Nigerians are always apprehensive whenever it is the period of elections. This feeling has foundation in Nigeria’s well known history of election violence, right from the First Republic. Even then, the political contest was always a bloody battle front of sorts, with all manner of violence or threat of violence on display. Arson, thuggery, killings and kidnapping were all prevalent as political actors tried to outdo their rivals, especially with the winners-take-all mentality that has characterised the nation’s political culture. It is generally believed that the election violence in the Western Region was one of the factors that weakened that democratic era and ultimately plunged the country down the slippery route of military incursions in governance, with its attendant consequences on the country’s political and economic development.
Even in the current democratic dispensation, Nigerians cannot forget in a hurry the bloodletting that attended the 2011 presidential election in parts of the country during which several innocent people lost their lives, or the election violence and deaths in River State in 2015.
As a matter of fact, it is a common occurrence to hear reports of how political thugs, hoodlums and other criminal elements are unleashed on the system during elections.
Already, the trend of political campaigns has started assuming a dimension that foretells violence and it is safe to say that it could jeopardise the 2019 general elections if not checked in time.
It is in view of the above that the recent statement of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that it could suspend the election due to threat of violence has caused a lot of concern.
INEC chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, made an allusion to the dangerous manner of campaigns, especially on social media, as posing a threat to the elections and warned politicians to conduct themselves in a peaceful manner if they hope to have conclusive elections. He rightly noted that election cannot be conducted in an unruly and rancorous atmosphere.
The first concern of the electoral body is the personal safety of its officials before any other considerations. Once this is not guaranteed, it is within its rights to call off the poll. Section 26 of the Electoral Act empowers the commission to suspend elections on account of violence or treat of violence.
It is a power it recently exercised in Rivers State last month when it suspended local council polls in the state due to violence by political actors.
Not only the electoral umpire, but even the country’s secret service, the Department of State Services (DSS) had earlier sounded this same note of warning to politicians about the threat violence poses to the 2019 general elections. The former DSS director-general Lawal Daura had, two months ago, cast a bleak outlook on the forthcoming general elections. In a committee report he presented at a forum, he pointed at hate speech by politicians as a major threat to the polls, in addition to the other prevailing sources of insecurity across the country.
Even the national security adviser, Gen Mohammed Monguno, has weighed in on the matter, warning security operatives against compromising their positions, or being complicit, in any attempt to derail the elections. This warning is apt in view of the prevalent way in which politicians in the country usually compromise some morally bankrupt security agents and use them to thwart the electoral process.
As a newspaper, we are constrained to condemn all those who engage in the kinds of political actions and rhetoric that are capable of derailing the 2019 elections, or any other election for that matter. They need to realise that there are laws guiding every aspect of interaction in the country, including political ones, and that they are supposed to play by the rules. Consequently, any violation of the electoral laws must have consequences on the culprit. INEC is required to prosecute electoral offenders, but it does not have the power to make arrests or investigate violations; therefore, the security agencies need to collaborate with it towards identifying and prosecuting those who take delight in flouting electoral laws to serve as a deterrent to other would-be offenders.
As a newspaper, we align ourselves with all democratic forces that are working towards the delivery of successful polls at the set dates in 2019. The political class, the government and all other stakeholders must work together to ensure that this outcome is achieved.
Those involved in the current political contest should borrow a leaf from former President Goodluck Jonathan who said in the run-up to the 2015 general election that his ambition was not worth the blood of any man. That is the spirit.