Political gladiators and violence-free elections in Nigeria

BY BRIGHT JACOB

As preparations geared towards a successful general election in Nigeria continue in earnest, especially with the lifting of the embargo on political campaigns, Nigeria is yet again on the arduous search for a rancour and violence-free elections in the country, as was evidenced after the various political parties, fronted by their presidential candidates, signed a peace accord, last week, to that effect.

Nigeria is no stranger to the chaos associated with electoral violence. Since the inception of democracy in the country in 1999, multiple reports abound of lectoral violence and skirmishes which have painted a grim image of the electoral process in the country, with various civil society groups reporting on various election-related assaults, ballot snatching and deaths.

Airing his views on the signing of the peace accord, the Lagos State Zonal Coordinator of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, Adelaja Odukoya, told The Point that it would be impossible to achieve rancor and violence-free elections in the country.

According to him, politics in Nigeria is a lucrative business which has pitched the elite against the masses.

Odukoya, who is of the Department of Political Science, University of Lagos, Akoka, bemoaned the excessive focus on politics over productivity and industry, and stated that the signing was “a mere ritual because the desperation for political relevance in the country was so high.”

He maintained that a violence-free election could only be a daydream in Nigeria and accused the political elite of not having the interests of the masses at heart, but only kept using politics as “a mechanism” to accumulate wealth and garner other privileges.

He said, when asked whether it was possible to achieve violence-free elections in 2023, “The issue is that democracy should be devoid of violence, but in a situation whereby politics is the only business in town, in a situation whereby politics is warfare, in a situation where there’s no national consensus among the elite as to which direction the country should go, and in a situation whereby the only business they do now to make money in politics, it would not be possible.

“We have actually over orchestrated politics to the extent that productivity does not matter anymore, and being industrious is almost a crime. So, consequently, signing peace accords actually underscores the reality on the ground, and if we are not careful, it will just be a mere ritual because the desperation is high.

“The stakes are so high that it is foolhardy (for politicians) to allow themselves to be out of the political calculations. Thus, for the political gladiators, the object is not to serve, but to use politics as an avenue…as a mechanism for accumulation (of wealth).

“It has become, in the words of (Kwame) Nkrumah, people seeking political kingdoms, so that all other things will be added unto them.

In that context, it becomes very difficult, if not impossible, to expect that we’ll have rancour and violence-free elections,” he stated.

“All the presidential candidates, particularly the three leading ones,
are two sides of the same coin. They’re the same old brigade that we
have known. There’s no difference. They’re not bringing anything newto the table. It is the same old template

Continuing, Odukoya said that though the signing was “cosmetic”, it should, owever, not stop the various attempts aimed at sensitizing politicians on the need to view politics as “a game” as well as service to the people, and not warfare.

“It is actually unfortunate things are like this, but that does not stop all these attempts, no matter how cosmetic it looks, to actually make sure we continue to emphasize and bring to the consciousness of the political gladiators the fact that politics should not be about warfare. It should be about a game and service to the people,” he said.

Whether Nigerians have learnt from past electoral violence, Odukoya told our correspondent that Nigerians were no fools. In his assessment, Nigerians had seen the outcomes and results of past electoral violence as well as the various atrocities that trail elections in Nigeria.

Shedding more light, he said that even if the consequences were visible for all to see, the fact that politicians had weaponised poverty to “block the consciousness of our people” made it cumbersome for Nigerians to make the right decisions for themselves.
Narrating further, Odukoya said that politicians also “employ” destitute and “area boys” who are desperate and who would do anything for a paltry fee and be under the whims and caprices of politicians, and foment trouble during elections.

He alleged that keeping the people impoverished was a deliberate attempt by the ruling class to actually make sure they armed the people they could always call upon and use for their own political agenda.

Odukoya called the ruling class responsible for the mayhem “violence entrepreneurs” and exonerated ordinary Nigerians he said were “going about struggling to survive.”

He also claimed that a set of Nigerians “created” by the politicians and who lacked education were responsible for most of the violence. “These violent entrepreneurs have accumulated so much ecological conditions from which they can draw their instruments of violence. So, it is not the ordinary Nigerians that are running around struggling to survive that unleash violence on others…no.

“A particular set of Nigerians have been created…they are already at the periphery of the society…the brink of extinction. And why will these politicians take them? It is because of lack of education, and you can equally connect that with the issue of the ASUU strike, where our ruling class has shown a pathological hatred for knowledge and for education.

“Like (Obafemi) Awolowo said, it is difficult to mobilise educated
people for violence. It is only people who are uneducated that can misinform, disorient and galvanize to work against their own interest by actually ensuring that those who should not otherwise be in power are in power,” Odukoya declared.

Still making his submission, Odukoya said that Nigerians who were involved in electoral violence were not gullible and didn’t know the implications of previous electoral violence.

In his words, “the majority of these people are helpless and that is the only way they survive…and of course, they no longer have stakes in the society.

“They don’t even believe in society. They are in the brim or margin of society. So, it’s actually their own opportunity to take revenge against society, and when they are even being paid to do that, then, so we’ll and good for them. But it’s most unfortunate,” he said.

During the signing of the Peace Accord in Abuja, the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, was absent at the occasion. He was, however, represented by his running mate, Kashim Shettima. Tinubu’s absence had generated so much furores with various stakeholders questioning the likely rationale behind his absence.

Responding to the absence of the former Governor of Lagos State, Odukoya noted that Tinubu’s presence wouldn’t have made any difference and neither would it have brought anything new to the table.

Odukoya said the politicians, especially the ones from the three main political parties, were all the same and part of the problem facing the nation.

According to Odukoya, they couldn’t be a part of the solution the people yearned for. Stressing further, he opined that it was time Nigerians went beyond politicians and talked to one another on the need to eschew violence
and not be willing pawns in their (politicians) hands.

“Is he (Tinubu) God? Is he different from all the others? I said they are all…you see, all the presidential candidates, particularly the three leading ones, are two sides of the same coin. They’re the same old brigade that we have known. There’s no difference.

They’re not bringing anything new to the table. It is the same old template.

“So, whether they are there (or not), I told you it’s just a ritual. They’re part of the problem. I don’t think they’re part of the solution. That’s why we must go beyond all of them.

“We must also talk to ourselves, talk to our youths, talk to those they use, talk to everyone…at the level of the schools, markets, civil societies, families, churches, mosques and even the playing field.

“Let us start talking to ourselves about the dangers and evils of this violence and how we are ultimately working against ourselves while we are empowering our oppressors. So, if we start talking to ourselves, educating ourselves, doing a lot of advocacies, who knows, we may actually be striking the right chord with why we will achieve our goals….because signing the accord, when people violate it, what’s the penalty,” he queried.

“The politicians don’t go out to cause violence themselves. They use
people. So, let’s talk to our people. It is in the interests of these politicians to deploy violence. So, whether a thousand APC presidential candidates were there or not doesn’t make any difference. They are the same,” Odukoya added.