21st July, 2010
The violence and crisis that marred the recent local government primaries of the Peopleâ€™s Democratic Party, PDP, in Cross River and Ebonyi states could be ominous signs of what to expect in the general elections in 2011.
There were cases of rigging, thuggery and blood-letting as PDP sought to elect their chairmanship and councillorship candidates for the forthcoming local government polls. In Yala Local Government Area of Cross River State for instance, there was a battle between the supporters of Mr. John Odey, the Minister of the Environment and those of Senator Greg Ngaji, the senator representing the Northern Senatorial District of the state. The crisis left several cars damaged, many people sustaining injuries and at least one person confirmed dead.
There was a serious fight at Yahe Primary School over the distribution of electoral materials. When the materialsÂ got to Wanokom and were kept at the police station preparatory to being shared, there was so much violence that the police and electoral officials who came from Calabar had to flee into the bush to save their lives. The head of the councillor representing Wanihem Ward, Mr. Simon Onawo, was said to have beenÂ wounded with a knife while there was fighting to take possession of electoral materials.
Also, aÂ vehicle belonging toÂ a retired Group Captain, Stanislaus Opkutu, who works with the Ministry of Environment, with registration number AO1 1355 had its tyres and windscreen destroyed by angry youth when he attempted to hijack materials. In other parts of Cross River violence also trailed the party primaries.
In Ebonyi tension was generated as a result of the outcome of the PDP primaries where many party stalwarts were alleged to have been shortchanged and shut out of participation in selecting their councillors and chairmanship candidates.
The happenings in these two states probably foreshadow what will happen later as the election period draws nearer. If politicians and their supporters could resort to violence because of mere local government primaries of a party, what should we expect when parties begin to pick candidates for the House of Assembly, House of Representatives, the Senatorial, the governorship and presidential primaries?
Shouldnâ€™t we begin to be apprehensive about the forthcoming elections going by the way the local government primaries of PDP in only two states have been marred by violence? These questions are pertinent because some desperate politicians seem poised to grab elective positions by all means including rigging and unleashing mayhem on those who stand in their way.
Professor Attahiru Jega, the new chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has said that the electoral umpire will ensure a free and fair election. We like to believe him but the truth is that no election can be credible in the face of violence and other malpractices. Hence, we call on the law enforcement agents to prevent violence during elections to ensure the integrity of our ballot. What we need are not policemen who are partisan or who watch helplessly while thugs foment trouble and hijack election materials on election days. The police and other security agencies should begin to plan now how to check the excesses of politicians and their supporters at polling booths.
We can re-enact what happened on June 12, 1993 when the presidential election was conducted in a free and fair manner all over the country to the disbelief of powerful interestÂ groups who did not want the election to take place. We can still shame those who are planning to disrupt next yearâ€™s elections by ensuring that our votes count and protecting the votes from being stolen by thugs.