Out of so many, at least one woman’s political murder pricks the conscience of the Nigerian state. By the orders of President Muhammadu Buhari, the killers of Mrs Salome Abuh, PDP women leader in Kogi State, might be found. You would do well not to keep your fingers crossed, unless you are prepared to risk developing whitlow. High profile killings in the country elicit such official responses that have hardened into a sickening tradition. They ring hollow.
Abuh was not the only person killed before, during and after the election in Kogi and Bayelsa states but she was a high profile politician whose killing would transform her into a piece of soulless statistic. The others who were killed at about the same time with her and were as innocent as she was, have since been reduced to mere statistics. Dead. Forgotten. RIP.
The police, energised I suppose by the presidential order, have bestirred themselves and announced the arrest of six persons in connection with Abuh’s murder. They may or may not be the killers. That would be for the courts to decide. But it is not unusual for the police to go on a fishing expedition and quickly hang high profile murders on some insignificant but luckless fishes caught in their net. In such cases, their nets haul in the foot soldiers, expendable young men paid a pittance to do their masters’ bidding.
The big fishes escape the police net for one simple reason: the police are always disinclined to follow where the finger is possibly pointing. Abuh’s murder was planned by the masters and executed by the foot soldiers. Who planned it and why? The killers were political thugs who acted on the orders of their pay masters. Political thugs are employed by rich and powerful politicians who use them to do the very dirty job of killing before and during elections to smoothen their path to victory.
These facts are pretty much known to the police. It is strange that the employers of these thugs are never held responsible for what their thugs do, let alone be brought to book. Many things we don’t understand, obviously – apology, Mabel Segun. I think it would be wonderful if, for once, the police go beyond the foot soldiers and haul in their employers who directed the mayhem from the comfort of their protected official and private homes. If those arrested do not turn to canary and name names, know ye that the police have their duty.
The killings in Kogi and Bayelsa were not isolated incidents. Such killings have become the norm rather than the exception in our country. Every election season witnesses killing, maiming and destructive. Violence is the approval weapon for political contests. Political violence is not strange to our country. It has been with us since independence and arguably encouraged the military to assume the right to be the leading actors on our national political stage for so long. That it is getting worse only shows that we have refused to mature politically. Power being so sweet men and women are prepared to pay any price to get it.
The continued electoral violence raises some fundamental issues about a) our national politics, b) our electoral system and c) the conduct of our elections that need to be addressed and urgently too to turn our elections from war by another name into the civic duty that it is. A national narrative should throw up these issues but our leaders see nothing wrong with what we are doing to give democracy a bad name. Voting is a duty incumbent on citizens to perform to legitimise power given by the people through the ballot paper and the ballot box. People ought not to be killed either in attempting to perform that duty or for making the personal choices open to them to support the party or the candidates of their choice.
Part of our problem as a nation is that there are no consequences for what people do. Evil men and women get away with evil; the murderer gets away with murder. The political godfathers recruit, train and fund the thugs and send them out to maim or kill. Nothing happens to them because they are fully protected by the system they rape with impunity. Sacrificing some young thugs, unemployed young men who are only too glad to earn something, no matter how little, is no problem for the godfathers. They know the thugs would never reveal their identity. Even if they do, the police would not believe them. They remain safe, shielded by the system because they are the godfathers. How truly awesome.
The police deployed 66,000 policemen and women to Kogi and Bayelsa states. Kogi had 35,000 and Bayelsa, 31,000. That was a formidable presence of the law, evidence that the law was watching and would not let things go wrong. But things did go wrong, badly wrong. The innocent suffered in the hands of desperate men who think less about the integrity of our elections and more about getting into or remaining in public office by all means. The tragedy is that despite such a formidable police presence election violence was not forestalled and the egregious rigging and the cynical violation of the sanctity of the ballot papers and the ballot boxes flowered in full view of the law men and women. Some law; some lawmen.
I should like to think that the police are not deployed to election duties either for fun or as a hollow ritual. I wonder if a policeman in Kogi or Bayelsa had the presence of mind to ask a ballot box snatcher: wetin you carry?
The real worry is not that these things go on. Wherever men compete for the limited spaces at the front seat of power, so long would some outsmart others by means fair or foul. Its viciousness is only a matter of degree. It is not pessimistic to suggest that this country is condemned to living with election rigging and election violence at least until hell is cooled by less noise and inanities from our politicians.
The real worries are these. One, the Nigerian state feels increasingly and utterly helpless in protecting the best practices in the democratic ethos. An election is a state duty. It is not the business of the electoral umpire. The electoral umpire only supervises the conduct of elections. It bears underlining the fact that elections are the only legitimate means by which the people exercise their sacred mandate to put their representatives in the executive and the legislative branches of government. The people’s right freely exercised in elections, all things being equal, legitimises democracy itself. It is easy to see why no nation treats its election as a joke. Why then do we?
Two, we have refused to do those things that should strengthen our electoral system and minimise its cynical manipulation by the rich and the power at the expense of the poor and the powerless. The rich own the electoral system. That fact hides in plain sight.
There is a bible on cleaning up our electoral system gathering dust of utter neglect on federal government shelves. I refer, of course, to the Justice Muhammadu Uwais’s committee report on electoral reforms. The late President Umaru Yar’Adua set up the committee to tell him how he should reform our electoral process and the conduct of our elections for the latter to gain local and international acceptability. He did not live to fulfil his promise on this to the nation. His successors pretend the report does not exist.
The recommendations of the committee are comprehensive and sensible and pragmatic enough to help a president do a fairly good job of giving our elections what is still missing – integrity in the view of both the local and the international community. Again, you cannot lay the fault at the door step of the electoral umpire. The politicians own the elections too and determine what should be done and how it should be done.
The irony of this report left to die on the shelf is that we pretend to be in search of solutions to our flawed electoral system and the much flawed elections; yet we have solutions no one wants to touch with a long pole, let alone a short one.
Three, the fluidity inherent in the nature of our party politics is a source of instability and the do-or-die mantra that characterises the quest for power by our politicians. In the 20 years of our democracy in the fourth republic, every political party has haemorrhaged, resulting in the mass movements of people, including the founders of some of the parties, to another party based on the mathematics of a possible electoral victory. If we do not arrest this trend and make our politicians commit themselves to parties of their choice, in or out of power, the intra-party as well as the inter-party contests for power would for ever legitimise the right of the politicians to continue to fight wars in the name of electoral contests. The violence would go on; so would the killings in a primitive show of power. It is not a curse; it is the choice we have made as a nation.