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Nigeria Decides 2023: Politics of bitterness, intimidation, hate speeches as hallmark of 2023 polls

By Sunday Ani

Since the build up of activities to the 2023 general election, politicians have not left anyone in doubt as to the direction of the campaign. Interesting and captivating as some of the events surrounding the campaign appear, there have also been lots of twists and turns trailing it. The forthcoming election is trailed by campaigns of calumny, mudslinging and character assassination.

Politicians, particularly the state governors, apprehensive of their parties possibly being defeated by their opponents, have been busy laying all kinds of land mines on the way to intimidate, suppress, oppress and frustrate them.

Analysts argue that in the country’s political landscape since the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) blew the whistle setting in motion the electioneering campaign, it has been politics of rancour, bitterness and intimidation. Those who control the levers of political authority, particularly the state governors, more often than not, have frustrated efforts by their opponents to canvass for votes from the electorate in their domain, either by denying them access to public facilities for campaign, destroying their campaign posters using their paid agents or even attacking and disrupting the opponents’ political rallies.

Much as concerned Nigerians, at home and in the Diaspora, including the civil society groups, opposition political parties and non-governmental organisations among other interested bodies have condemned the rising acts of intimidation of political opponents by those who control political powers, the trend has continued unabated.

The development has attracted the attention of President Muhammadu Buhari, who recently read a riot act to politicians in that regard. Disturbed by the growing wave of election-related violence across the country, the President had, last month, reminded politicians about the consequences of their actions, warning them to rein in their thugs or risk a commensurate backlash from the law enforcement agents.

Perhaps, the President’s intervention, according to analysts, might not be unconnected with the electoral body’s earlier alarm that the spate of violence in the country, particularly as it affects the electioneering campaign ahead of next year’s general election, was unbecoming, having tracked 50 incidents of campaign violence in 21 states since the campaign kicked off.

The INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu had, at an emergency meeting of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) recently held in Abuja, condemned the simultaneous attacks on INEC offices in Abeokuta South Local Government Area in Ogun State and Ede South Local Government Area in Osun State.

“Regarding the spate of physical attacks during the ongoing political campaigns and rallies, the Commission has so far tracked 50 incidents across 21 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. These unhappy occurrences are coming just a little over one month into the election campaign which is scheduled to last for about five months, September 28, 2022, to February 23, 2023, for Presidential and National Assembly elections; and from October 12, 2022, to March 11, 2023, for the governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections.

“The Commission is worried that if no urgent and decisive steps are taken, the attacks will intensify as we approach the election date. As we all know, a peaceful campaign heralds a peaceful election. We need to take decisive steps to stem the ugly trend,” the INEC boss noted.

Regrettably, the trend has continued despite the President’s warning until last week’s brutal assassination of the Labour Party (LP) Women Leader in Kaduna State, Mrs. Victoria Chintex.  Many saw her murder as politically motivated, solely conceived, orchestrated and executed to silence the Labour Party or reduce its growing influence in Kaduna State, as well as to threaten other persons that may try to mobilize support for the party. Figuratively speaking, it was the last straw that broke the camel’s back, as the National Security Adviser (NSA); General Mohammed Monguno (retd), came out smoking in anger. He warned the governors for the umpteenth time to call their thugs to order, even as he reminded them that henceforth, the eagle eyes of the security agents would be on them and their thugs. He promised them that their activities would not escape the security searchlight that is already beamed across the country, except they desist from further intimidating political opponents using their thugs and play by the rules.

“I want to send a very clear warning; a categorical and unequivocal warning to those people who have gangsters working for them, regardless of whichever party, including the party of the president, that as long as you decide to scuttle the electoral process, the law enforcement agents will equally be uninhibited in reacting to whatever action you have taken. You will be visited with appropriate and commensurate response and I am saying this with all sincerity.

“So, I want to warn those who think that they have a history of organising and controlling crooks that have an inclination for expressing inordinate behaviour to reassess, and reevaluate their inclination or contemplation. Call your people and advise them that as long as they do not behave in a manner that suggests compliance with the Electoral Law, you will be held accountable.

“Already, the security and intelligence agencies are tracking these people. Call your thugs and advise them to lay down whatever plans they have, because whoever wins in any state, that party has won. This is the intention of the president of this country. There can be no pretence or excuse whatsoever,” Monguno stated.

Some sections of the country believe that the public outcry and condemnation that followed Chintex murder was what informed the Federal Government’s stern warning through the NSA. They reasoned that it was the same incident that forced even the Inspector General of Police (IGP) to also issue a strong warning, particularly to the state governors to either play by the rules or have the security agents to contend with.

The IGP, Usman Baba, who decried the rising cases of political attacks on opposition parties across the country, pointedly accused some unnamed governors of sponsoring thugs to incite violence.

The police boss listed such disturbing developments to include the recent attack on the campaign convoy of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital last week, attacks on Labour Party activities in Enugu, Ebonyi, Lagos and other states as well as the alleged threat by the Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello to physically attack or kill members of the opposition parties who stand in his way in the state.

Vowing to take decisive action against hate speech, incitement to violence, mobilisation of thugs and other violations, the IGP also promised that there would be 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: “Political violence manifests in three forms. First is violence that is targeted at the personnel and assets of the Independent National Electoral Commission, as recently witnessed in Ogun and Osun states. The second form of political violence manifests in the form of inter-party intolerance and violence which often become particularly pronounced during campaigns, elections and post-elections phases.

“It is on record that not less than 52 cases of such politically-motivated, intra and inter-party violence have been recorded across 22 states since the official commencement of campaigns for the 2023 general election on September 28, 2022.

“The last form of political violence relates to the conduct of some state governors who manifest traits of political intolerance which often inflame political tension. In this regard, we have been receiving reports of some state governors who encourage political thugs and sub-national security outfits under their control to disrupt seamless and statutorily guaranteed campaign activities of parties or candidates with whom they hold opposing political views.

“In so doing, they deploy their powers and influences to either prevent the mounting of campaign billboards or pull them down, while also denying political opponents of spaces to undertake their campaigns or peaceful political congregations in contravention of the provisions of the Electoral Act 2022 (As amended).”

He warned those intimidating political opponents of the consequences, as their activities would be fully brought under the radar of the security agents.

He said: “If political thugs are armed with any sort of weapon and inspired by any political actor to advance an illegal act, including attacking innocent citizens for political purpose, or attacking INEC assets and personnel, or any other critical infrastructure in the country, such persons and those orchestrating them stand the risk of being brought to justice for the specific crime associated with their conducts regardless of their political affiliation, status, or ambition.

“Beyond its impact on the political process, political violence also has a major consequence on our national security. Consequently, the Nigeria Police Force and all other national security agencies, in fulfillment of their statutory obligations to the nation, remain duty-bound to initiate enforcement actions that will restore order within the political and national security systems.

“Henceforth, we shall put machinery in motion that will, in the most proactive manner, identify, isolate, apprehend, and bring any political actor and the foot soldiers they might be motivating to engage in violence at political rallies or any other political engagement, to deserved justice.”

It is also on record that Mr. President had at various global and national platforms openly affirmed his commitment to deepening the country’s democratic journey by encouraging the virtues of a peaceful electoral process in which the interests and wishes of the electorate take pre-eminence.

But in spite of the warning from the president, NSA, and the IGP, politicians are still not ready to play by the rule. They would still not allow a level playing ground for all the contestants.

Just yesterday, December 3, the Labour Party campaign rally in Lakowe area of Lekki, Lagos State, was attacked by thugs alleged to have been sponsored by the APC. According to reports, several people were injured in the attack.

According to the Labour Party Organising Secretary in Ibeju-Lekki, Oluwadare Bamidele, who sustained injuries from the attack, the attackers were lying in wait inside a bus at a corner around the Lakowe junction and emerged to ferociously attack them as soon as they got to the junction.

However, lending his voice to the development, the president of the Middle Belt Forum (MBF), Dr. Pogu Bitrus, condemned the attacks, noting that campaign should be based on issues rather than on individuals.

He charged the security agents to be neutral in their discharge of their constitutional responsibility especially as it affects the 2023 elections: “The security agents, without taking sides should act as true enforcers of law, so that we can have peaceful and violence-free election next year,” he added.

He condemned the killing of the Labour Party women Leader in Kaduna, describing it as an evil development that must not be allowed to slip. “It is quite unfortunate and sad to hear that a woman supporting a political party that is gaining traction like the LP has been shot in cold blood. That is an unfortunate development and should not be allowed. The perpetrators should be fished out and brought to book. This should not happen anywhere. The same thing should apply to those who viciously attacked the campaign trail of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital. All these acts are against our political development and it is up to the political leaders to ensure that their subjects do not take law into their hands. No governor should stop anybody from exercising his/her political right. Every eligible adult in this country has the right to vote for whoever he/she choses and no person should impede on that right. Our political system should be free so that we have a free and fair election in 2023; nothing short of that is acceptable in Nigeria today,” he submitted.

On the genuineness of the marching orders from the NSA, IGP and even the president, he said he could not specifically say whether they were genuine or not, but insisted that there should be neutrality with regard to the security agents. He said: “Any person or group of persons, including the insurgents that attempt to disrupt the elections, destablise a community or frustrate the opponents through violence should be dealt with.”

Dr. Bitrus called on President Buhari to borrow a leaf from what the former President Goodluck Jonathan did in the build up to the 2015 general election, particularly as it affects violence and security generally. He said: “In fact, what Jonathan did in 2014 should be replicated now. The then Service Chiefs were given marching orders and they promised to stabilise the polity within two to three weeks so that elections could hold in the whole country and they achieved that. There was no Boko Haram attack during that period and we had free and fair elections. Up till today, communities are still being sacked, and it should be addressed before the election because when you sack a community, you disenfranchise members of such communities, as they would be forced into the IDP camps where they will not be able to vote. “The government should ensure that there is a level playing ground for everybody contesting for elections. So, the security agents should stand up to their responsibility to ensure that we have a peaceful election and a peaceful Nigeria.”

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