Nigerians are getting apprehensive on a daily basis over the likelihood of a violence-prone general election next year. The reason is the wanton disturbances across the country.
Since the beginning of this year, Nigeria has been experiencing increasing security challenges which appear to have defied solutions. Nigerians seem to have lost count of repeated promises and reassurances by government on how to restore peace in society.
No day ever passes without news about killings in one state or the other. President Muhammadu Buhari was in Kaduna last Tuesday where he met with political, religious and traditional leaders over the recent disturbances in the state that claimed scores of lives.
Like in several other cases, the President only issued warning and threats, and then returned to his base in Abuja. Nothing shows that the killings will not recur. In the last three-and-half years, Kaduna State has experienced numberless unprovoked killings and it is not in public domain that perpetrators of the dastardly acts are either in prison or that any form of punishment was meted out to them.
On one occasion, in a move that incensed many Nigerians, the state government under the leadership of Nasir El-Rufai, boldly told the entire country, and indeed the world, that it had to give the killers a huge sum of money to persuade them to stop killing.
This revealed that the perpetrators of these heinous acts are not spirits; they are known to government but for reasons known to the powers that be in the state, such killers are shielded and treated as untouchables.
Observers have also said that governments (mis)handling of the Shi’ites’ crisis is also a recipe for greater violence as the country moves into the election season.
Cromwell Onah, a public affairs analyst, described as unfortunate the government’s insistence to crush the sect, hiding under their (Shiites) disturbances;
“For me, government is just being high-handed on the Shiites. Who would not feel offended that after a court of competent jurisdiction had given order that their leader El-Zakzaky, be released on bail, yet government continues to incarcerate the man under ‘protective custody’? Government has pushed the sect to the wall and what they are doing is just to react. They have their own pattern of worship. It may not be the best, but respect them. There is freedom of worship in Nigeria, except if there is another constitution that is in practice in Nigeria that says otherwise. What the government is doing may constitute a huge problem if it is not sorted out before elections. These people can decide to foment trouble on the day of the presidential election and all that our military and police would do as usual, would be to kill, and that would mar the election” Onah said.
On the apparent lack of proper crowd control by the police as was seen in the Shiites’ clashes last week, Mike Ejiofor, a former director of State Security Service (SSS), advised the nation’s security agencies to better brace up for the coming elections.
“What they do not understand is that the 2019 election would be keenly contested. So,we are going to see more protests and rallies arising from the elections or before the elections. The police are trained for crowd-control,” Ejiofor said.
He also aligned with Onah, urging government to obey the court ruling.
“Government should release the Shiite leader. The court has since released him on bail, why must government continue to detain him? Government must abide by the rule of law. As long as the man is being held, his members will continue to protest,” he said.
Lawrence Alobi, a former commissioner of police, who was a guest at the Channels’ Sunrise Daily Wednesday, advised that “all the security agencies should sit down and discuss how this Shiite issue should be resolved once and for all. If you put them down, they may resort to Guerrilla warfare.” He warned that Nigeria risked another version of insurgency coming from the sect, if things get out of hand.
Contending with illegal big guns
“The proliferation of arms prior to elections also remains a huge threat. Since the 2003 elections, the arming of supporters has become an election tool,” he said.
Despite these assurances, however, the concerns over the possible negative impact of the preponderance of small arms and light weapons on the 2019 elections have continued to mount. Stakeholders say the government and its agencies must go beyond these verbal assurances and work out ways to mop up illegal arms in the country and prevent influx of new ones through effective manning of the country’s airports, seaports, and expansive land borders.
The worsening poverty level in the country has been blamed for the willingness of youths to enlist in violence.
The culture of thuggery introduced by the Nigerian brand of politicians who always want to win at all cost may have also given birth to the excessive violence in society. The political elite have been known to place at the disposal of the thugs, considerable amounts of cash and access to weapons.
With the return of the country to civil rule in 1999, the politicians began to see power as a do-or-die affair and in the mad crave to win at all cost they began to acquire dangerous weapons to outdo one another. The advent of Boko Haram insurgency has severally been blamed on politicians in Borno State of the North East, who felt being used and dumped and then decided to dispense havoc in society.
A political pundit said: “Nigeria was until 1999 a long-standing military dictatorship of an incoherent variety. A rapid succession of regimes through countless coups and regimes changes led to a high attrition rate in the officer corps. The retired officers are known to return to their ethnic home bases with sizeable arms which they put at the disposal of local war lords and ethnic champions. There have been cases where retired military officers have participated in the training, equipping and indoctrination of ethnic militias. A good number of these officers are retired rather prematurely. Having been spoilt by the privileges and perks of high political office, they easily become instruments of political agitation to gain some relevance.”
Then, you talk about too many illegal guns in wrong hands; and nobody cares. From East to West, and from North to South, the story is the same. Too many arms in the hands of wrong people, and innocent citizens are bearing a huge brunt of the madness.
It was said that the eyes of the Niger Delta youths “got opened” after they had attended in March 1998, the Sani Abacha’s ‘2 Million Man March’ in Abuja organised by the defunct Youths Earnestly Ask for Abacha (YEAA) led by the then youthful Daniel Kanu. The youths, many of whom were militants, and most of whom had not crossed the South-South before, were mobilized by politicians at that time to go sing Abacha’s praise.
During the trip, they saw the splendor that was the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and realized that it was the Niger Delta that yielded the money used in turning a wasteland into a cynosure of eyes. Upon their return to the Niger Delta, they took their militancy to another level- kidnapping oil workers and expatriates in the region. It was also said that by the time the civilian government returned in 1999, the already “militarized” area became more volatile as political actors enlisted the services of the militants to prosecute their political ambitions.
Since then, there’s no looking back. Many of them have become many things, hiding under the struggle for self-determination and agitation for resource control. Many of them have been accused of gun-running and high level kidnapping.
Today, many parts of the Niger Delta are “gunarised”. Some of the “warlords”, who have their abodes in the creeks, are controlling huge cache of dangerous arms, more sophisticated than even the ones being owned by the state.
In the South East, although the struggle for the revisit of Biafra was initially a peaceful move, it appears that the latter-day agitators are not all brandishing olive branches. The Nigerian Police and military have severally accused them of bearing dangerous arms. The allegation may not necessarily be dismissed by a wave of the hand considering the level of criminality going on in that region.
In the South West, some of the “area boys” (street urchins), who were vibrant in the days the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC), whose only known weapons were charms and machetes, have graduated into arm-carrying.
Many of them are said to have since been hijacked by politicians who equipped them with dangerous weapons. Today, whenever and wherever they choose to demonstrate, residents in that area go to bed while it is still day. They carry out a reign of terror and violence in society, nowadays.
The north has since been militarized by the advent of all manner of terrorists. The large number of illiterate youths in the north has made it easy for politicians to mobilize them for election-related violence.
A dangerous development
Many years ago, whenever robbers heard that the police were coming, they would naturally take to their heels, because they had lesser sophisticated firearms than the security agencies, not so any longer.
Lamenting the danger of the illegal arms in the hands of criminals, Chidi Amuta, a publicist and former university don, said that today, it appears that states have lost the capacity to guarantee security of lives and property.
Amuta, who made the observation during an exclusive interview with BusinessDay, said: “The capacity of the state to guaranteeing security of lives and property is also a function of the state of the economy. It is the duty of the state to buy guns; to maintain a police force, military and all which is superior to those of the ones challenging them. But a situation where non-state actors are now challenging the state, in the area where the state used to have monopoly; then there is problem.”
“In those days if you hear that government is coming, you run away because government has uniform and has guns. But today, uniforms and guns are no longer a monopoly. In fact, non-state actors- the militants and all the others- have bigger guns. Theirs is even more frightening. Armies and soldiers have a protocol for deployment of forces. Now, a militant or terrorist has no protocol, they have no rule of engagement; in fact, the bigger the gun a person wields, the more the person is a commander. And as a result of that, insecurity which breeds instability becomes the order of the day,” he further said.
All hands must be on deck
Giving some words of advice, Kate Abiama, a trained psychologist, said: It is not just enough to wish that the 2019 general election will be free from violence. Mere wishing may not guarantee that. It is therefore, incumbent on government, relevant agents of government, the media, the religious bodies and everybody to see it as a challenge to ensure that desperate politicians do not turn the country into a war zone this time around.
“This can be done through profuse mass sensitization and education. People must be sufficiently reminded about the danger of electoral violence and the need for those prone to fall into that recruitment web to resist such temptation,” she said.