Rising political violence must be crushed

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DESPITE widespread expressions of concern, there has been no let-up in the spate of violence linked to politics and politicians. Across the country, there has been a spike in violent attacks and frequent breakdown of law and order. The killings and attacks reported in Osun, Anambra and Kaduna typify the deluge of violence featuring clashes by hoodlums, arson, and assassinations. In response, the Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba, banned fireworks, processions and carnivals in Osun during the Christmas and New Year holidays. He must go beyond that and impose law and order. The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), should also rise to the challenge and ensure that he fulfils his promise to bequeath free and fair elections this year.

Politics-related violence is raising apprehension over the 2023 general elections. Nigeria, with its fragile state, wobbly democracy and prevailing economic, social and security problems can ill-afford this.  The World Health Organisation defines political violence as the “deliberate use of power to achieve political goals and is characterised by both physical and psychological acts aimed at injuring or intimidating populations.”

This is playing out across the country. Osun, a state hitherto known for its tranquillity, is degenerating into a theatre of violence with attacks and clashes by the thugs and enforcers of rival cults and violent transport unions. The clashes are fuelled by political factions. In Anambra State, criminals hiding under the self-determination toga and determined to prevent elections are spilling blood, killing civilians, politicians, electoral officials, and security personnel.

In Kaduna, political violence has added to the insecurity triggered by bandits, terrorists, and ethnic militia to trouble the North-West state. Late in November, gunmen raided the home of the Labour Party Women Leader in the state,Victoria Chintex, in Kaura Local Government Area and shot her to death; her husband also sustained gunshot injuries, but survived.

Osun’s descent into disorder has been building up; just hours after the inauguration of Ademola Adeleke as the governor, hoodlums invaded major motor parks in Osogbo, the state capital, harassed everybody in sight, chased out factional members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers and sealed the union’s secretariat. The melee left many people injured and property destroyed and resumed the following day when the union members returned to the facility. That this nuisance lasted for two days unchecked presents the police as either complicit or miserably incompetent.

In November 2022, the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno, said his office recorded 52 cases of political violence across 22 states in just one month. The World Institute for Peace said between December 2021 and July 2022, clashes among hoodlums in Osun claimed 10 lives and left many others injured, yet no suspect was apprehended.

In April 2022, three persons were killed; many others sustained varying degrees of injuries and property worth millions were destroyed during a clash between suspected members of the Park Management System and National Union of Road Transport Workers in Ali Iwo area of Ibadan, Oyo State.

In Lagos State, which brands itself as a megacity, clashes between rival gangs and those of the NURTW have become commonplace, with no sustained effort to address the menace. Similarly, in Ogun State, cult violence and clashes between thugs hired by political factions are rife.

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The hoodlums, whose criminal activities are fluid, depending on the tasks handed them by their paymasters, should swiftly be treated as a potent threat to national peace. Apart from mindless violence on behalf of unscrupulous politicians and transport union factional leaders, they engage in robbery, mugging, rape, and extortion of business owners and transporters. State patronage has made the vocation of union enforcers and political thugs attractive to thousands of wayward youths. This is more pronounced in Lagos and other South-West states, where the governors have been legitimising touting and extortion of transporters by their favoured transport union factions.

Lack of political will to act decisively is destroying the fabric of the society. Moreover, studies have established a nexus between political violence and societal instability, state failure, mutual antagonism, and criminality. It also fuels the proliferation of illicit arms and damages the economy. The International Growth Centre found that it devastates investment, tourism, and the productive sectors of the economy. This strengthens the urgency of stopping the impunity of political actors.

Baba, who recently accused state governors of sponsoring the rising political violence, has not moved against their agents. Some transport union leaders fingered in criminal attacks even have police escorts. This is distasteful; it denigrates the integrity of the police, and denies innocent citizens of the much-needed police protection. Therefore, beyond the statement, the IG should go after the thugs, build a file on complicit governors to be used against them when they leave office and lose their immunity.

Swiftly, police authorities must design a new patrol strategy. Globally, the presence of law enforcement agents strengthens citizens’ confidence. Thus, there should be adequate funding for the police to acquire more patrol vehicles, maintain the vehicles and personnel. There should be regular patrols and elevated intelligence-gathering. In addition, the states need strategies to address unemployment and illiteracy.

The operations should be intelligence-led and leveraged by ICT tools. The anti-cultism units in every police division should be revived, given a clear mandate to address this criminality, and cleansed of corruption and rights abuses.

The disproportionate reward system that pays politicians millions and police officers peanuts is self-defeating. The hundreds of thousands of police officers attached to individuals should be withdrawn and deployed for serious police work.

Ultimately, Nigeria needs state police and policing at all levels. Anything less will be mere palliative. The current centralised policing system has proven to be ineffective; its continued retention guarantees insecurity and defeats efforts to combat it.

The enablers of insecurity like unemployment, economic hardship, and illiteracy, out-of-school children – with Nigeria’s 20.2 million being the highest – uncontrolled birth and child or forced marriage must be tackled with sincerity.

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