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By NBF News

I was aboard a British Airways flight recently from Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, to Heathrow Airport, London, on a business trip. Throughout the almost six and half hour duration of the flight, the topic on the lips of almost every passenger on the First Class cabin was Nigeria and 2011 elections. Even though majority of the passengers were Nigerians, a few of them participated in the heated discussions with animated concentration.

One man, nevertheless, stood out from the crowd, going by the intellectuality and vivacity he brought into the unscheduled debate. This man, a prominent Nigerian ( I would not want to mention his name for unexplainable reasons), took all of us by surprise as he reeled out data to buttress his argument that Nigeria is being unjustly milked dry by some persons who have no serious interest in the development of our young democracy. Another man, a senior civil servant in Abuja, spoke with so much authority on insecurity in our country, particularly as it concerns elections. His own argument centred on the fact that there was no way Nigeria could develop without adequate security. He enumerated the important personalities, especially politicians who had lost their lives to violence, including assassination.

I must confess that the last time I witnessed this kind of liveliness aboard a flight was when I travelled from Beirut to London sometime in November last year when an American-based university teacher challenged me about leadership in Nigeria. I remember writing copiously on that encounter in this column. The don spoke with so much passion about Nigeria and concluded by drawing attention to the wasted opportunities by Nigerian leaders to develop Nigeria and place it on the global map. The man almost broke my heart when he asked why Nigeria was still backward while smaller countries in Africa had made conscious efforts to grow out of poverty and general backwardness. The memory of that meeting still looms in my subconscious and I ponder it continually.

Perhaps, the inspiration to write this article stemmed from those encounters because whatever happens on the political arena that poses the most minute threat to our democratic development triggers off some feeling of melancholy in my subconscious. I wonder how many of our leaders feel the way I do. If they did, at least, their attitude to politics generally would be quite different.

It is very disheartening that some of our politicians carry themselves as if the world is their home. In fact, they love political office with passion and uncontrollable morbidity, and are always ready to do anything, no matter how dastardly, to remain in office. Some of these politicians that want to perpetuate themselves in power lack the basic qualities to remain a day longer in office. But they have continued to hold on to power, using every weapon at their disposal to intimidate and cajole their opponents. They see themselves as the only persons qualified to hold office. I have a curious question: Why do they want to perpetuate themselves in office when they cannot boast of any identifiably enviable credentials? Unlike their American counterparts that have served their people meritoriously for as many as 40 years our own politicians work for themselves and themselves alone.

Already, they have started killing and maiming one another. In less than three weeks, two House of Representatives' aspirants have lost their lives to hired assassins, barely one day after they declared intention to contest for election into the House of Representatives. Who killed them and why? From all indications, they were killed because their killers saw them as visible rivals and decided to do away with them. But who told them that by killing their opponents, they would easily win? Have they forgotten that nemesis always catches up with evil-doers, no matter how long it takes? Even the former governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose had a frightening story to tell when armed men, suspected to be hired assassins, stormed his Ketu, Lagos residence last week asking after him. His saving grace, probably, was that he was held up in a traffic jam as he was returning from Ekiti State and could not make it to Lagos on time.

I fear that the wicked ones in our midst want to use intimidation and other arm-twisting tactics to scare away the lily-livered from contesting for political office in 2011. They know they will not go far in the elections if they should stand on their own. But for how long shall we destroy ourselves before we realise that politics should be played with tolerance and love. Those who kill in the name of politics are nothing but haters of Nigeria and enemies of democracy. What right does anybody have to take another person's life? God frowns at it, the law loathes it, and decency detests it.

Violence in politics is gaining prominence on our political turf daily, because of the desperation of politicians and the incapability of our law enforcement agencies to bring perpetrators to book. There are still many unresolved top profile murders and assassinations all over the country; and nothing serious is being done to get to the root. This, unfortunately, is what has emboldened the committers of these heinous crimes and their sponsors to continue in their evil ways. Take, for instance, the murder of former governor of Oyo State and one-time Minister of Mines and Power, Chief Bola Ige. Since his assassination, all efforts to track down the killers have proved abortive, despite the repeated assurances by the police that they were closing in on the assassins. Curiously, successive Inspector-Generals have made promises to bring the killers to book, but in the end failed to fulfil their promises. It will be a thing of joy the day the police will arrest the killers of Ige, Harry Marshal, Funso Williams and many others who were killed for political reasons. We wait and pray earnestly for that day to come very soon.

Interestingly, what is on the lips of every Nigerian is security. Security has posed about the most daunting task for the Goodluck Jonathan administration. The level of insecurity across the country has reached such a height that it raises pertinent questions about the possibility of staging free and fair elections next year. What election will hold without safety of lives and properties? Appropriating N87.7 billion for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) may not be enough to guarantee freedom and fairness in the elections. I think security and voter awareness are also essential. I mention voter awareness here since it is around it that the other factors that dictate whether there will be free and fair polls revolve. For example, it is the level of enlightenment of the voters that determines what part they play in an election. After all, it is from among the same voters that we have the returning officers, security agents, polling agents, thugs, assassins, and others who play one role or another to determine the outcome of an election. If they refuse the manipulation of politicians and moneybags and discharge their civic duties conscientiously and with the fear of God, then we will certainly have free and fair elections. This is why I have regularly appealed to the conscience of voters to do the needful in order to promote the culture of sustainable democracy and peaceful polls in our fatherland.

Those who submit themselves to be used as thugs and assassins to carry out wicked and devious acts should know that they are the worst enemies of our nation, and posterity will deal with them in accordance with their evil deeds. Why do they derive joy in taking lives they cannot re-create? How many of those that kill can replace a strand of hair on their own heads? Again, these killers and assassins are cowards. I recall the day notorious armed robber, Monday Osunbor (the partner in crime to Anini), was to be executed. When asked by the priest administering the last prayers on his soul what his final wish was. He answered with his voice shaking: 'I feel like I wan mental.' You could see the fright written boldly all over his face. When, in his braggadocio, he was shooting and maiming innocent citizens he never ever imagined that someday the long arm of the law would catch up with him. Evil-doers, no matter how long it takes, will meet their destruction. This is the word of God.

Why then do they kill when they themselves fear even the sight of a machete, not to talk of a gun, which they wield with bravado and foolhardiness? Those who kill in the name of politics should not forget that they and their children and children's children will face the full weight of God's law, even where they escaped the punishment of men here on earth.

The irony of the present state of insecurity in our land is that nobody is safe. Anybody can fall victim to these mindless miscreants and hoodlums, in spite of the heavy security around him. This is why every Nigerian, especially those in positions of authority, should do everything in their power to make our country safe. Securing the Nigerian state will also promote trade and encourage investors to come and do business with us. The beauty of the United States, United Kingdom, and other developed economies lies in how secure they are. This is why millions of tourists stream into them daily in search of pleasure and comfort.

I am glad that the Niger Delta imbroglio has, at last, received government attention through the amnesty programme initiated by the late President Musa Yar'Adua. Let us tell ourselves the truth for once: violence in elections is the handiwork of greedy and unscrupulous politicians that are bent on winning at all costs. The militancy in the region was responsible for the mindless rigging and violence that characterised the 2007 elections.

I read in one of the national dailies about plans by some politicians to seek the services of militants for the 2011 elections. This report, as worrisome as it is, is yet to receive due attention from the government. I regret to tell those planning to recruit militants that they may not see any to engage when the training and rehabilitation programme of government for militants is completed. Already, the third batch of graduates from the training camps has received their certificates. It will be nice if the government can extend this programme to other regions of the country where we experience regular restiveness.

I have written many times in this column that youth unemployment is largely responsible for the insecurity in our nation. How do we expect our society to be safe when thousands of young graduates churned out yearly by our tertiary institutions go about for years without jobs or social benefits? The most painful thing about this problem is that we have the capacity, as a nation, to create jobs and provide commensurate infrastructure to make life worth living for all the citizens. Where then are all the resources that accrue to the government from oil and other internal revenue sources every day?

Let me sound it far and wide that no free elections can hold next year without adequate security. This is why the Federal Government should explore the option of seeking assistance from foreign countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, etc., in the execution of next year's election. Otherwise the resources earmarked for the elections and all the efforts that go into it may go down the drain. Another measure the government should adopt is to equip the police very well to place them in a capable position to contain crimes and electoral fraud.

It was reported of recent that INEC has planned to administer oaths on its staff that would work in the 2011 elections. This measure is indeed very ludicrous. After all, did our leaders that loot the treasury daily not take the oath of office and allegiance? We need a more serious deterrence such as making it a capital offence for any staff of INEC to make himself an accessory to election fraud. And effort must be made to ensure that those found guilty are promptly punished.

The only solace we have is that God will play a huge role in what happens next year. As I wrote two weeks ago in this column, all those plotting to rig or cause confusion in next year's elections would have their fingers burnt. Mark my word.

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