Ekiti APC’s bloody campaign rally
FOR the umpteenth time, electioneering is throwing up dangerous tension in the country. With just a little time to go before the governorship polls in Ekiti State, campaigning descended into violence last weekend in Ado-Ekiti, the capital city. The incident nearly claimed the lives of Opeyemi Bamidele, a former House of Representatives member, and five other persons. They were shot by a trigger-happy mobile police officer. The episode raises the possibility of more violence before and during the election.
The rally was organised to kick-start the campaign of Kayode Fayemi, the All Progressives Congress candidate for the July 14 polls. The former governor had resigned his appointment as the Minister of Mines and Steel Development in the Muhammadu Buhari administration a few days earlier, but his homecoming, which started at the Akure Airport in Ondo State, was marred by the unwarranted shooting.
Although the police stated that only two other people were injured, media reports accounted for five injured persons. Bamidele, who had bullets extracted from his stomach and leg, was a member of the Seventh National Assembly, and had contested the APC’s governorship ticket with Fayemi. His ordeal lends credence to the notion that politics is a bloody game in Nigeria.
The rally turned gory when a police officer got intoxicated with his weapon, and started shooting. Strikingly, an Ekiti politician hired the officer from his duty post. According to the police, the officer belongs to the Police Mobile Force 20, Lagos and was posted to a commercial bank branch based in Ikeja. It is disturbing that a police officer will desert his duty post in one state and go to another state to cause havoc. This exposes the Nigeria Police Force as a corrupt and broken organisation. A Force in which anybody can hire an officer for money to undertake illegal assignments lacks discipline.
To limit their embarrassment, the Commissioner of Police, Ekiti State Command, Bello Ahmed, initially said the officer had been dismissed, but another statement said he was only undergoing orderly room trial. Oddly, the police have yet to name the politician that hired the officer; all they offer is that he is undergoing interrogation.
This incident also raises a number of salient issues about the nature of politics in Nigeria. First is the easy way politicians collude with police and other security agencies, easily hiring security agents for illegal assignments. These armed state agents could be seen running errands for VIPs; they escort trucks and commercial vehicles for a fee. At rallies, they flaunt arms, threatening lives. With the police unable to control the other sister security agencies at such events, tragedy is always lurking around the corner. Early this year, the Lagos State Police Command dismissed three officers for the reckless application of arms. The officers had applied disproportionate force, shooting at some youths who hurled items at them. This resulted in the death of one person.
Second is the proliferation of arms. Political thugs, who are armed by politicians to gain the upper hand by foul means, carry arms unchallenged at rallies. In particular, Ekiti, Rivers and some states in the North have a history of election-related violence. For instance, the 2009 governorship rerun in Ekiti ended in violence. The top political actors were aided by a complicit security arrangement.
Third is the role of security agents in our elections. Security agents attached to VIPs flood political rallies, scheming to outdo one another. With every agent contravening the rules of engagement, rallies – or any public gathering for that matter – become potentially unsafe.
The desperate contest to gain power at all costs is bad for our democracy. Politicians collude with security agents to compromise polls. In May, the initial APC primaries to select the candidate for the governorship ballot in Ekiti were aborted due to violence. The police watched helplessly as thugs disrupted the event. A Nigerian Army panel discovered that some of its officers were used to rig the 2014 governorship polls in Ekiti, and the 2015 general election, prompting the Army authorities to mete out punishment to the culprits.
Electioneering should be a period of debates, mobilisation and espousal of ideas and manifestoes of candidates. It is an opportunity for the candidates to get close to the electorate and discuss what they will achieve if voted into power.
The shooting should generate profound concern about the state of our democratic practice. The Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, has to come out with appropriate measures to address the potential threats to the Ekiti election. Nothing should be left to chance. A strategic appraisal of police operations, starting with a comprehensive plan to mop up arms from thugs, is urgent.
To end the discordance that undermines safety at rallies, the police, through the state CP, should solely be in charge of coordinating the security operations. This means the State Security Service, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps and the military should be subject to the police. Thugs and non-state actors should be kept in check; thugs who commit violence should be prosecuted.