Rising cases of thuggery ahead 2023 elections

On incremental basis, thuggery and other forms of unruly behaviour are defining electioneering campaigns in Nigeria today, as politicians move around the country canvassing for votes ahead of the February 2023 general elections.

This is not only a source of concern, but also a huge surprise to us and political watchers in the country that, for so long, the country’s democracy and the political class have refused to mature such that thuggery and hooliganism have become major dents on the electoral process.

It does appear that Nigeria is like weather—the more it changes, the more it remains the same. It was expected that the amended Electoral Act was to be a turning point in the history of electioneering campaigns and elections in the country.

Again, many see the idea of signing the peace accord, though not new, as another positive development in the country’s march towards democratic growth and maturity.

But, in spite of the peace accord, which was signed in September this year by 18 political parties, electoral violence has been happening since September 28, when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) threw the gate open for political parties to go out and campaign.

From Zamfara to Kaduna, Borno, Plateau and Lagos, the story is the same. Less than two months into the campaign season, many people have been killed and several others have sustained various degrees of injury.

It is so bad that each election cycle is worse than the one before and it is pathetic to note that part of the challenges that have hindered the smooth conduct of election in the country are thuggery and hooliganism

While INEC is estimating the number of those that have died at 50, the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) says it is 52. That, to us, is despicable, condemnable and unacceptable because we agree totally with former President Goodluck Jonathan who says that no politician’s ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian, young or old.

Nigeria, in the last decade, has recorded retrogression is its electoral process. It is so bad that each election cycle is worse than the one before and it is pathetic to note that part of the challenges that have hindered the smooth conduct of election in the country are thuggery and hooliganism.

A damning report by the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) notes that violence, violation of ballot secrecy, and harassment of voters and journalists characterised Nigeria’s 2019 general election.

Specifically, the report says that INEC worked in a porous security and politically-charged environment, making the electoral officials exposed to physical attacks and intimidation. It adds that elections became increasingly marred by violence and intimidation and so harmed the integrity of the electoral process.

To cap it up the report revealed that about 150 people died in election-related violence during the campaign period and over the election days, just as INEC reported attacks on its offices, and also fatalities, abductions and sexual assault against its officials.

All these speak ill of a country and its electoral process that has refused to mature. Apart from the loss of valuable human capital, thuggery has the capacity to discourage political participation and fuels voter-apathy.

It is sad to note that in many instances of thuggery and electoral violence, leading political parties have been fingered for being the masterminds, having failed to act and curb the excesses of their supporters and party members.

In the present dispensation, attacks on political parties by opponents using thugs have become commonplace as have been witnessed in Maiduguri where the convoy of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate was attacked by thugs suspected to be working for a rival political party.

Just this week, the All Progressives Congress (APC) campaign rally in Jos, Plateau State was disrupted by agents of a rival political party. The PDP governorship candidate in Lagos and his followers were also attacked in the Badagry area of Lagos a few days ago by thugs working for its opposing party.

These acts increase in intensity with each succeeding electoral cycle because of growing impunity in the country and lack of respect for the rule of law. People have not been made to pay for their actions and no serious sanctions have been meted out on political parties whose supporters get unruly.

We join Bishop Matthew Kukah of the Sokoto Catholic Diocese to warn the electorate to beware and vote wisely, explaining that those parties using thugs against their opponents will not change when they are elected into power.

We also call on both INEC and security agencies to up their game by ensuring that political thugs whose activities undermine the integrity of elections are not treated with kid-gloves. Furthermore, it is our opinion that political parties whose supporters are involved in violence should be disqualified from participating in the elections.

We want the electoral body, working in concert with security agencies, to set up an election offences tribunal or commission to prosecute culprits. We are aware that the bill for setting up the commission is under debate at the country’s parliament. Time is now to make it happen.

Moreover, the candidates and their supporters should do well to respect the letters and spirit of the Peace Accord which they signed, committing themselves to a peaceful campaign season, else they won’t be any different from the Israelites who went to see John the Baptist in the Wilderness preaching repentance but came back no better than they went.

We believe that time for repentance in the country’s electoral process is now. We are hoping that with the new Electoral Act, which promises the use of Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and electronic transmission of results, will bring sanity into the country’s highly flawed electoral system.

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