African viewpoint: Bloody politics

Nigerian police holding shields Thousands of extra security forces have been deployed across Nigeria for the elections now set to start on Saturday after being delayed by a week

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Sola Odunfa looks at how Nigerian politics has become a matter of life and death.

Few people outside Nigeria have heard of a town called Uyo which is the capital of similarly little-known Akwa Ibom state in the Niger Delta.

But in the past few weeks Uyo has gained infamy even within Nigeria for the level to which its people can descend in mindless violence in the name of party politics.

According to officials of the two political parties involved - the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) and the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) - not less than 40 people were killed either by gun or machetes in the two incidents in the state.

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The Nigeria police may be awarded medals when posted abroad on peacekeeping missions, here at home I am yet to meet a Nigerian who would swear by their professional or moral integrity”

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Fifty others were wounded. About 800 brand new motor cars, mostly government-owned, and 500 tricycles used for public transportation were burnt beyond repair.

The background to the tragic drama was in the allegation that a senior official of the ruling party in the state declared his home constituency out of bound to opposition politicians and therefore they were barred from staging election campaign rallies anywhere there.

Being true sons of their fathers - as we say in Nigeria - the main opposition party in the state declared that no-one could scare them away from their fatherland; so they headed for the town of Ikot Ekpene to hold a rally.

It ended in tragedy as well-armed thugs unleashed terror on them and their supporters. A party spokesman said that 20 persons died there.

The following day some other armed men descended on Uyo in an apparent reprisal mission. The state governor announced later that 20 people were killed and property were destroyed in that orgy of violence.

'War cabinet'

"This is no longer politics, it is outright criminality," the governor said.


The state chairman of ACN countered with the allegation that the attack on its leaders at the Ikot Ekpene rally was organised by members of the ruling party's "war cabinet".

The Nigeria police may be awarded medals when posted abroad on peacekeeping missions, here at home I am yet to meet a Nigerian who would swear by their professional or moral integrity.

In response to the incidents, the police promptly arrested the gubernatorial candidate of the opposition ACN in the state and slammed a charge of treason on him.

No-one was surprised when a federal judge then declared that the police merely wanted to hold on to the defendant while they went "fishing for evidence" to sustain the capital charge.

The court granted him bail but the police re-arrested him right inside the court room.

Since the beginning of the year and the approach of the general elections, which has been unfortunately postponed by a week, Nigerians have witnessed physical violence on a grand scale all across the country.

Hardly any day has passed without news reports of people being killed or injured by armed thugs engaged by politicians.

Nigeria's toothache

The front page of a national newspaper on a typical day would read: "Violence rocks Anambra, Edo, Plateau and Oyo states" with riders saying: "thugs stab a particular politician, attack a former state governor, and kill another politician's police orderly".

People reading newspaper in Lagos, Nigerian on Sunday 3 April 2011 Newspapers are often dominated by stories of political violence

Recently a hand grenade was discovered under the podium from which a state governor was to address his party's campaign rally.

In Lagos I watched thugs attacking party supporters who were returning from a rally.

The situation is so bad that the government has deployed the armed forces to complement the police in street patrols and preventing violence during the elections.

Four years ago, former President Olusegun Obasanjo said that the elections of that year were "a matter of life and death" for his party, and the party went on to crush all opposition at the polls.

The seed Mr Obasanjo sowed then has germinated and the harvested fruit is now giving Nigerians toothache.

The delay of the polls has not helped - I can't wait for the elections to end.

Although I know that there is no way the police can retrieve all the illegal firearms politicians distributed to their thugs.

The victims then will include the gun suppliers and their families.

As our elders say, when the heavens fall, it will be on everybody.


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