Taming Rising Political Intolerance In Nigeria - UPLOADMOON

Taming rising political intolerance in Nigeria

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It comes with the season but I had thought things will be different now after 23 years of having successive elections in this Fourth Republic, more so, for the first time since the establishment of the National Peace Committee in 2015, the wise men deemed it fit to have a peace accord signed before the commencement of the campaigns rather than at the eve of the elections when the bad deeds must have been done. So on September 29, 2022, barely three weeks ago, at a well-attended event in Abuja, all presidential candidates and their party chairmen signed Peace Pact wherein they promised to have issue-based campaign and eschew violence. Unfortunately, recent development in Nigeria’s polity is very disconcerting.

As against the provisions of the Electoral Act 2022, which says there shall be no use of intemperate and abusive language during the campaigns, we have all sorts of name-calling such as a political party being described as a “party of termites” and saying that members of another political party will “labour to death.” I like the ingenuity of some party loyalists who coined fanciful alias for themselves such as “Obi-dients,” meaning the supporters of the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi; there are also the “Atikulates” meant to describe supporters of the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar. The “BATists” are the loyalists of the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Bola Ahmed Tinubu. In the course of the campaign, there have been several characterisations of these different groups. I have heard people calling Peter Obi’s supporters “Obi-diots.” A highly revered columnist even wrote a piece not too long ago titled “Obi-tuary.” This is very unfortunate.

It is not only the use of unprintable names to describe one another that is a major concern to me. It is what is playing out on the political field. The PDP in Kaduna State was purportedly denied the use of the Ahmadu Bello Stadium even after paying the mandatory fee and in good time. The alibi given by the Minster of Sports, Sunday Dare, was that the stadium has been shut down for renovation even when no such thing was going on.  In a statement issued to newsmen last Sunday by the Kaduna State PDP chairman, Hassan Hyat, he disclosed that the APC-led Federal Government through the Minister of Sports denied the party access to Ahmadu Bello Stadium despite applying more than seven days ahead.  According to him, the correspondence withholding approval came on Saturday, October 15, 2022, citing renovation work on the facility as an excuse.  The statement quoted Hyat as saying, “However, a physical tour of the stadium has revealed that there’s no renovation work ongoing either on the main bowl of the stadium or its adjoining structures.  This is even as the same facility was used for the 2022 Eid-el-Maulud prayers just last week Monday. Although the approval was later given for the use of the facility, it came after alternative venue has been secured at the Kaduna (Ranchers Bee) Township Stadium.”

I recall a similar thing had happened in the same Kaduna ahead of the 2007 general election when the then Minister of Aviation shut down Kaduna Airport purportedly for urgent renovation but really because he wants to deny the then opposition Action Congress of Nigeria members who were having their party convention in the state to fly in for the exercise.  This kind of underhand tactics also played out ahead of the 2019 general election when former Governor of Kano State, Engr Rabiu Kwakwanso, was denied the use of the Eagles Square and Old Parade Ground both in Abuja for his presidential declaration programme. In an August 2018 letter signed by Usman Raji, the facility manager of the Abuja International Conference Centre & Eagles Square, the government said the decision to deny him the Eagles Square was to avoid disruption of “workflow” at the Federal Secretariat, a major hub of civil servants.

Another act of political intolerance and indeed a heart-rending development took place in Zamfara State last Saturday when the state government sealed up three television stations and an FM radio station. The affected media stations are the Nigeria Television Authority, Gamji TV, Al-Umma TV and Pride FM radio, all in Gusau, the state capital. In a radio broadcast, the state Commissioner for Information, Ibrahim Dosara, said the media houses were shut down for allegedly violating professional ethics by covering the rally organised by the opposition PDP in the state, while the state government had earlier banned political rallies for security reasons. I am happy that the National Broadcasting Commission, in a statement signed by its Director-General, Balarabe Shehu Ilelah, has clearly notified the state government of the gravity of the illegality and requested it to expeditiously reverse the directive and apologise to the people of the state. I was on Africa Independent Television and Nigerian Television Authority programmes last Monday to similarly condemn this attack on Nigeria’s media and by extension, democracy.

It is also noteworthy that supporters of the PDP in Zamfara and Kaduna states have been reportedly attacked by hoodlums during political campaigns in the last few days. The party has pointed accusing fingers at the ruling APC for being behind these attacks. In a statement released by National Publicity Secretary of PDP, Debo Ologunagba, in Abuja on Monday, October 17, 2022, he said, “This unprovoked attack is not only reprehensible but also exposes the desperation of the APC which is overwhelmed by the continuing popularity of the PDP and our Presidential Candidate, Atiku Abubakar, for which they have now resorted to violence.” This again shows high level of political intolerance ahead of the 2023 general election.

Another scary development took place last Sunday when gunmen reportedly kidnapped the LP senatorial candidate for the Ebonyi-South Zone, Linus Okorie. It was gathered that Okorie, who arrived in Abakaliki, the Ebonyi State capital, from Abuja on Saturday, was to meet with his supporters on Sunday in the Onicha Local Government Area of the state. David Ogbonna, a staffer of the former lawmaker’s foundation, Linus Okorie Caring Heart Foundation, in a statement on Sunday, said the victim was abducted by members of Ebubeagu Security Network, a South-East security outfit backed by the Ebonyi State Government. Recall that LP governorship candidate in the Anambra State 2021 governorship election, Obiora Agbasimalo, was abducted on September 18, 2021, during a campaign tour at Azia Ihiala LGA of Anambra State. More than a year after, he is yet to be found.

All these desperate acts by politicians are unhelpful and constitute a threat to our democracy. I have said on this page that the Independent National Electoral Commission alone cannot guarantee peaceful and credible elections. It needs the support of other critical stakeholders like the political parties and candidates, security agencies, media, the judiciary, civil society and the electorate. In the spirit of the Peace Accord, signed last month, I urge political parties and candidates to rein in their supporters from acts of political desperation. We should note that violence is not only physical but could also be psychological and structural, all of which are inimical to the health of our democracy.

– Twitter @jideojong

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