Breaking The Jinx Of Transition Violence


By Rev. Chris Okotie

It is our lot to run tension-soaked political transition programmes, often marred by violence instigated by the political class. In other democracies, no electioneering is quiet either, but the tension generated revolves around the heated arguments of contenders and the anxiety that the difficult choices they epitomize, in the options they present to the electorate.

In our peculiar circumstance, rather than present sound, alternative policy choices to the voters, our politicians play up the ethno-religious card, which invariably overheats the system, and sets the stage for violence. The campaign slogans we read and hear, rather than define the platforms of the office-seekers to enable the electorate make rationale choices, merely exposes their ideological emptiness. Rather than throw up great ideas that challenge the status quo, we see hate advertisements directed at opposing candidates.

The campaign of calumny has taken a new dimension in this election, prompting fears that whatever the outcome of the presidential elections, the nation would most likely be on fire. The Abuja Peace Accord was signed to allay such fears; though it committed the contestants to running peaceful campaigns, enforcement of such an agreement is obviously difficult because it carries no legal sanctions against violators of the pact.

We hear President Goodluck Jonathan say repeatedly that his election is  not worth the blood of anyone, but blood is flowing still, despite the Accord. It seems that the agents of destabilization were angry at the Abuja Peace Accord because the ensuing spate of killings, vandalisation, verbal violence, explosive smear campaign and character assassination under the watch of the political class, makes mockery of the Accord.

This is happening because our country has refused to embrace a new paradigm. Smaller countries like Ghana, Zambia, Botswana and Malawi have run seamless transitions, in which the incumbents were defeated. These nations didn’t fall apart. Here, evil men are promoting the false notion that the nation would disintegrate if the President loses, as if the general elections are not actually about testing the mechanism of peaceful political succession.

Perhaps, owing to long years of Army rule, we seem to have grown accustomed to a garrison mentality. We get worried when things run smoothly; normality is feared as an abnormality because of our chaotic management of public projects.

The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, had four years to prepare for this election. About 12 days to the first poll, it is still saddled with a needless crisis of PVC distribution. As at last week, millions of registered voters were yet to have their PVCs, prompting the President’s National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki to call for a shift of the general elections. What else is the recipe for chaos?

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INEC always claimed that it got all it needed to organize efficient, free and fair elections. Where then is this discordant tune coming from? The call for the postponement of the elections for fear that about half of the voters may be disenfranchised is clearly an embarrassment.

In fact, coming from a key official of the ruling party, who chose a Chatam House meeting in London as a platform to call for the poll shift is worrisome, because it has sent a wrong signal that Nigeria typically, is incapable of organizing crisis-free elections. Thank God, another top ranking western official, US Secretary of State, Senator John Kerry stopped-by some days ago to add his voice to the growing calls, opposing the proposal for a shift of the polls.

If the INEC assured us that the elections would not be postponed, the President ought to have come out forcefully to reassure Nigerians that, whatever problems the Commission is facing regarding PVC distribution would be decisively overcome with the help of the federal government. In the absence of that, it is now difficult not to believe the expressed fear of the opposition APC that the call for postponement of the elections is a ploy of the PDP, to enable it regain lost steam, so as to head-off imminent defeat in the crucial presidential elections. Like most of its public relations challenges, Aso Rock didn’t handle this well.

Evidence of the PDP’s poor public perception management is the President’s belated visit to Borno State in the midst of his campaign, after dithering for months since the Chibok Girls’ abduction on 14 April, 2014. Sometimes, the terrible mistakes in the President’s public response to critical national issues, makes one wonder what kind of advisers he has.

Visiting wounded soldiers in Borno State, the hot-bed of terrorist activities for the first time since a slice of our territory was occupied by Boko Haram in that region is indefensible. It demonstrates unwittingly that Mr. President values his re-election more than the pains of his people.

Whatever the case, Nigerian’s must avoid violence and conduct themselves peacefully. Elections are not a do-or-die affair. Politicians will come and go, but the nation remains.

•Rev. Chris Okotie, a Pastor-politician wrote from Lagos. E-mail: [email protected], follow on twitter @Revchrisokotie; Tel.: 08078421451 (sms only)