntled political actors who at are behind every act of violence which has occurred in the country’s history.
The shame of Nigeria is that when these enemies of the country carry out their unpatriotic acts, nobody is caught and brought to book. We have no confirmation that those who shot and bombed APC supporters and offices in Rivers have been arrested. Same thing has been the case in the North where Jonathan has been personally attacked and his campaign bus burnt. The law-enforcement agents sit on their palms and embolden the perpetrators to do more. If nothing happens when the president is attacked, then, who is safe?
It is not in the interest of anybody to attack any politician campaigning for votes. It is not even wise. Whether we like it or not, Nigerians are going to elect either President Goodluck Jonathan or General Muhammadu Buhari on February 14th 2015. Attacking any of them will not help anybody’s political quest. It may only create more sympathy for the person and therefore more votes. On the other hand, it may trigger unpleasant consequences when the shoe is on the other foot.
If you attack a presidential candidate and he becomes president, you risk being put in the dog house for the next four years. Attacking a political candidate is a foolish and barbaric thing to do. The only sane, civilised, lawful and effective way of dealing with a political candidate you do not like is to boycott his campaign rallies and cast your ballot against him. Those artificially-engineered attacks on President Jonathan must stop. On the other hand, the threat by Mujahid Asari Dokubo to “retaliate” when next Buhari visits in the South-South must be totally discountenanced. It is not in the character or culture of the people of the South to attack or kill their visitors.
We are not at war. We are looking for the next person to lead us for four years. Let us abide by the Peace Accord, vote for a party and candidate of our choice and accept the final verdict of the Nigerian people.