The menace of political thuggery has been in existence for a long time as it has become a threat to Nigeria’s progress. The menace came to public notice during the 2003 general elections.
Sponsored thugs unleashed terror victimizing, intimidating and injuring innocent individuals and weak politicians without punitive actions. That was why Howell (2004) said “When politics is criminalized, it is left in the hands of ruffians, thugs and hooligans because the good people are scared away.”
Nigeria still has elements of such derisive minds as leaders; they mute critics, disturb happiness, cause tension, abort dreams and destroy the determinations of fellow human beings through the sponsorship of political thugs.
Leaders are supposed to act like drivers that move citizens from the darkness of challenges to the glowing light of developments, but unfortunately, bad leaders in democratic settings have taken over by diverting funds meant for projects and recruiting youths under their watch to wreak havoc.
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They send their children to best schools overseas while acting passively to lingering institutional strikes. Hospitals especially in rural areas lack proper medications and residents find it hard to access them due to the existence of bad roads. Negligence of leaders and egocentrism have led to the emergence of political thugs called Kalare in Gombe, Yan Daba in Kano State; they are named Sara-Suka in Bauchi; ECOMOG in Borno and in Lagos State, they are called Area Boys.
The thugs are like flutes in the hands of the owner who could force them to sound (act) purposely to satisfy their whims and caprices. The sad part is that those politicians are not involving their sons and daughters in such devilish activities. It is a pity that the minds of thugs could not revolt against the wills of their masters. Bad leaders play vital roles in fueling political thuggery especially before, during and after elections.
They pay irresponsible youths hugely to actualize their evil missions. Core causes of political thuggery include unemployment. Idle youths can do anything to earn money not minding the consequences of such actions.
Unemployed youths are like cats that submit to be fed; they become susceptible to thuggery.
The failure of our security system is not helping matters.
According to Human Rights Watch, perception of violence and their sponsors often enjoys complete impunity for their actions both from the official law enforcement bodies and their own political parties. Similarly, excessive love to remain in power is another factor fuelling thuggery. Candidates that are in power but foresee imminent defeat in elections usually employ thugs to dastardly disrupt smooth conduct of elections, collations and counting of votes cast. This was evident in 2007 when the then Nigeria’s president tried to perpetuate himself in power after ruling for 8 years as constitutionally stipulated.
Thank God, opposition parties refused to welcome the idea and luckily, the National Assembly said no to it which ended the move. It also occurred in 2011 when some supporters of opposition and a presidential candidate took to streets protesting against the elections’ outcome but was unfortunately taken over by hoodlums who unleashed.
Second to the last factor is the absence of pure democratic culture; our bad leaders scare credible people from contesting because it has been the culture of our democracy for decades which is not healthy for democratic dispensation.
The last factor that fuels political thuggery is the lingering corruption in the system; electoral bodies for years have been doing their best to conduct free and fair elections but corrupt officials amongst them at times collect huge amounts of money from bad leaders and systematically change choices of the populace. Leaders that got to the throne through rigging of elections are mostly nonchalant in bringing developmental projects.
In summary, there is a need for governments to give more priority to youth empowerment. This would make them responsible and desist from risking their lives in the name of thuggery. Security forces should recruit more agents so that the number of people under the watch of a single officer would less. They should also be equipped with modern weapons and have freewill to arrest anyone found guilty of sponsoring thugs.
Political positions should be made less lucrative; salaries and benefits attached to such offices should be adjusted to make it less attractive to covetous candidates and those already on the mantle.
Electoral bodies should be independent and free from the ruling government’s control; it must be conducting free, fair and credible elections which might give hope to eligible persons irrespective of tribe or religion and that would put an end to the era of family politics or God-fatherism.
Mukhtar Garba Kobi wrote from Bauchi