For Change or Continuity Without Blood

By Hannatu Musawa –
We are back at the same crossroads we were in 2011, except that this election is more precarious and ominous than the former. Never in the history of our nascent democracy has the political arena been this competitive, tense and dire. With predictions from the US that Nigeria might break up in 2015; with the election verbatim of political party leaders and aspirants as being a “do or die affair”; with the ever-increasing threats from “glorified regional thugs” (branding themselves as regional statesmen) that the country would break up if their favoured candidates do not win the upcoming elections; with the ongoing mass cross-carpeting of politicians from one political party to another in the quest for position and power, it is no surprise that we find ourselves in this current state of apprehension over the elections.
As election campaigns inadvertently overheat the polity, in a seemingly pre-Election Day Nigerian fashion, political violence is increasingly becoming the order of the day. A few weeks back, some campaign vehicles of the ruling party were torched by irate youths in Jos. In Okrika, Rivers State, dynamite was thrown into the campaign office of the APC, and four of its members were hacked with machetes in Rumueme, Obio/Akpor local government area. Recently, items belonging to the ruling party were destroyed in Gombe State. During the launch of the APC presidential candidate in Port Harcourt, gunmen ambushed and shot at members of the party on their way to the venue. In Bauchi, it was reported that the president’s campaign train was stoned by angry youths.
Online, political bullying has equally permeated discourse on political issues, as “die-hard” supporters of both political parties and presidential candidates are increasingly becoming repugnant and intolerant to one another. This pre-election violence is coming against the backdrop of the Abuja peace accord, assented to by the presidential candidates of the PDP, APC and others committing to non-violence in the upcoming elections.
As we approach the Valentine’s Day election, the certainty of violence after the 2015 elections is higher than it was in 2011. From all indications, if President Jonathan wins, some parts of the country, notably the north, could erupt in violence as it did in 2011. If General Buhari wins, the Niger Delta could erupt in violence. Certainly, we do not need rocket science to foresee this probable prediction.
However, this should not be the case. There is also a belief that there are states and movements out there, African and non-African alike, which could possibly not mean well for the Nigerian state, and which may wish that our beloved country dissolve into a theatre of bloodshed, gore and instability. If there are such interests out there, they would succeed if we continue this politics of violence and mayhem, this do-or-die politics, and making enemies of ourselves and friends of our enemies.
Similarly, the ever-present religious and ethnic sentiments in our clime are increasingly being exploited by some ethnic and religious jingoists for political gains, fuelling the pre-election violence currently being witnessed. Hence, leaders of political parties and candidates should publicly and categorically condemn, denounce and dissociate themselves from such supporters who use violence as a means of expressing themselves or showing solidarity for a political party or candidate. Our politicians must comport themselves, be warned and penalized if and when they make unguarded statements, which incite their supporters to commit violence or inflict mayhem. Politicians must be cautioned to act with decorum, respect and fair play, instead of peddling unnecessary mudslinging and character assassination. Political aspirants must be urged to conduct civil and peaceful campaigns, devoid of threats and a commitment to preach peaceful elections to their supporters.
Another salient issue I’m finding difficult to wrap my brain around with is the involvement of religious leaders in politics. It’s a fact, in this election especially, that religion has been intertwined with political activities. We have seen this before where some political officeholders misuse religion as a tool to get to power, while religious leaders are mishandling it to get personal gain from those who hold public office. While religion has contributed in some ways to the process of nation building, the positive impact of religion on Nigeria’s democracy has remained evidently negligible. The manipulation of religion by some powerful individuals who hide under it to pursue selfish interests remains one of the negative effects of religion in our polity. Religious leaders are openly celebrating and singing the praises of some political bigwigs and furthering their agenda. The pulpit in most cases has been transformed into a podium for electioneering. Undoubtedly, a significant number of religious leaders are endemically involved in partisan politics.
Ideally, religious leaders are meant to be apolitical and should focus and engage more in peace-building instead of actively participating in politics, making public utterances which are unfortunately believed by many devout followers to be divinely-inspired. Religious leaders shouldn’t stand or clamour for any political aspirant or party. They and their institutions should stand for values, morals and setting standards necessary for a stable, peaceful and prosperous nation. Their congregations are certainly of diverse political leanings and it is not prudent to divide or cajole them because of personal political opinion. The Muslim Ulama and Christian Clergy must completely remove themselves from the political arena, preach peace and be ready to calm the atmosphere in the aftermath of the elections. Pastors, Mallams, Imams, Reverend Fathers, Sultans, Emirs, Oonis, Igwes and all other traditional and religious leaders should all be engaged in building a culture of peace, national unity and integration.
Based on a common commitment to shared values and their own moral authority, religious leaders and traditional rulers can definitely serve as the conscience of this great nation of ours, working together to strengthen and build consensus around those shared values.
As we approach Election Day, the choice the electorate need to make without violence or mayhem is simply between “continuity and change” via the ballot box. However, in making that choice, we as a people should emphatically say “NO” to election violence and anything that doesn’t stand for the peaceful unity that Nigeria so desperately needs.
Whether it’s a vote for change or continuity, Nigeria needs peace and dialogue to move forward. If we don’t want this country to go in pieces, then we must go into the February 2015 elections in peace.

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