The rising incidence of violence at political campaign grounds is a bad omen for the 2015 general election, writes Vincent Obia.
Political violence may be as old as Nigeria, but as the country consecutively garnered democratic experience since 1999, many had hoped this unfortunate character of politics would be fraying at the edges by now. But, alas, passion for political violence seems to be on the rise. Politicians are breathing new life into an old political machine that should progressively be consigned to the past.
As the campaign for the 2015 general election comes down to its most critical days, violence has continued to define the contest in various forms.
Penultimate Saturday in Kaduna, what was planned to be a peaceful rally by youths in the northern parts of the country turned violent as sectional political sentiments crept in. The crowds became divided between supporters and opponents of President Goodluck Jonathan's second term ambition.
There are many versions of the story, from the alleged renting of crowds of youths from the 19 northern states by pro-Jonathan elements in the region to drum support for his second term bid, to the suspected inducement of hoodlums by the president's opponents to disrupt the rally. But the bottom line is that trouble started when the leaders of the rally made speeches supportive of Jonathan and his bid for another term.
Organised under the aegis of the Northern Youth Forum led by Jubril Tafida, a former vice chairman of a local government in Kaduna State, the event was, reportedly, tagged a unity and peace rally. But as the occasion held at the Murtala Mohammed Square got on, it became apparent from the speeches of the organisers that it was actually purposed to buoy Jonathan's endorsement in the north in preparation for the formal campaign for the 2015 presidential election. In reaction, anti-Jonathan thugs, said to have been strategically placed in the crowd, were alleged to have pelted the rally's organisers and others at the venue with pebbles, bottles, and other objects.
The police stepped in and used tear gas to disperse the rally. About 20 persons were reported to have been injured in the melee.
Kaduna State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Olufemi Adenaike, said at a news briefing on Tuesday that due to the incident and to forestall further violence in the state, the State Security Council had "decided that there will be no more rallies, seminars or any other public function in Kaduna," the state capital, until further notice. A similar incident took place in Ekiti State about two week before, on September 19, when the police dispersed supporters of a member of the House Representatives and a governorship aspirant in the state, Hon. Opeyemi Bamidele. They had gathered at a rally in Ado-Ekiti to mark his formal declaration to contest next year's governorship election in the state. Bamidele is believed to be in the bad books of some leaders of his All Progressives Congress because he insists on contesting the election against their opinion. Some people were alleged to have orchestrated situations that compelled a police intervention and, ultimately, result in the disruption of the political rally by the governorship aspirant.
There are many other instances of violence arising from political intolerance, and the country is sure to see more as it marches towards the 2015 election. In many states nowadays, the Commissioners of Police appear to feel duty-bound to stop any congregation on the platform of the New Peoples Democratic Party, a faction of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party that emerged at the last national convention of the party. While the faction may not be recognised by the Independent National Electoral Commission, nothing in the country's laws stops members of the group from associating to further their political beliefs. But those who should be unbiased enforcers of the law have also tried hard to flout the rules.
The whole politics seems to be stuck in a time warp. It is like the politicians - members of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party and the opposition parties alike - are not prepared to change. They are committed to maintaining a cruel political tool - violence - that has in large measure proved to be at the core of the present security nightmare in the country that has claimed the lives of over 14, 000 people since 1999, according to a recent report.
Sadly, political violence in the country, especially at the national level, ahead of 2015 is also acquiring a tribal image - which makes it even more dangerous.
Last month, some ex-militants in the Niger Delta issued a release in which they declared former Vice President Atiku Abubakar persona non grata. This followed the August 31 special national convention of PDP, where Atiku led some state delegates and seven governors on a walk out that resulted in the formation of the splinter group in the party, nPDP.
The ex-militants met in Yenagoa under the aegis of the Leadership, Peace and Cultural Development Initiative. They said, "It is unfortunate that Atiku, who has benefitted so much from the Niger Delta's crude oil and gas, is leading dissidents in a political coup against the first South-southerner to ascend the seat of President of Nigeria."
As has consistently been proven, there is no one close to the reins of power - whether in the government, political parties, or the security services - who has the courage or ability to challenge the warped notions of politics upon which the creeping violence is premised. At a time the world is expecting Nigeria to consciously shed unnecessary political weights and transform towards a more civilised sociopolitical system, the most significant change for which the country's first ever 13 unbroken years of democratic experience might well be remembered, it seems, is transformation towards an unsavoury past. The democratic institutions are getting weaker and weaker, as they are increasing tied to the apron strings of individuals.
If not, why would things like excluding or stopping somebody from contesting an election - as nPDP seems to pursue - still be the driving political agenda of some people when freedom of participation and choice is the main pillar of democracy? And why would some people still be pursuing the goal of stopping the congregation of free citizens just because they are gathering under an opposition banner, as some state governments, especially those governed by pro-Jonathan governors, are acting towards nPDP supporters.
The signs of the dangerous political deterioration are all over. But the president and his party have a duty to lead efforts to halt this precipitous drop in political decency.