Notes Before the Election: The Threat of Violence

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TUESDAY WITH REUBEN ABATI

For the benefit of those who may not know, I am the deputy gubernatorial candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Ogun state. A day will come when I will tell the story of the role played by certain persons in the politics of Ogun State, and the complete failure of leadership at the highest levels of the party, the belly-face-front machinations of certain individuals, the inner intrigues, insincerity and hypocrisy of those who should be led by principles rather than ego and smallness, but this Is not the right time for that: we have an election to win, beginning this weekend, and we have in the majority in our party, good people, ordinary people, who want to make a difference, and who should be given the chance to move this country forward beyond the stasis and the frightening incompetence of the last four years that Nigeria has witnessed.

I am in this race because I believe in those ordinary people who see Atiku Abubakar as the alternative to the national crisis of the last four years and who believe that Senator Buruji Kashamu, the man they call the benefactor of the masses, is the best man to move Ogun State forward. I am a direct stakeholder and participant in this election because I subscribe to the principle promoted, after the 1993 debacle, by the Concerned Professionals, the Catholic Secretariat, the then active and vibrant Nigerian civil society, and others, that enlightened people should get involved in Nigerian politics and make an effort to make a difference.

I am in this race because I believe that my state needs help, and that my country can do better with persons who understand the Nigerian crisis and the need to provide a way out of this creeping miasma. I submit that Nigerian politics, in the hands of professional politicians is like an occult group. They do what they like. They run the political process as they wish. They just want power and office. But the other side is worse. Most of the people who pontificate about Nigerian politics, churning out comments and postulations may not exactly know what goes on in the arena. Very few are informed. Newspaper reports do not exactly convey a full picture of what goes on in the secret conclaves of politics, and with that being the case, the true stories, regrettably, will still never be fully told. Tomes have been written on Nigerian politics but skillful interrogators of the process still have a lot to do. The threat posed by the monetization of the process is humongous. The fact that the oxygen of cash is what drives Nigerian politics simply means that the best and the brightest, as well as decent persons will largely avoid any form of involvement in the governance of their own country.

But the bigger problem is the threat of violence. I have written about this in an earlier column in this space, but the more I am involved in this thing called Nigerian politics, or if you like, Ogun state politics, the more alarmed and worried I am. On Tuesday, February 5, the Assistant Inspector General of Police, in charge of Zone 2 (Ogun and Lagos states) invited political parties involved in Ogun State politics to the Zone 2 headquarters in Onikan, Lagos to a meeting titled “Emergency Security Meeting”. AIG Lawal Shehu expressed the concern of the police about the rising spate of violence in Ogun State politics. He spoke for about 40 minutes. He sounded more like a preacher rather than a policeman.

Four political parties sent representatives: the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the All Progressives Congress (APC), the African Democratic Congress (ADC)) and the Allied People’s Movement (APM). He told us that the police are interested in peace. Peace he emphasized, is very important and that whoever disrupts public peace is guilty of a felony and it is the duty of the police to preserve and protect public peace. He advised us to watch our tongues and be careful what we tell party members and the electorate to avoid causing any problem within the polity and particularly the Zone 2 that is under his watch. AIG Lawal Shehu was very polite, patient and friendly. It was clear that he doesn’t want any problem in the Zone 2 that he presides over. We were all very happy. He gave us sweets to lick. He obviously wants a sweet outcome in Ogun State.

But he had every reason to call the meeting. Ogun State in the lead up to the 2019 general election is a hotbed of violence. Hate. Hostility. Volatile. Confused. Uncertain. In January, supporters of the APC and APM attacked each other in Ewekoro, resulting in bloodshed. A week later, members of the APC awaiting the arrival of Dapo Abiodun in Odogbolu Local Government Area were macheted. Dapo Abiodun is the gubernatorial candidate of the APC. He was visiting Odogbolu for a ward-to-ward tour. Unknown gunmen opened fire on his supporters. Before then, political opponents opened fire on the convoy of the Gubernatorial candidate of the African Democratic Congress, Mr. Gboyega Nasiru Isiaka (GNI). On January 13, it was the turn of the PDP: our vehicles were vandalized, our men were beaten when we went to attend the annual Thanksgiving service organized by Otunba Gbenga Daniel in Sagamu. Two weeks ago, the APC and the APM clashed again in Abeokuta. A member of the APM was subjected to emergency, cruel, undeserved surgery as APC thugs amputated his legs.

I am worried because the meeting called by AIG Lawal Shehu seems to have had no effect. The police may mean well, but the situation in Ogun state cannot be addressed with prayers and preachments. A day after the meeting in Onikan which I attended with party leaders, Senator Buruji and I campaigned around Abeokuta and visited other parts of Ogun Central. Two of my campaign vehicles were vandalized – the second time within a month. One of our men, Suleiman was beaten up. Even when we know those who are attacking us, we have refused to fight back. Senator Buruji Kashamu insists that our ticket is God-ordained and we must not resort to self-help. He insists that he believes in the rule of law. He would rather go to court than pay back our attackers in their own coin. It is getting to a point that I am sometimes afraid to go to certain places. Ogun state is like a war zone. AIG Lawal Shehu asked us to sign a peace accord. We did. He told us that only God puts people in positions. Everyone agreed. Two weeks before the meeting at Zone 2 Headquarters, President Olusegun Obasanjo held a similar meeting with political parties in Abeokuta where he called for peace. Apparently, the thugs of Ogun politics are not listening to either OBJ or AIG Shehu.

Yesterday, just yesterday, the campaign visit of President Muhammadu Buhari to Abeokuta ended in a fiasco. The APC and the APM, both claiming President Buhari as their presidential candidate, but unable to agree on who should be their Governorship candidate for the 2019 election, resorted to violence, beating up each other, at the Moshood Abiola International Stadium, throwing things up and down, disrupting public peace. The incumbent Governor, Ibikule Amosun is running for Senate on the platform of the APC, but he is the main spirit behind the APM, which exists only in Ogun State. He supports President Buhari, so he says, but he does not want Dapo Abiodun, the APC Gubernatorial candidate as Governor. He wants someone else. Both the APC and the APM have become a threat to the political process in Ogun State. They won’t allow other parties to paste posters. They are divided among themselves. They are busy abusing their links to Abuja and the Presidency. Not even the presence of the President of Nigeria could put them in check. The Amosun People’s Movement (APM) threw stones and humiliated the President. They made the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo look like a nobody in his own state!

I received on phone the other day, a list of the hotlines of key members of the Ogun State Police Command that I am advised to call in the event of any emergency. Some other security agencies have also called to offer advice on personal safety. Friends have said I should not sleep at home. Some other friends claim that they are organizing prayers with the help of spiritualists who have the direct cell phone numbers of God. My mother’s surviving twin sister has also called to report that my grandmother, her own mother, appeared to her in a dream and I am told there is an important message for me from her about this election. My grandmother died in 1982. She has chosen this moment to appear in dreams! What exactly is going on in Ogun state that both the living and the dead are now showing up to participate in this election? They are all making this election look like war, and it shouldn’t be so. Senator Buruji Kashamu and I are committed to running a government of the living to make life better for all. We have not attacked anybody. We don’t have thugs. We have focused on issues. We intend to win. People should stop fighting and allow us to have peace in Ogun State. No other election in Ogun State since 1999 has been this volatile.

I appreciate the meeting called by AIG Lawal Shehu. I thank him and his team for their effort. It is not only Ogun state that has issues, other states of the country are also problematic. The responsibility for ensuring peace as Nigeria goes to the polls, goes beyond the Zone 2 under AIG Shehu’s jurisdiction, other AIGs should summon similar meetings and all security agencies must assess the level of threat across the country and take steps to prevent this election from becoming a harvest of body bags. This may sound trite, but it is true and apposite: prevention is better than cure. There is a lot that can be achieved in terms of peace and security if our security agencies gather intelligence and act pro-actively to ensure stability, before, during and after the elections. There are international agencies already on the ground, willing to provide technical support and logistics. The neutrality of all the critical institutions is crucial. This election may provide an opportunity for the people of Nigeria to vote, make a statement and a choice, but it is also a referendum on the sitting government and a test of the integrity and credibility of our institutions. It is time for everyone to stand up and make a statement and more importantly to put Nigeria first. Violence during the 1964/1965 Federal elections precipitated the collapse of the First Republic. In 1983, political violence brought the Second Republic to its knees. President Muhammadu Buhari inherited from President Goodluck Jonathan, a legacy of free, fair and credible elections. He is the chief beneficiary of that legacy. He has a responsibility to protect and preserve it.

In Ogun State, Senator Buruji Kashamu and I have signed undertakings with various stakeholders to reassure everyone that we will run a government based on the principles of transparency, renewal, inclusiveness, justice and the rule of law. These are not slogans, they are real, measurable, actionable words which we have explained in detail in a policy document titled “The Road to Progress: Taking Ogun State to Greater Heights.” In the past few weeks, we have intensified our campaign, joined by our wives, children, associates and party supporters to ensure that Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and our National Assembly candidates win the elections scheduled for this Saturday, February 16, and that on March 2, the vision of the Buruji/Abati campaign organization prevails in Ogun State. Please stop the violence. Vote wisely. And henceforth, nobody should attack my campaign vehicles, please. Beware of the judgment of God…allow the people’s vote to count.

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