Disturbing trend of political intolerance in Abia •The travails of APGA guber candidate Alex Otti

Posted by Chima Nwafo | 10 April 2015 | 3,765 times

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Political violence is an evil wind that does no one any good. Without taking the scholar’s analytical approach of distinguishing between institutional, ideational and individual forms of political violence, images of its ugliness in Nigeria are still too fresh to serve as deterrence.

The clash between the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and the former Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) in the South-West during the 1983 governorship election in the old Ondo State, is a sad reminder of the evils of political violence. Equally unpleasant, though not as wasteful, was the confrontation in the old Anambra State between then ruling Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) and NPN stalwarts.

Perhaps fresher on our minds are the various youth vanguards of the governship candidates in the Niger Delta region during the current political dispensation, which began with the 1999 polls. The Niger Delta example provides a palpable impression of the thrills and throes of employing and arming unskilled youth before and during electioneering. That marked the origin of militancy and kidnapping of oil workers, and current violent clashes in the region.  

Equally related was the political abuse of the crack security outfit – Bakassi Boys – founded in 1998 by the leather products segment of the Ariaria Market, Aba.

The group was hijacked and exploited by the political leaderships in Abia and Anambra states. Besides the horrendous political assassinations, especially in Anambra State, politicisation and unceremonious disbandment of the group gave rise to the unflattering rate of kidnapping and robbery in the South-East.

When Peter Obi emerged as Governor of Anambra State, he tackled the criminals head-on, and reduced their frequency of operation. But the story was different in Abia State: Governor Theodore Ahamefule Orji lacked the skill and political will to tackle the ugly trend. Over time, it became a monster that threatened Abia, overwhelmed the governor and almost sacked the commercial city of Aba. At this juncture, he cried out. Major-General Azubuike Ihejirika, then Chief of Army Staff, mobilised the military in co-operation with the police. In the ensuing battle, both the criminal elements and several innocent youths were liquidated. As usual, the governor took the glory and assumed the title of ‘Restorer of Peace to Abia.’ Yet, the root and under-lying factors of the problem – abject poverty and unemployment – were not addressed.   

The foregoing incidents of violence confirm views from the school of thought which holds that political violence in Nigeria springs from political intolerance and unwillingness on the part of the executive to surrender power through the electoral process. Such anomaly and desperation on the part of some candidates are at the core of election-rigging and political violence in Nigeria, except in the North t where most political violence is ideational – given the people’s approach to religion. But no thanks to Nigerians’ collective amnesia: a tendency to forget ugly political experiences as soon as the sentiments are suppressed. On reflection, it could also be said that it is due less to collective amnesia than to the fact that politicians are generally blinded by pecuniary pursuits, and hence care less about the lives and well being of the electorate. Therefore, nothing else counts, including societal values.

Perhaps, that explains why the same Governor Orji that was almost drowned by the criminal activities of used and dumped thugs is now allegedly fraternising and arming same dregs, for political expedience. But for inexplicable reasons, observers aver that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government in Abia seems concerned about only one opposition candidate: the standard-bearer of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Dr Alex Otti, whose profile has been soaring given the quality of his campaign speeches. He has, ironically, been accused of employing violence in his campaigns, including “using the army to harass” the polity.     

On the contrary, same Otti has, in several media reports, cried about acts of persecution by the sitting government. In an open letter to the Inspector-General of Police, he lamented the destruction of his posters and attempts on his life. All these were pooh-poohed by Ochendo’s media machinery. But in a typical example of calling a dog bad name in order to hang it, an advertorial in The Guardian of February 17, 2015 is worth examining. It stated in part:

“So in the estimation of Alex Otti he is better placed to use the military to undue advantage and against the citizens of Abia (sic) more than the Chief Security Officer, the man with the CONSTITUTIONAL MONOPOLY OF VIOLENCE (emphasis mine) and executive governor of a state?” As if that is not enough, the advertorial was definitive and brazen in the next paragraph:

“Alex Otti should know that Abians have overbearing strength to drive him back to where he is coming from, if it gets to the point of displaying strength and ability to muster (sic) political will. We have said and would repeat in unequivocal terms, that if Alex has made up his mind to introduce political violence in Abia State, he would be the FIRST and MAJOR VICTIM” (emphasis mine).

Within two weeks of this menacing statement, media reports show that Otti’s campaign trail was disrupted and his convoy attacked with explosives, which destroyed vehicles, without loss of life. Against the foregoing backdrop, pundits are worried that such an atmosphere of violence allegedly sponsored by the ruling PDP spells danger for the electorate. They need re-assurance from the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC). However, the new Abia State Commissioner of Police, Habila Joshak, should be commended for his promise to protect the electorate and ensure that people are allowed to vote for candidates of their choice “without any form of intimidation.” Given that such is their constitutional responsibility, it is important to remind him that it was also the police that executed Orji’s order for a Gestapo-style arrest of a Sun columnist from his Lagos residence and driven to Umuahia.

That is not all. Analysts are deeply concerned about post-election effects of engaging thugs as fodder during electioneering and voting period. What happens to them and the weapons at their disposal after elections have been contested and won? Abia elders and people of conscience should rise to this unflattering scenario. One lgbo proverb I treasure comes to mind: It is an abomination for an elder to sit at home and watch a goat deliver on tether.             

Nwafo is Consulting Editor to News Express Online/Business Express Magazine. He can be reached via chi_dafo@yahoo.com. Photo shows Alex Otti.

Source: News Express

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