Tuesday, January 19, 2010
ELECTORAL VIOLENCE: WHO CAN TAME THE BEAST?
By Dan Onwukwe, NBF News
In two different locations in the South-East last week – Owerri and elsewhere in Anambra state, a distance of about 40 kilometres – two major events took place almost contemporaneously. It is doubtful if the architects of the happening in Anambra were aware of what was happening in Owerri, the Imo State Capital. Or, it didn’t matter to them. But it brings to the fore the terrifying memories of an intractable political problem for which the event at Owerri was organised.
Indeed, inside Dr Sam Mbakwe Hall at Concord Hotel, a workshop on “The Prevention of electoral violence in Nigeria” was taking place. It was the brainchild of AMPROK Technologies Limited in collaboration of the |Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Undoubtedly, our politics remains vulnerable to violence. How to tame the beast of political violence has become, perhaps more than ever before much more threatening and urgent to tackle. With the Anambra governorship election (February 6) just a matter of days, political violence has become, possibly, a more important national issue than the health of President Umaru Yar’Adua. But unknown to the speakers of the workshop which included the Chiarman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Maurice Iwu, Governor Ikedi Ohakim, Msgr Mathew Hassan Kukah, former Inspector General of Police (IGP), Sir Mike Okiro (retd), the current IGP, Ogbonna onovo, former Nigerians envoy to the USA, Prof George Obiozor, speaker, Imo House of Assembly, Rt. Hoon Goodluck Opia, a firestorm of two violent attacks had been unleashed on the campaign convoy of Prof Chukwuma Charles Soludo, the PDP candidate in the February 6 election in Anambra. The two attacks took place within four days.
It claimed the life of a supporter and critically injured several others. The Police said they are still investigating the matter. But the chairman of Soludo campaign organisation, Chief Okey Muo-Aroh had promised fire-for-fire. “We in the PDP have more than ample capacity,” he said, “to meet any exigencies that the present violence may introduce.” He warned, “this will be the last time we (in PDP) will be at the receiving end.” This might not be an empty threat, because over time, Nigerian politicians have shown their insatiable appetite to unleash violence in order to win elections.
What happened to the Soludo campaign train must be particularly dispiriting to Prof Iwu. Reason: few hours before the violence, Iwu had gleefully in his paper at the workshop in Owerri, praised the political campaigns so far in Anambra ahead of the election. Iwu had said in his paper: “In spite of the high noise, the numerous litigations and heated disputations within the various political parties and between political parties and candidates, there has been no report of violence in the campaign for governorship election in Anambra state. This is the way it should be. It is a mark of maturity and we hope and pray that the spirit and disposition which are currently at play in the state will continue all through the election and beyond.” INEC boss must have been shocked by the renewed political violence in Anambra State, just when he thought things are beginning to look up and the politicians perhaps learning their lessons the hard way.
All that, however means that we are entering an especially dangerous phase in our electoral process. That means in effect that political violence must be taken very seriously. That, indeed, is foreboding, says the CEO of AMPROK Technologies, organisers of the workshop, Prince Obinna Okwuaka. He must know, having been in politics for years and suffered political intimidation as a senatorial candidate of APGA in the 2007 elections, Okwuaka sees electoral violence as a threatening phenomenon that has, in his words, “featured prominently and dangerously in all elections conducted in Nigeria since 1963….” The truth is that from 1960s when the defunct Western region was derisively labelled the Wild, Wild West, and the then Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) (alias Demo) was scornly called the “Southpaw” of the feudal Northern People’s Congress, Nigerian Politicians and their supporters are yet to show any restraint nor finesse of language in elections matters. Violence has therefore become the fear factor. It is the fear of what violence can do against the will of the people.
This is why Msgr Mathew Hassan Kukah in his enriched paper in Owerri described election violence as the “first born child of an illegitimate government.” With unflappable zeal, eloquence and anecdotes, Kukah said “electoral violence shortens the distance of our path to collective destruction.” He warned politicians to note that as long as they continue to swim to power through the blood of electoral violence, one day, now or in the future, they will drown in the pool of that blood.” The sad thing Kukah added, is that our politicians will drag Nigeria to this precipice around their necks. Harsh words, it seems, from Kukah but that is really the terrifying thing about the consequences of electoral violence on the polity.
The sadder thing as INEC boss observes, is that the electoral body under the present law is helpless in reining in erring politicians. According to Iwu, the expectation is that in due course, Nigerian politicians and all stakeholders in the electoral process will realise that elections are not war and that the society will not be better off with the tension, plots and high costs that elections impose on the nation and the citizens.
It bears repeating: what drives or propels Nigerian politicians to employ violence in electoral contests? Or put differently, what is it about our politics that drives violence? Is it our environment that sows these seeds of violence? Is it in the gene of the politicians and their supporters? Better stills is our electoral process devised and designed in such a way that we cannot avoid the outbreak of violence? In other words, is violence an integral part of our political culture? I do not have all the answers, but those who should know such as Prof Iwu, Kukah, and governors like Ohakim say they have a handle why the sums cannot add up to the whole .
I will try to replicate what they have said at the Owerri workshop. According to the Imo State governor whose election is still a subject of disputation three years after, he was sworn in, the causes of electoral violence include weak electoral laws, non-independence of INEC, manipulation of the electoral process by the political parties; use of security agencies to rig election as well as tons of money at the disposal of politicians who use such funds to “purchase the instruments of violence and influence electoral officials and security agencies.” Other causes, Ohakim said, include collaboration and ignoble role of some electoral officials, lack of internal democracy in the political parties, unemployment, hunger and poverty and lack of adequate enlightenment of the electorate. These causes, Ohakim maintains, must be addressed squarely if violence in the electoral contest will be minimised.
But an institutional framework that will guarantee free and fair elections next year is absolutely necessary, says Ohakim. Words are not enough. Action speaks louder than words. And this is where the problem squarely rests. In this regard, Iwu insists that in as much as electoral reform is necessary for the sustenance of Nigerian democracy, it must start with the “reform of the attitude and behaviour of individual politicians”. And unless the politicians, the political parties, the voters, the media and, indeed, all stakeholders reform their basic attitude to politics and elections, nothing much will be achieved. But Kukah reserves the hardest words for the politicians, whom he describes as the “worst enemies of our democratic values, the worst transgressors of the rule of law” in the subversion of the moral basis of our politics.