by Kayode Komolafe
As political parties and their candidates gird their loins for the Saturday election, it is important to intensify the campaign against electoral violence.
There is justifiable euphoria in the land. The obvious reason is that the prediction of doom about the March 28 presidential election has mercifully failed to come to pass. The election was concluded in an unprecedented manner: both President Goodluck Jonathan and the President-elect, General Muhammadu Buhari, continue to receive well -deserved congratulations for conceding defeat and winning respectively. Not a few Nigerians believe that the statesmanship of the President has averted the predicted post-election violence with the blood and tears that could be in its trail. Understandably, this national mood may persist at least till the end of the transition on May 29.
It must, however, be remembered that amidst the celebration of a leap in the electoral process, there are some families mourning in different parts of the country. They are in distress because their loved ones were killed in the course of the electoral process. We must spare a thought for the persons killed by those seeking electoral advantage for their sponsors.
In an illuminating advisory published before the elections, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) estimated that in 60 days about 58 persons were killed in electoral violence. The same commission has also estimated that at least 50 persons were killed during the last elections. The chairman of the Governing Council of NHRC, Dr. Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, painted the gory picture like this: “This number includes one state legislator, a community leader and two ad-hoc lection staff of the Independent electoral Commission (INEC) allegedly killed in extremist attack in Gombe as well as the killing of an officer of the armed forces in Rivers State.” In fact, the All Progressives Congress (APC) alleged on Sunday that about 55 members of the party were killed in Rivers State alone. The human costs of elections are indeed enormous. The costs of the elections are not anymore limited to time, energy and money. Now, the costs could also be measured in blood and tears. This is a dark side of the nation’s political reality.
As political parties and their candidates gird their loins for the Saturday election, it is important to intensify the campaign against electoral violence. Elections can be held without bloodshed if everyone plays according to the rule. To deepen democracy every vote must be counted and the vote should count; so also must every life count to ennoble our collective humanity. The system should ensure that lives lost are accounted for by making sure that the law is rigorously applied. This is a duty the state has to perform to avoid recurrence of this bloodletting in the name of politics. Murder should never be explained off as politicking. It is as if there is immunity against killing during elections. Those who killed in previous elections were not prosecuted; this has given the impetus to impunity. There is a legitimate fear that killings during elections are becoming a norm. Electoral battles should be fought only with ballots. Bullets should be kept out of elections.
It is highly unsettling to imagine that the nation is yet to have a respite from electoral violence despite the conclusion of the presidential election. There are apprehensions about the Saturday elections of governors and state legislators. Only yesterday, the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Suleiman Abba, announced that he would deploy more policemen to Rivers State and other volatile states. Suleiman also said 124 suspects have been charged with electoral offences and investigations would continue. A blast was reported in Enugu during the presidential election. The Inspector General said three suspects were arrested in connection with the violence. The statement by the police boss should naturally trigger a question: whatever happened to the electoral offences tribunal recommended by the Uwais Panel? It is unfortunate that the tragedy of electoral violence is being discussed as if the nation suffers from collective amnesia. If not, the question of what is to be done should no more arise.
Perhaps all that is required in solving this problem is to keep a good memory of what happened during previous elections and the aftermath. To the eternal credit of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, he made good the promise of electoral reform in his inaugural speech of May 29, 2007. He set up the panel on electoral reform under the leadership of former Chief Justice Muhammadu Uwais.
Among the far-reaching recommendations embodied in the famous Uwais Report is the establishment of a tribunal specifically to try cases of electoral offence. The idea of electoral offences tribunal was also reiterated in the report of the panel on post-election violence headed by the former Chief Judge of the Sharia Court of Appeal, Sheikh Ahmed Lemu. President Jonathan set up the Lemu Panel in response to the violence that erupted after the 2011 election. About 800 lives were reportedly lost in that national tragedy including those of some members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) who were called upon to render services as ad-hoc staff of INEC.
The panel even examined the structural roots of violence, which episodically erupts during elections. While presenting the report to the President on October 11, 2011, Sheikh Lemu said inter alia: “General insecurity of life and property in people’s houses and on the highways and kidnapping are adding fuel to the fire of public frustration and disappointment … The true state of affairs could escalate to social revolution if preventive measures are not taken in time.” Lemu could well have been speaking of the Nigeria of 2015, you would probably say. In other words the problems persist because the recommendations of the panel have not been implemented. Ironically, Lemu lamented that the reports of previous government-appointed committees were never implemented.
All told, preventing violence during elections is an important component of any efficacious political reform. Therefore, to consummate the political reforms, which all the governments since 1999 have articulated as a policy, the Lemu report should be fully implemented as adopted by government. President Olusegun Obasanjo set up a Political Reform Conference, President Yar’Adua came with Uwais Panel and President Jonathan empanelled the Lemu Committee. To be charitable to the successive governments, the purpose of all the efforts has been to bring sanity into the polity including the electoral process. A decade after the Obasanjo conference, political killings are still reported.
There is doubtless logic to the recommendation of electoral offences tribunal. If the political party of a suspect charged with an electoral offence forms the government at the state level, the Attorney General would most likely enter a nolle prosequi in the matter. That is why the prosecution of many of the cases is hardly consummated. On its part, INEC has cried out that it lacks the capacity for the prosecution of all the cases apprehended.
Yet the only antidote to the reign of impunity is the sanction of the offenders according to the law. If those who committed electoral violence in 2007 were sanctioned, the tragedy of 2011 could probably have been averted. And if those responsible for the killings in 2011 had been punished the killers 2015 might not have been emboldened to commit heinous crimes. In other words, political reforms (including improvement of the electoral process) should continue under a new government. The role of armed forces and the police during elections should also be scrutinised to ensure that they enhance rather than impair the democratic space.
Meanwhile, it is worth reminding the Nigerian state and its apparatuses that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has already opened a file on Nigeria. If Nigeria treats these horrendous killings as mere statistics to be reflected in newspaper headlines, the rest of the world may be taking a more deeply humanistic view of things. On the contrary, if the Nigerian state moves to bring the killers to book, there may be no job for the ICC to do in the circumstance. It is no compliments to the justice system in Nigeria that nowadays the first direction victims of injustice look at is that of the ICC. The huge challenge is how the system here can prove to the world that human lives indeed matter.
In the light of the foregoing, Inspector General Abba should ensure that those responsible for the killings before, during and after the elections are arrested and prosecuted. Criminals should not be allowed to carry on as if murder is no crime during elections. An end should be put to this culture of bloodbath during elections.
This article was first published by Premium Times
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