The long expected year 2018 is here, and with it, the commencement of political activities preparatory to the general election next year. Already reports of violence among activists are beginning to filter in through the media. In Ondo and Oyo States, for instance, a clash between supporters of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and those of the rival Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) recorded some injuries and destruction of property. Blames are bandied around on both sides as to who did what. But we think it is too early to engage in such rascally behaviour all in the name of politics.
Why we are concerned that violence is rearing its head this early in the political field is that there are enough of that already in the society that an addition will be undesirable. The security agencies have a full plate with the clashes between farmers and herdsmen that are becoming a daily affair in Benue, Nasarawa and other states around the North Central zone and have been claiming lives and causing dislocation in the lives of communities so affected. The horrendous activities of kidnappers, the Boko haram bloodletting and the inanities of other terrorist groups in other parts of the country continue to pose serious threats to security of the larger society.
Recently, Bwari, a suburb of the Federal Capital Territory, erupted in what, for want of a better description, in skirmishes bad enough to claim lives and properties and led to the imposition of a dusk to dawn curfew. What this means, in our view, is that the country is virtually sitting on a tinderbox. If the disagreement of political activists is thrown in the mix, then a cataclysm may be the result. That unwanted development is definitely avoidable if everyone involved plays fair and keeps their cool.
Another reason we are worried about the simmering political violence is that those involved in the struggle are, at the best of times, outlandish in their perception of what it takes to win an election. As incurable optimists, they are also excessively desperate. In that state of desperation, they pull all stops in their desire to win political power. For them, it is war by other means that must be fought at all cost as the risks involved and investments made are high indeed. And since everyone expects to win, it is often deadly. That is why we think that the time to return to moderation is now that the game is about to kick off.
Again, why, in our opinion, political violence must be checked at this early stage is that all manner of tricks are allowed to play out- money in all its negative connotations, thuggery, seeking for vengeance and violence in its raw form. It is normal to invite security agencies to move in and draw the line for everyone. However, without the cooperation of the rest of the society, not much will be achieved even when those lines are clearly marked. The rules, we are persuaded to posit, are well known to the gladiators if only they will have the presence of mind to play by them and in a manner that the practice of politics becomes more like a sports competition in which there must be a winner and a loser, where the victor will be humble in victory and the loser magnanimous in defeat.
The politicians themselves have a greater role to play in this regard by ensuring that their supporters are reined in and kept within limits of what is acceptable as politicking progresses. The incidents in Ibadan and Ondo may be considered minor or dismissed as mere brickbats by overzealous political hangers-on. But there is an urgent need to nip it in the bud before it assumes levels that may become uncontrollable.
What is required is for politicians to tone down their rhetoric and stick to issues that conduce for a healthy national discourse. The government, though an interested party in the whole affair, must also remember that meaningful governance is only possible in an environment of peace, understanding, give and take.
This newspaper considers it imperative to voice out this premonition when chances of preventing it are very much within reach. With the success achieved in the immediate past politics and electioneering, we insist that the entrenchment of a democratic culture is attainable only if the game is played according to international best practices and devoid of needless altercation and unhelpful ill- will. Political parties and their members must guarantee that what happened in Ondo and Ibadan did not repeat itself. Elsewhere in developed democracies, politics provide conviviality that encourages participation. Nigeria’s must not be different.
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