The Senate President, Offa Robbery and Political Banditry In Nigeria, By Frederick Adetiba
I know a number of Nigerians are getting used to hearing these things, which are gradually becoming normalised, however I refuse to accept them as normal. It cannot be normal for the Senate president and a State governor to be associated with armed robbers. It is bizarre and it should be regarded as such.
The last couple of weeks have been nothing but embarrassing, with the mentioning of the name of the Senate president, Dr. Bukola Saraki in the ongoing investigations into the recent Offa robbery incident. I personally find it really distressing that the Senate president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria could be mentioned in relation to a gruesome robbery that led to the death of 33 innocent Nigerians, in his home State of Kwara.
This development has thrown Nigerians into frenzy, and as usual people are divided on the matter. While some are encouraging the police to conduct a thorough investigation into the matter to determine the culpability or not of the Senate president and Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed of Kwara State, others are referring to the development as part of the grand orchestration of the Presidency to bring down the Senate president. This latter group sees it as the continuation of the cold war that started with the emergence of the present leadership of the National Assembly, which did not go down well with some of the bigwigs of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
Whether or not this latest development is politically motivated, it is important that a thorough investigation is conducted with the aim of bringing everyone found culpable, either directly or remotely, to justice. Nigeria has become a land filled with the blood of innocents. People are being killed on a daily basis without justice. This cannot and must not continue. There is a spiritual implication and repercussion for any country where there is the incessant bloodshed of innocent citizens without justice.
When the news began to go round that the Senate president was mentioned by the robbers, I did not take it seriously. I felt it was one of those rumors and an attempt by mischief-makers to amplify the rift between the Senate president and the Presidency, particularly with the inspector general of Police, Ibrahim Idris. I began to pay closer attention when I heard that there was actually a recording, wherein the armed robbers mentioned the names of the Senate president and governor of Kwara State. I know a number of Nigerians are getting used to hearing these things, which are gradually becoming normalised, however I refuse to accept them as normal. It cannot be normal for the Senate president and a State governor to be associated with armed robbers. It is bizarre and it should be regarded as such.
While we must all allow the courts to decide on the culpability or not of the Senate president and the governor of Kwara State, there is nothing directly linking the two politicians with the robbery as deducible from the confessional statement making the rounds. They were asked if the duo were aware of the robbery and they said NO. What stands out in the confessions however is the claim that they were political thugs to the two public figures. While this is still mere allegation, which is under investigation, it is a pointer to one of the major problems confronting our political process in Nigeria.
The use of political thugs during elections is rife and it is one of the banes of a credible electoral process in Nigeria and a great threat to our democracy. It has become one of the unconventional ways through which some unscrupulous Nigerian politicians win elections. They unleash these thugs and other criminal elements during elections to undermine the process, as a way of gaining advantage over their opponents. In different parts of Nigeria, the nefarious activities of political thugs are rife. These thugs are usually funded and equipped with arms and ammunition by politicians.
Politicians use these thugs to undermine our electoral process in different ways. There are instances where these thugs are utilised in intimidating electorates to prevent them from coming out to vote for candidates of their choice. This tactic is used in areas where the ‘strong man’ is perceived to be unpopular. Politicians also use these thugs to snatch ballot boxes at polling units where their sponsors appear to be losing elections. This was glaring during the recent Ekiti State APC governorship primary. There was a video recording of the individuals who disrupted the process and who could be seen scattering the ballot boxes. In extreme cases, it is these same elements they use in eliminating political opponents.
The saddest part of this is that these thugs are rarely brought to justice as a result of the status of the people they work for. Even when they are caught on cameras, the perpetrators walk away free after their crimes. Sometimes the security personnel appear helpless, particularly when they come to know the ‘big man’ that is sponsoring the thugs. There are reported cases where even the security personnel aided and abated the actions of these thugs. Although, this has been the practice for many years, I am not aware of any politician that has been brought to justice for sponsoring thugs to disrupt elections in Nigeria.
Our politicians need to grow up and stop this ‘do or die’ politics. The desperation with which they play the game is appalling. Politics is supposed to provide a platform for serving the people. Unfortunately, in Nigeria it has become an avenue for the primitive accumulation of wealth. That is why politicians would do anything, including unleashing thugs to harass, intimidate and even disrupt elections, in order to win the contests. Some have come to believe that if they don’t use these thugs they cannot win elections. The use of thugs has become one of the strategies of winning elections in Nigeria. This has to stop if we are to make any meaningful progress in this country.
Using thugs to disrupt elections is not the worst part, it is what these thugs become after the elections that should bother all of us. Some politicians continue to service these thugs after elections, so that they could continue to use them as tools to achieve their selfish and heinous agendas. Some other politicians abandon the thugs either after winning or losing elections. These thugs then constitute a menace to the society. The weapons they are armed with during elections are subsequently converted for other purposes such as armed robbery, assassinations, kidnapping and other odious crimes. We are experiencing these in different parts of the country.
The root of the Boko Haram insurgency that has claimed over 100,000 lives and displaced more than 2 million people, mostly in the North-Eastern part of Nigeria can actually be traced to political banditry. The earliest members of the group started as political thugs of some politicians in the region, who used them to intimidate and harass opponents to win elections. These thugs were thereafter abandoned, and gradually, they morphed into what we now have today. No politician has been brought to justice for the role they played in the emergence of Boko Haram insurgency.
Most of the kidnappings and armed robbery attacks, especially in the southern parts of the country, are largely carried out by former political thugs. After the politicians would have used and dumped them, without any other means of easy access to money, they use the weapons given to them for political banditry to rein terror on innocent citizens; maiming, killing, robbing and kidnapping for ransom as a way of surviving and feeding the greed that political banditry has created in them.
Our politicians should know that whenever they arm thugs for political purposes, they are actually breeding criminals in the society. Unleashing political thugs to win elections is pure criminality that portends grave danger to our political process. Security agencies should be made to remain neutral during elections, so as to be able to bring erring politicians to justice. Political thugs who commit crimes should not only be brought to justice, the politicians responsible for arming them should also be brought to justice. Sometimes, it could be overzealous aides who are responsible for this. Whoever is responsible, no matter how highly or lowly placed, should be brought to justice. We cannot continue like this.
Frederick Adetiba is a good governance advocate, strategy management consultant and the Lead Pastor of The Finishing Church, Abuja. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org and on twitter: @fredor4c