Barely two months to the February 2019 general elections, politicians, intent on winning by whatever means, have begun the now familiar practice of recruiting young men and women from the army of the unemployed as thugs to perpetrate violence and other unwholesome practices as part of a desperate effort to bend the rules in their favour. In some cases, the cult groups on campuses also make themselves available for this reprehensible tactic in the electioneering process.
This act continues despite the fact that most of the politicians publicly preach non-violence and even hypocritically deplore thuggery and banditry in the contest for political office and power. Previously, the use of this category of people in politics used to be concealed, with most of them parading themselves as organising secretaries. In those days, political thugs were recruited from the streets and motor parks, mainly gangs of hemp smokers and other illicit drug users. But that has now changed. Today, they hang around their paymasters as personal assistants (PAs) without roles.
The use of thugs has often resulted in threats, assassinations, violence and the breakdown of law and order before, during and after elections. The youths so engaged take solace in the temporary rewards and gratifications offered by such desperate politicians.
According to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS), in 2017, the estimated youth unemployment rate in Nigeria was at 13.41 percent.
Finding themselves caught in this quagmire, the average unemployed youth develops an attitude that seems to point to a loss of confidence in the state and, therefore, think nothing of the invitation to violence. For some, it is a way to get back at the society that appears to have abandoned them.
In the pre- and immediate post-Independence era when the country’s democracy was, in real terms, nascent, thuggery was an integral part of Nigerian politics and, in particular, electoral process, but it was limited to ballot box snatching. That method seems to have become primitive. The phenomenon has become worrisome as politicians, who deploy their resources in arming these characters, often find it difficult to undo what they had done as they are unable to retrieve those weapons even if they get into power. The emboldened youths, who are not only hungry but also angry and confused about what to do with their lives when the hand-outs dry up, continue to use such arms to threaten and, in most cases, commit acts of violence, robbery and killings.
Recent confessions by some arrested armed robbers and assassins indicate that many of them were political thugs armed by politicians, used and abandoned. Such youths are however often denied and left alone to face the consequence of their actions.
It may be convenient to blame the political actors for being so callous, but it is also time parents question the appointment of their sons and daughters as personal assistants and for other shady enlistment by political actors during electioneering periods.
As a newspaper, we urge parents, schools and religious institutions, and even the youths themselves, to question the desirability of the appointments when they are made. For the parents, they owe themselves a duty to admonish their children and wards so as to pull them back from the brink.
In the typical nepotistic Nigerian society, how many of those PAs are relations of the politicians. In most cases, those politicians keep their own children in good schools at home and overseas, their nephews, nieces and cousins in decent jobs while they destroy the lives of others.
In our opinion, the National Orientation Agency (NOA) should wake up to responsibilities of educating the youths and their parents on the dangers of indulging in violence during political activities.
The police and other law enforcement agencies should also ensure that youth groups do not make themselves willing tools in the hands of unscrupulous politicians. Still, it is our view that a lot depends on the youths themselves who fail to see the damage they are bringing upon their own lives by resorting to thuggery with all its ephemeral attractions and pretensions of proximity to power and influence.