Security Challenges and 2015 Elections

Chief of Defence Staff, Alex Badeh

By Bamigboye Olurotimi

A couple of months ago, President Goodluck Jonathan assured the International Community that the 2015 general elections in Nigeria “will be conducted in accordance with global best practices in order to further strengthen the country’s democratic institutions.” In addition, he “reaffirmed his personal commitment to making elections in Nigeria progressively better, freer and more credible.” His utterances and personal commitment were well-received at home and abroad. However, presidential assurances and commitments don’t always hold true – more so at election periods because of the do-or-die nature of the Nigerian political landscape and culture.

This skepticism is grounded in past elections. In 2011 for instance, the killing, maiming and the destruction of lives and property in many parts of Northern Nigeria began the moment it became apparent that Jonathan, the incumbent and candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), had won the presidential election against his chief rival, Maj.-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (rtd.) of the then Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). The killings and destructions lasted for more than three weeks.

There was violence in places like Delta, Bauchi, Nasarawa, Imo, Oyo, Ekiti, Kaduna, Katsina, Borno, Sokoto and Kano. During this period, one of the events that shook and shocked the nation was the killing of nine students – members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) — who were faithfully and diligently carrying out their national assignment. In April alone, more than fifty innocent Nigerians were killed, several thousand injured and thousands more displaced. And of course, there were other losses that could not be quantified: the loss of time and wages; the physical and mental injuries; and the social dislocations that are associated with such strife.

What’s more, there are costs to the nation-state: Every time we suffer any of these self-immolations, it diminishes our collective humanity; contributes to the fragmentation of the state; helps to deepen and widen primordial suspicions; and also helps to flame mutual hatred.

In two days’ time it will be March 28th – the very day the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) rescheduled the presidential election earlier slated for February 14th.It is our prayer that the incidence of violence will not resurface having regards to the peace accord signed by the two prominent presidential candidates of APC and PDP. For as far back as one can remember, elections in Nigeria have always been marred by violence, threat of violence, and drawn out litigations that makes mockery of the democratic process. And if the vicious and dastardly acts that took place in Ekiti State (during the last gubernatorial election) is any indication of things to come, then, Nigerians must brace up for legal and extra-legal actions and pronouncements.

Already, there are signs – signs that point to the magnitude of violence and destructions to come. Katsina State Governor Ibrahim Shehu Shema advised his supporters: “You should not be bordered with cockroaches of politics. You know what to do when you have cockroach in your house, you kill it, yes, you must crush them.” And most recently, brouhaha followed the defection of Aminu Tambuwal, Speaker House of Representatives, from the ruling party to the main opposition party, All Progressives Congress (APC). And in many other parts of the country, the political space is heating up. And in Rivers State, Governor Rotimi Amaechi has been involved in a high stake altercation with the President and several of his cronies – including Mr. Nyesom Wike.

Dr. UcheIgwe, one of the leading public intellectuals in Nigeria had this to say: “President Jonathan’s problems seem to be multiplying by the day. From the House of Representatives to the Senate down to many states including his home state Bayelsa. His state of emergency proposal collapsed like a pack of cards. His party leadership is divided and the feeling among the political class is that he is not in control. He has a global and domestic image problem.”

Uche seems to be suggesting that the President is losing ground and losing control and might, in effect, lose the election outright. If this is correct, a defeat of any sort is likely to lead to contagious violence. At the very least, Mr. Asari Dokubo, a member of Jonathan’s ethnic group and a warlord has promised violence if things do not go as expected. Now, whether Asari Dokubo has the wherewithal to foment and sustain trouble is highly questionable. Many have suggested that he is, for the main part, a one-man-army.

There are several flashpoints in Nigerian elections. And this is so because (1) the elite are very adept at manipulating the people and the electoral system; (2) the elite have yet to come up with a decent and acceptable ways of sharing power and other spoils of war; (3) public and institutions are so weak they have yet to catch up with the cunning ways of the politicians; (4) the culture of decency, service and democracy has yet to take deep root in the country; (5) politics is the primary occupation of the vast majority of the politicians, hence, a defeat is seen as intolerable and unimaginable; and (6) because the penalty for rigging and other forms of criminality is not exorbitant, many are willing to dare and break the law.

Furthermore, the Nigerian context indicates that the best way to win election is through the deployment of state or private violence. The 2015 elections will be a challenge quite alright. And at this point in time, nothing point to a free-fair and violent free election. Even so, every sector of the Nigerian society has a role to play by, for instance, mitigating or discouraging violence and electoral malpractices. At the very least, the public expects politicians to obey the law. Even so, the people themselves must hold public officials accountable. But more than any sector of the Nigerian society – a whole lot is expected of the security and intelligence agencies.

The Nigerian Armed Forces, the Nigerian Police, the intelligence community and INEC officials must have the inviolability of the rule of law at the back of their minds. They must help protect the people’s will and aspiration. They must help sustain our democracy. As Bamigboye Olurotimi noted, “You can’t separate desperate politicians from violence and trouble,” and from rigging elections — but we can make the cost of violations so exorbitant that the vast majority would see the sense in decency and accountability and our collective humanity.

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