The last time I voted was in November 2008 during council elections in Jos, Plateau State.
Considering the tensions that have characterized elections in the state and the precarious religious and ethnic fault lines that scar the face of the city of my birth, the police made a show of “deploying” thousands of police officers to ensure “peaceful conducts of the polls.”
A day before the elections, convoys of heavily armed security agents snaked around the city, sirens wailing like crazed banshees, officers scowling down open trucks at people going about their businesses. It was a grandiose show of force that was as effective as clouds would be as bricks in a wall.
That display, meant to be reassuring, was, in fact, intimidating and a painful reminder that perceptions of elections as war is a dangerous slope we have been put on. It is a grim reminder that innocent citizens have to die, sacrificed on the altar of avarice, for someone to occupy some office.
But despite that show of force and the thousands of police deployment, those elections were far from peaceful. On the night of the elections, violence broke out at the collation centre. As is the nature of violence in Jos, this one too was between Muslims and Christians. The killings continued for two days. Two days in which the desperate residents looked for those thousands of police officers deployed to ensure their safety. Two days in which 761 people were killed, according to data by Human Rights Watch.
When news broke last week that the Nigeria Police had deployed 31, 000 officers to ensure peaceful conduct of elections in Edo State, it was memories of these wailing and disappearing convoys of police officers that were foremost on my mind.
Of course, the elections in Edo threw up colourful confetti of things to be considered. The obvious being the brutal beating of the ruling party in a state they had previously controlled, by a candidate that had, previously, up to only a few months before, been theirs. The other, I suppose, is the woeful performance of the godfathers—Tinubu and Oshiomole, both reduced to favourite meme characters. Maybe that has nothing to do with the waning prowess of the two but the rising profile of Nyesome Wike, who for some time has been fashioning himself into a godfather figure, the likes of which the PDP has been lacking since they lost power in 2015. The likes of which Nigeria could, in all honesty, do without. Elections should not be impositions. They should not be treated as war either, as those elections in Jos were, and as most elections in Nigeria have been.
Considering the realities of the country, these 31, 000 thousand officers deployed to Edo would have been best deployed in the villages (or wilderness) of Katsina, Sokoto, Zamfara, Kebbi, Kaduna or even the northeast, where hundreds of Nigerians are being killed and their villages decimated daily by the ubiquitous bandits as if we are living in the dark ages where rape and plunder were the norms.
What resonated for me, and I am sure for many Nigerians, is the premium placed on elections, which, is sane societies, should be largely peaceful affairs, over the lives and wellbeing of the plundered wilderness that our villages have become. What is even sadder is the realization that the premium is not placed on the elections themselves because, in reality, they are only means to an end. The end in this case is the acquisition of power.
Why is that so important? Because of all the resources Nigeria is endowed with, the most precious, I have come to realise, is that ephemeral one called power. The source of so much wealth in this country. If Forbes were to compile a list of rich politicians in the world, I am sure you would find many Nigerians on the list.
And since conflicts are driven by the need to acquire resources, it is not unexpected that those in search of power would conjure conflict to secure or advance their interest. It is the desire to acquire this resource that has informed the formation of political parties in this country. These parties are not motivated by the great ideas that have driven the political parties across the world. To understand their motives, one only has to look at their slogans. They mostly have “power” in them. And also the way politicians swap parties as one would his kaftan.
So when 31, 000 police officers are posted to supervise the conduct of elections in a state, it is not necessarily to secure the lives of the electorates but to ensure the successful acquisition, or protection of power. And this sometimes means by any means necessary, such as demonstrated during the Kogi and Kano elections where these “thousands” of police officers were actively caught using their weapons and the powers vested in them to arm-twist the will of the electorates.
So in reality, the 31, 000 are there to neutralize anything that threatens power. Anything, including the electorates, who if they are not killed during elections are fair game to bandits and Boko Haram afterwards. The loss of their lives is one the state can endure without bothering to mobilise 31, 000 police officers to secure them.
Leaving aside the mathematical gymnastics involved in these deployments, (or call it the Nigerian factor if you like) coming to that realization in Jos, after many people were killed and the politicians they voted for were more concerned with securing office than even offering support or kind words to the victims was a painful eye-opener.
Unless the principal focus of Nigeria and the people who run it shifts from the quest for power to actually caring about the lives of people, we are going to be drifting in this shit creek without a paddle for a while longer.