Last Sunday, the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, clearly, with one eye on the forth coming elections taking place in Edo and Ondo states, ordered a clampdown on those carrying arms illegally across the country, in an effort to clamp down on violence. Although the elections are still some weeks away, with Edo scheduled for September 19, and Ondo October 10 respectively, some political rallies have already been marred by violence.
Of course, with the Edo poll taking place first, there has been heightened tension there, over attacks by suspected political hoodlums, prompting the Centre for Democracy and Development to raise the alarm over the importing of thugs and stockpiling of arms in the state. Even the election umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), worried by the rising cases of violent incidences in both states, has threatened to halt the polls in Edo and Ondo states should the mayhem continue.
A clearly unhappy IG finally reacted and in a statement on Sunday, Adamu directed the commissioners of police in the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory to prosecute individuals or groups in possession of prohibited firearms. “As part of preparations toward the forthcoming gubernatorial elections in Edo and Ondo States, as well as efforts by the Police High Command to curb the proliferation of prohibited firearms in the country, the Inspector- General of Police, IGP M.A Adamu, has ordered Commissioners of Police in the thirty-six states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to immediately initiate appropriate actions to identify, isolate, disarm, arrest and prosecute any individual(s) or group(s) in possession of prohibited firearms,” the statement read.
“The directive has become necessary against the backdrop of the deliberate arming and movement of political thugs and other criminal elements across the country. In addition, the directive is targeted at addressing the proliferation and unlawful possession of prohibited firearms in the country which is contrary to the provisions of Chapter F.28 LFN 2004 of the Firearms Act.
“In a similar vein, Commissioners of Police in all the states of the Federation and the FCT have been directed to immediately convene an enlightenment meeting of all vigilante groups and quasi security outfits spread across the country in order to ensure that their activities are in conformity with the extant laws guiding their establishment and operations.
“The IGP, while observing that several civil groups – vigilantes, quasi states and regional security outfits under various guises are arming themselves with prohibited firearms and weapons in contravention of the provisions of the Firearms Act, notes that the trend if unchecked, will pose serious threat to national security.” Strong words to would-be trouble makers, and soothing ones to assuage the fears of those who might likely be caught up in any possible violence that might break out during the elections prompting them to deny themselves their civic duty of voting in order to stay alive.
Unfortunately, if past experiences are anything to go by then even these tough words from the nation’s top law and order official will not likely to be enough to compel would be hoodlums from carrying out their despicable activities on election day. For instance, in the run up to the last general elections in 2019, efforts were made through jingles, billboards and other media platforms to get people not to resort to violence, and yet, it still turned out to be one of the most violentprone polls in the history of the country! According to a report by the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, an estimated 626 persons were killed across Nigeria in the six months between the start of the 2019 election campaign and the commencement of the general and supplementary elections proper. And before the last general elections, the Nigeria Security Tracker (NST) documented 106 election-related deaths in 2015.
Sixty-two of those people were killed in the nearly seven months preceding the election. Forty-four people were killed after, with the bulk of those deaths occurring in the first two weeks following the election. For some further perspective, 100 people were killed in election-related violence in 2003 and 300 people in 2007, according the United States Institute of Peace. The worst electionrelated violence in recent times took place in the three days after the 2011 election, when 800 people were killed, 700 in Kaduna alone.
So one should expect the same scenario to play out in the next couple of months in Edo and Ondo and thus beyond the verbal warning issued by the police chief, Adamu must first ensure that his men are perceived not to be taking sides as the political gladiators lock horns in their quest to be voted into power. For instance, in the last election in many states there were strong allegations that the men in uniform often turned a blind eye to election malpractices in areas where the opposition was strong but were quick to prevent such in areas were the party in power held sway. And in one of the vilest incidences in recent Nigeria’s violence-prone political history, the PDP’s women’s leader in Ochadamu, Ofu Local Government Area of Kogi State was burnt to death.
The heinous murder of in Mrs Salome Abuh even prompted the United Nations to react. The Deputy Secretary of the UN, Amina Mohammed expressed the concern of the global body, saying: “No person especially women should have to lose their lives when seeking political office.” Although the police subsequently announced the arrest of six persons in early December of 2019 the case is yet to be concluded. Secondly, it is thus clear that unless those in charge are ready to make examples of those who commit such crimes, no matter how highly placed they are, the tit for tat violence perpetuated by virtually all the political gladiators will not stop.
And with the numbers of those being killed during each election circle increasing is it no wonder that those actually going out to cast their votes is nothing to write home about. For instance, in 1999, when it was the military that conducted the elections that ushered in the Fourth Republic the turnout of voters was put at 42.1%.
Sadly since then when the mantle has fallen on the political class to conduct subsequent polls the turnout has progressively dropped. So much so that at the last elections, the turnout was put at 34.75% a decrease of 8.90% on the 2015 poll! Of course, the reason for this is not farfetched with the increasing spate of attacks on innocent voters – it’s no wonder they more and more people are opting to stay in the safety of their living rooms rather than risking their lives to carry out their civic duties.
For this ugly trend to be nipped in the bud, the IG will have to go beyond the normal rhetoric and ensure that he actually matches words with action and those that are culpable are made to face the law. This will not only ensure as a deterrent but more importantly will once again assuage the fears of voters and thus allow more people take part in this all-important quadrennial exercise which ultimately determines the wellbeing of about 200 million Nigerians.