One of the most thriving and fastest growing enterprise for most young Nigerians has become political thuggery and violence. This postulation is justified by several factors which if not addressed could bring about long lasting political instability in the post 2015 general elections. The political economy of thuggery and violence seems lucrative and enticing such that it beclouds one’s ability to envision or visualize its long term negative effect on democratic development.
In a rational society, it will be a taboo to publicly declare as a political thug or a merchant of violence. Incongruously, it’s not the case in contemporary Nigerian society. Few weeks ago I had a chat with some senior colleagues including some top management staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission; we were reviewing the just concluded party primaries elections across the country. It was to our outmost chagrin; we realized that 80% of the primaries were hijacked by state Governors who ensured their supporters and loyalists were coerced to do their bidding. All over the country, political thugs took the centre stage. What I found particularly sad and worrisome was an experience recount of how a prominent thug and his boys in a North Central State held all the delegates and officials to ransom in the full glare of policemen and other security agents who were helpless to influence the outcome of the primaries in that state. Similarly, an ex-militant in the south-south ensured he upturned the party primaries against the preferred choice of the incumbent Governor.
Unlike the organized Sara sukas, Yan Kalares, ECOMOG etc, 2015 might experience the emergence of unstructured groups and individuals with the singular aim of destabilizing the 2015 elections not necessarily because they have been mobilized by politicians but rather due to perceived injustices in the system. And the reasons are legion but this article will mention just a few;
In 2014, scores of deaths were recorded in our tertiary institutions like University of Jos, Nassarawa State University, College of Education, Ondo as students who undertook civil protests to express their displeasure over inconsiderate hike in tuition fees, poor infrastructures etc were hunted down by security forces. The security agencies especially the Nigerian police and Nigerian Army deployed arbitrary force and live ammunitions on innocent and harmless students. Some students were gruesomely murdered by state forces that ordinarily should be responsible for their safety and security. The loud voices calling for justice is unheard. The government has not only ignored the voices but the officers responsible for such acts go unpunished.
Institutionalized impunity has resulted in a loss of confidence in our institutions of government. Recently, 20 job applicants lost their lives in the botched Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) recruitment exercise. The exercise was regarded in several quarters as a well-orchestrated plan carefully designed to scam young Nigerians. It completely defies logic that the Ministry of Interior and NIS invited over 500,000 youths for a recruitment exercise meant to fill only 4,600 job vacancies. The fact that all the applicants were requested to pay N1,000 as registration fee despite the resolution by the House of Reps directing all public agencies to desist from requesting job applicants to pay any amount during recruitment raises serious accountability questions.
The incident was greeted with huge public outcry including calls for the sack of the Minister of Interior, Comrade Abba Moro and Comptroller General of Immigration, David Paradang for negligence and shabby conduct of the exercise. Despite the pronouncement of compensation by the President, no victim or their families have, at the moment, received any support from the govern5ment. It is on record, that all the families who lost their loved ones were abandoned by the government to bury the corpses. Mr Paul, a victim who lost his wife in the exercise laments about the way and manner he was abandoned by the government to bury his beloved wife. Those who sustained injuries were all left to fate. Some of the victims turned beggars just to mobilize resources to undergo surgery.
At the end, the exam was cancelled, lives lost, injuries sustained and the N1000 that was paid was never returned to all the applicants. Obviously, someone smiled to the bank claiming over N500, 000,000 for rendering no service. The National Assembly has refused to publish the report of its investigative hearing on the recruitment exercise despite entreaties from civil society organizations like Say No Campaign Nigeria and Centre for Democracy & Development. Like one of those cases, it has been swept under the carpet and the country has moved on. The victims have been left to wallow in their grief and pain.
It was in Nassarawa state that the Ombatse sect killed over 100 policemen and SSS agents. As usual, no one has been brought to justice. The men and women killed by the Ombatse group have kids and family members who will do everything to avenge their death.
Parenthood though desirable is not a tea party. It’s an uphill task to train or groom a child from his/her toddler stage to adulthood. The grief associated with death of humans in their youthful age is simply unquantifiable. The grief and anguish is not only felt by parents but by the society at large. The gruesome killing of three young sons of popular Islamic preacher, Shiekh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky by the Nigerian soldiers is amongst countless extra judicial killings of young people we have experienced. The trio were reported to have been killed during a Shiite annual procession in Zaria, Kaduna state. It’s just inexplicable that this transpired in a country deemed to be practicing constitutional democracy where the freedom of thought, religion and peaceful assembly ought to be guaranteed. Till date, no military officer has been court marshalled for violating the right to life of El-Zakzaky’s sons instead 54 young soldiers were sentenced to death for cowardice and mutiny despite the ill-equipped state of our military force.
How do you expect young people to be patriotic and committed to country that doesn’t recognize or even care for them? Young people yearn for justice. They are not convinced this justice will come via the 2015 polls.
Closed political space
Political parties make thuggery and violence very fashionable and rewarding when parties are not open to the concerns and political interests of young people. Once the spaces for ventilation of grievances or actualization of political aspirations are shut to young people, they are left with no choice but to deploy other means just to be heard.
In the prelude to the party primaries, there was an avalanche of young people who expressed interest in running for elective offices in the 2015 elections. Most of them sought the ticket of the two major parties in Nigeria; PDP and APC but were denied party tickets. Most of them had no choice but drop their political ambitions due to their inability to purchase the party nomination forms. The statement attributed to the Chairman of the All Progressive Congress (APC) that the high cost of its nomination forms was meant to separate the ‘men’ from the ‘boys’ projects the party as being antagonistic to inclusive politics. The tension and controversy generated as a result of the intention of some state governors to replace some legislators in the National Assembly automatically closed the space for youth aspirants. Furthermore, a situation where current public office holders seek to replace themselves with their family members and cronies as though public office is their personal estate aggravates the situation. Shortchanging or tactically disqualifying credible and competent young aspirants from electoral contest on the basis of age and fiscal might breeds strife and resentment.
Mr. Osita Okechukwu posits that 90% of individuals wanted for corruption cases by the EFCC are youths. This informed their choice of selecting an older person as a Presidential candidate. He made this assertion when he featured on a live radio program on Dream FM Enugu on 28th November 2014. Osita’s views can be debased on many fronts. First, he missed the point with his general classification of youth. According to the National Youth Policy, a youth is any person between the ages of 18 – 35. Depreye Alamesegha, Lucky Igbinedion, Bode George, Farouk Lawan, Stella Oduah, Femi Otedola, Yakubu Yusuf, Ayo Fayose cannot be regarded as youths. Secondly, not many youths have found themselves in public offices due to institutional, legal, socio cultural impediments. Labelling youth as being corrupt is unjust because the unbridled corruption responsible for our underdevelopment was not perpetrated by young people.
Thuggery and violence is a very prosperous business in Nigeria. Political thugs drive exquisite cars and own palatial houses of high monetary value. The business of political thuggery is so rewarding that thugs receive traditional titles at the detriment of societal values. Ordinarily, the investiture of traditional titles is preserved for individuals who distinguish themselves in different aspect of human endeavor or those who have contributed to societal development. Forlornly, our value system has been bastardized to a point where political thugs are celebrated and given prominence over patriotic and hardworking young people.
Who does government listen to? What does it take to be heard as a youth in a country like Nigeria? It takes your ability to cause mayhem or your degree of violence. The greatest tragedy characterizing our polity, is the fact that credible and patriotic youths with impeccable character are never given the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to governance. They are subjected to unnecessary, discouraging and disrespectful protocols and security checks.
It defies logic when those who legitimately vote at elections are denied access to their elected representatives whereas touts or street urchins who probably are not registered voters have direct access to our political leaders. Contact details like phone numbers and emails of our leaders are regarded as ‘state secret’ hence electorates are not expected to have knowledge of the numbers. Why should thugs or merchants of violence have unfettered access to political leaders if violence itself is not a lucrative industry? In November 2013, popular Niger Delta militant, Asari Dokubo was alleged to have been arrested and detained in Benin Republic. Although the reasons for his arrest were not made public, he was reported to have been released two days after his arrest and ferried to Abuja with President Jonathan’s private jet. With a gun Tompolo controls affairs in our maritime industry. To a large extent, he determines whether or not the President of Africa’s most populous black nation should visit the some states in Nigeria. With a gun he doesn’t need to write proposals to attend boardroom meetings just to secure lucrative contracts or influence any policy decision. Rumor went into town few weeks ago that he’s being considered as a running mate to one of the governorship candidates in a Delta state. He gets this consideration with a gun. Few weeks ago, the President also appointed another militant a Presidential envoy.
The present status quo leaves the vast majority of unemployed graduates with little or no option but harness or take to violence and political thuggery. Let’s face it, VIOLENCE pays. That’s the reality.
Disenfranchisement of young voters
The perennial logistics challenges plaguing the distribution of the permanent voters card and continuous voters’ registration exercise is a pointer to a massive disenfranchisement of young voters in 2015. It is on record that young people mainly first time voters trooped out to register during the CVR dates but couldn’t register due to very unrealistic timeframes, faulty and obsolete voter registration machines. The cases of stolen PVCs could also contribute to youth involvement in violence in 2015. Striping young voters of their voter cards after standing in long queues under the scotching sun or rain just to register and collect their voters’ card is injustice and it could breed anger and resentment.
The lofty idea of constituting a Council of the Wise comprising of eminent Nigerians to mitigate against electoral violence is laudable. However, this council must from inception consider meeting with notorious groups known for thuggery and violence. Whether or not these groups will hearken to their counsel is a matter of circumspection.
Politicians can be coerced to make pledges or refrains for hate speeches and inciting statements. The people on one hand do have a choice to either refrain from thuggery or violence. The violence in 2015 may not necessarily occur as a result of hate speeches but as result of long lasting injustices meted out on young people by the political elite. Hate speeches could act as a trigger. The failure of government at all levels to fulfil its mandate of providing welfare and security of its people should not be discountenanced as well
Violence or political thuggery is by no means a justifiable strategy for expressing our grievances over a country that cares less about its citizens. The best way to achieve this is to ensure issue based engagement in the 2015 elections. Beyond collecting our permanent voters’ card, we must ensure we compel party candidates to participate in election debates. Any candidate who fails to participate in debate is not confident about their manifesto if any.
Samson Itodo is a civil society and youth advocate. He is the Head of Research, Policy and Advocacy at Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement (YIAGA). All comments and reactions should be send to [email protected] Follow him on twitter @DSamsonItodo
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