We often hear the saying that when the poor eventually have absolutely nothing else to eat, they will reach out to eat the rich. Due to the fact that getting to that tipping point seems a long way off, governments and leaders with the capacity to reduce the ever-widening gap between the haves and the have nots, believe that they can ignore the situation. That way, they get away with murder – with the poor routinely turned against the poor.
Think about electoral violence in a country like Nigeria, keeping an eye on whose lives were snuffed out and who were harassed, wounded or maimed. By the time the dusts of the election had settled and the tally of the killed and the wounded was announced, we learned from the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room that a staggering 626 persons were killed during the 2019 elections. Were those compatriots killed because of the election or were they killed in some sort of warfare raging in the nation?
Let us look closely at the massacre that occurred so that politicians can get elected and take up the titles of ‘Honourable’ and ‘Your Excellency.’
The 625 deaths mark a sharp rise from the 106 killed in the 2015 elections. Elections in Nigeria must stand out as one of the most violent civic activities in the country – a dubious record that no nation should wish to emulate.
Since the Situation Room report has been made public, we are not aware of any serious enquiry into why lives must be lost in any electoral process. We recall that former President Goodluck Jonathan declared that no life should be lost because of his re-election bid. Many other politicians paid scant attention to that totally basic but commendable statement.
In the 2019 election, President Buhari issued a shoot on sight order for those who may wish to carry out criminal activities like ballot box snatching. Sadly, ballot boxes were not only snatched, bonfires were made of ballot papers and videos of such unfortunate scenarios made the rounds as we moved on with our lives.
It does appear that one of the reasons why election results are fought so viciously is because the business of politics is about the most lucrative venture in the land, with our law makers allegedly receiving higher pay cheques than any comparable officials in any other country in the world. So, getting elected, cornering a chunk of the national cake and being celebrated is a better choice than robbing a bank and getting shot in the process.
But why is it that those who are not contestants in the elections are the ones shedding their blood during the exercise? We could also ask, how many contestants shed their blood during the elections? Clearly, the elections are safe enterprises for the office seekers, the sacrificial pawns are those that may never get near the corridors of power in their short, wretched lives.
A tentative conclusion at this point would be that those who provide the fuel for the violence and bloodshed, do so because of the high prize awaiting the winners and because of the exalted positions they would occupy on obtaining the famous certificates of return. And how about the sacrificial pawns who wreak havoc on innocent citizens during the exercise? It appears they do not really care about who wins the election or if they would deliver on their promises. They are content with the pittance that gets into their hands which is sufficient for booze, food and drugs that they need to keep them high for the day.
Discussions about the spate of indiscriminate violence in the country has taken a somewhat rear seat as the violence meted against non-South African Africans continue in South Africa. However, whether the violence is in Nigeria, South Africa or any other country, one characteristic is that such violence is vastly restricted to persons within approximately similar social classes. Jungle justice such as necklacing, or placing of burning tyres on the necks of thieves, is often seen to be meted on petty thieves by equally poor folks. Those who steal billions of naira or dollars are never subjected to such treatment. Do you recall when security officers in Nigeria took selfies with a notorious kidnapper? Would they give that treatment to a poor fellow who stole a pair of slippers?
Could it be that inequality in societies such as Nigeria and South Africa is what is providing the basic framework for destructive behaviours? Come to think of it, the poor may actually wish that others in the same class should remain poor and never make any dramatic rise from the clutches of poverty. Extreme jealousy happens when some section of this oppressed class show a sign of moving ahead while others are tightly held in the trap.
It is easy to see how this may be true in xenophobic situations. It is a lot harder to make sense of why anyone will kill anyone so that someone else may get elected into political office. One reason could be madness. Another could be utter desperation to make the proverbial daily bread by hook or by crook. Another could be a sense of general hopelessness. Or it could just be a case of leaders lacking any sense of what direction to take out of the corner that we have boxed ourselves into. Perhaps we can begin by examining why 625 Nigerians had to die in an election. Whatever the explanation, actions must be taken to address the anomaly.
Governments must take steps to reduce inequality in our countries. Steps towards this include providing affordable health services and free primary and secondary education. These will remove basic factors that drive inequality. The other factor that drives inequality is the unequal servicing of communities. Parts of cities where the rich live have better roads, better security and steadier power and water supply. There are more that can be done. Let the conversations begin.