Politicians, Death and Disaster, By Anthony Akaeze
Politicians kill in various ways, either through people they maintain as thugs, security officials paid with tax payers’ money under their control, or by instigating crisis that leads to death and destruction. Curiously, they are often out of harm’s way themselves. The law of nature that one will pay for his sins doesn’t readily hold true here.
In February 2010, as a staff of Newswatch magazine, I was sent by the management to cover the Anambra gubernatorial election then scheduled to hold in the state. It was an election that had candidates such as Chukwuma Soludo, Uche Ekwunife and Peter Obi, the incumbent governor who was seeking re-election. I arrived Awka, the state capital, ahead of the election day, and after completing my press accreditation, I negotiated with a motorcyclist, very early on the election day, to take me to the hometown of one of the candidates.
Because of the impending election, the streets were largely deserted ahead of the voting time. The most visible sight on the major roads in Awka town that morning were policemen at checkpoints, in strategic points. The motorcyclist powered on until he was flagged down at one of the police checkpoints.
One of the police officers sought to know my identity, and after I showed evidence that I was a journalist, he allowed us to proceed. But not before issuing me words of advice. He said: “Don’t go and put yourself in danger o. These politicians are not good people o.”
I nodded and thanked him and we continued on our journey. As the cyclist sped on, I could not help recalling the policeman’s words of advice. But as a journalist, I had a duty to cover the election and that I was ready to do.
The election held as planned, but not without hitches, and in monitoring it, the words of the policeman kept making sense. I saw evidence of thuggery and vote buying in the areas I covered. Money, linked to politicians, was evidently at work and it was a reminder of the extent politicians could get in their desperation to win elections. The money led party agents and supporters to shout, fight and disrupt the peaceful process in some polling units across the state, as I saw and heard from some other election observers. Curiously, the major actors were missing in action. Except on one occasion when I saw one of the governorship aspirants, in anger, disrupt voting in one ward after noticing and probably sensing defeat there, there wasn’t much to link the politicians directly beyond the money that was making the rounds, which clearly could not have emanated from anywhere else but the politicians and or their wealthy backers.
In their quest for victory, nothing is spared, not even the sacred lives of fellow human beings! Of all the sins that man is known to commit, none is as grave as taking the life of a fellow human being, whether directly or indirectly. But it seems a way of life for many politicians, as we’ve seen in many countries, not just Nigeria.
Prior to that electoral contest, I had covered elections for Newswatch in Kano and Abeokuta, and the conduct of some party agents and supporters, on both occasions, were not much different from what I saw in Anambra. In the dictionary of a typical Nigerian and African politician, politics is war, and every arsenal, including crude implements, is employed to achieve victory. While there are unquestionably good and decent politicians among the lot, they represent, particularly in recent decades, as many will testify, given the avalanche of death and destruction across the continent and elsewhere in election periods, a tiny minority, unable to stop their sinister colleagues from soiling the political space. And, for obvious reasons, the good ones hardly win elections. They often lose out to their daredevil rivals. The bad ones are able to mainly achieve success with a massive financial warchest that enables them to dangle cash before people for their vote. In their quest for victory, nothing is spared, not even the sacred lives of fellow human beings! Of all the sins that man is known to commit, none is as grave as taking the life of a fellow human being, whether directly or indirectly. But it seems a way of life for many politicians, as we’ve seen in many countries, not just Nigeria. Over the years, there have been bursts of electoral violence in Kenya, South Sudan, Uganda, Cameroon, Sudan, Burundi, Bolivia, to name just a few.
Politicians kill in various ways, either through people they maintain as thugs, security officials paid with tax payers’ money under their control, or by instigating crisis that leads to death and destruction. Curiously, they are often out of harm’s way themselves. The law of nature that one will pay for his sins doesn’t readily hold true here. It’s often innocent people, including, at times, the hired thugs but mainly people with no real stake in the elections, who lose their lives. The latest in this endless political war is Bayelsa and Kogi elections, during which precious lives and valuables were reported to have been destroyed. According to media accounts, at least four persons lost their lives during the Kogi governorship and senatorial elections, which held on November 16. A few days before the Kogi debacle, I received, unsolicited, a video clip from a nephew showing the Social Democratic Party (SDP)’s burnt headquarters in Lokoja, capital of Kogi State, Nigeria. SDP is one of the parties that contested the gubernatorial seat. In the video, Natasha Akpoti, the SDP governorship candidate, told viewers that the fire which left her party’s office in ruins was the handiwork of the All Progressives Congress candidate and incumbent governor, Yahaya Bello and his agents. She further pointed out that her life was in danger and that the man to hold responsible in the event of any calamity befalling her is Bello.
A media aide to Bello, Kingsley Fanwo, however, in a PUNCH report, denied that his boss had anything to do with the fire and said that Akpoti was only seeking cheap sympathy.
In essence, the Kogi and Bayelsa elections lived up to their billing as typical Nigerian elections, and those who expected to see signs of progress in the electoral sphere in the country are again disappointed. The question remains: When will we ever get it right?
Bello later won the election but the poll has been described as not credible by many observers that monitored it. Among the monitors were The Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room and YIAGA, which both dismissed the contest as untransparent.
Clement Nwankwo of the The Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room was quoted in the media as saying that, “the two governorship elections that held in Kogi and Bayelsa States…fall below the standards expected for a free, fair and credible elections”, as “election day turnout was marred by violence and activities of political parties and security agents, leading to disruptions of polls in several areas.” Apart from violence, Nwankwo said that “political parties and their agents operated openly and with impunity, distributing money in purchase of votes and it appeared that there were no efforts to stop them. Sums paid at the polling units ranged from N500 to N6,000.” This was in spite of the reported high number of security officials deployed for both elections. According to Nwankwo, security personnel were unable to stem malpractices, a situation that, in my mind, raises question about who they were really serving on the day.
Hussaini Abdu, the board chair of YIAGA AFRICA, on his part, was quoted as saying that the body received 69 cases of electoral complaints, including ballot snatching and intimidation of voters by political thugs. He feels that “the stakeholders deliberately worked to undermine the election; they appeared to be more concerned about electoral victory than the credibility and legitimacy of the process.”
In essence, the Kogi and Bayelsa elections lived up to their billing as typical Nigerian elections, and those who expected to see signs of progress in the electoral sphere in the country are again disappointed. The question remains: When will we ever get it right? And what can we do about the conduct of politicians? I have heard people argue that politicians are products of a society, and that what a society gets is what it deserves. Yes, products of the society they are, but the real blame is reserved for those who, willy-nilly, elevate or sustain people with questionable antecedents in power, when they have a choice not to. It needs restating: Nigerians need to begin, as a people, to re-evaluate their priorities – to be able to say ‘no’ to money bags or monetary inducement, no matter the temptation. And how can we begin to change the orientation of politicians to understand that politics is never a war but a call to serve the people; to understand that failure in politics is not a death sentence and that, win or lose, what matters is service to the people?
Anthony Akaeze is an award-winning freelance investigative journalist and author.