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Wild Wild Polls

Last weekend, we had a throwback of the ‘Wild Wild West’ days of the First Republic. The governorship elections in both Bayelsa and Kogi states…

Last weekend, we had a throwback of the ‘Wild Wild West’ days of the First Republic. The governorship elections in both Bayelsa and Kogi states and the rerun of the Kogi West senatorial election set the stage for re-enactment of ‘Operation Wetie’. That term referred to the incidence of soaking political opponents or their properties in petrol and setting them ablaze.

Because we routinely refuse to learn from history, we keep on repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

Video clips of the mayhem are in wide circulation. In one of them, some thugs dressed in police uniform invaded a polling station in Kogi State and machine-gunned their way to disrupt polling and seize the ballot box and polling materials. Voters voted with their feet!

It was all predictable. Kogi State has become notorious for political gangsterism. Observer groups had warned that unbridled violence was likely to be the order of the day considering the quantum of terror unleashed by thugs acting the script of desperate politicians in the run-up to the elections. The police, as usual, assured all and sundry that everything was under control. But when the savage messengers of violence and death showed up, the people were at their mercy. All this happened in plain sight. The thugs were self-assured that there would be no ‘comebacks’. Nothing fuels anomy like the knowledge that there would be no reprisals.

In Abocho Community, in Dekina Local Council of Kogi State, two intending voters — Umoru Shuaib and Farouk Suleiman were killed at the Barracks Polling Unit while three persons were shot in Bayelsa and a young man’s hand was amputated by political thugs at Ward 5, Opolo, Yenagoa.

Killings aside, there were also sporadic gunshots in Emewe Okapda, part of Ajiyolo Community in Dekina Local Council, and in some other parts of Kogi East after voting commenced.

Independent observers think the whole charade that played out in both Kogi and Bayelsa cannot be described as elections. The CDD Election Analysis Centre in Bayelsa, described what happened as coordinated disruption. CDD boss, Idayat Hassan, said the disruption was so widespread and systematic that the credibility of the entire process had been compromised.

“The very daring way and the manner in which the political thugs disrupted the voting and destroyed materials in such a planned and coordinated sequence, takes everything away from the credibility of the process and its outcomes. In large numbers of polling units, the voting environment was so hostile and unsafe, thereby scaring away eligible voters”, Hassan noted.

By the time the final tally of deaths and missing limbs become public, the nation would have realised that once again, we have wasted billions to organise elections without any intention on the part of the contestants to follow the rules. Each electoral cycle is a depopulation exercise and an opportunity to demonstrate to voters that pure terror trumps their constitutional rights.

Politicians would want us to believe that they have our best interests at heart. Pray, why must you kill and maim in order to serve me? The people are not fooled! They know that most politicians only want to get their hands on the till. Imagine, if there was a way to ensure that politicians were held accountable and all those who steal public funds go to jail or face the firing squad, many of these criminals in voluminous robes prancing from one campaign podium to the other would have looked for another source of livelihood.

But the gravy train has no such protection. It is the law of the jungle all over again. Eat or be eaten. Rig or be rigged out.

To think that the police, the military and the security agencies couldn’t enforce sanity for only one day in only two out of 36 states of the federation, frightens me. When the people are wedged between armed robbers, kidnappers, ritual killers, political assassins and sundry merchants of death without let or hinderance, and when they can’t even freely choose their preferred candidate in an election, their frustration may boil over

In a 2016 interview with Punch newspapers, veteran politician, Chief Ayo Adebanjo who was in the thick of things in the First Republic, explained that ‘Wetie’ came about as a result of frustration. When people can’t change a government through the ballot box and the government insists on making peaceful change impossible, people resort to self-help. He recalls that things got so bad that the Premier of Western Region resorted to travelling in an ambulance around the capital.

According to the elder statesman, “People said well, if that is how you want it, then we take law into our own hands… They made governance impossible for the government… The police tried to suppress the action but when people revolt, what can you do? The revolt was massive…  The rioters bought petrol, kerosene and were carrying it about. Any opponent they found, they would wet them with petrol and light them on fire. They burnt buildings and everything…”

Lord have mercy!

I say a Josiah G. Holland prayer:

GOD, give us men! A time like this demands

Strong minds, great hearts, true faith and ready hands;

Men whom the lust of office does not kill;

Men whom the spoils of office can not buy;

… For while the rabble, with their thumb-worn creeds,

Their large professions and their little deeds,

Mingle in selfish strife, lo! Freedom weeps,

Wrong rules the land and waiting Justice sleeps.

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