By NBF News

In Nigeria , politics is not a game. It is war. The blood-stained pages of the nation's political annals, its do-or-die character exemplified by thuggery, violence, blackmail and vendetta that define political behaviour of stakeholders all testify to this.

Although no part of the country is immune to this plague, the South West probably tops the list as the zone with the highest record of these eruptions.

From here is often set off the sparks that generate a chain of reactions that ultimately spread across and affect the entire nation. Easily, one recalls the politically motivated violence and arson (the infamous 'operation-weti e') which swept through the region in the mid-60s and ultimately culminated in the fall of the First Republic .

The Second Republic did not fare any better, as it also collapsed in the aftermath of protests that greeted an orgy of thuggery ballot-snatching, election rigging in some states in the region notably Oyo and Ondo.

The aborted Third Republic and the current democratic dispensation have also had their ample share of violence and bloodletting.

Throughout history, Ibadan , the political capital of the west and neighbouring Oyo-speaking districts that make up the present Oyo State stood out as the caldron and hotbed of much of these upheavals.

This province gained this unenviable notoriety particularly because at one time or the other, there emerged on the scene a leader with a mass cult-following of deviant, street-urchins, drug addicts and never-do well with motor parks as haunts, who formed the army of political thugs, deployed by politicians to intimidate or attack foes and carry out their other nefarious desires including stealing ballots on election day.

Although, usually unlettered, these figures were often intrepid and themselves dreaded for their assumed diabolical prowess and deadly acts they unleashed on hapless victims.

One of these characters in recent memory was the fearsome late Chief Busari Adelakun (a.k.a Eruobodo 'Fearless'). A former Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) Chief thug in Oyo State in the Second Republic , Eruobodo's name alone or whispers of his approach struck terror in the hearts of the people while he reigned. Always going about with charms, and a band of armed political touts, the Ibadan chief later defected to the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) where he continued to ply his trade of maiming and killing for his pay masters. He later died following his incarceration along with other NPN barons by the Muhammadu Buhari/Tunde Idiagbon regime in the 80s.

Eruobodo was, however, to reincarnate in a more vicious, devil-may- care personality who took the unorthodox and savage method of political coercion to a notorious height: The late Chief Lamidi Ariyibi Adedibu, self-styled strong man of Ibadan politics. Although half -literate, Adedibu rose to eminent national and political reckoning with his combined talent of deft political sagacity and crude tactics of muzzling dissent. At his command was the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) which he deployed as terror machine against opponents.

It was this gang, led by the late Lateef Salako (aka Eleweomo) that invaded and sacked the State House of Assembly and chased former governor of the state now bidding to return, Senator Rashidi Ladoja, out of power, to the outrage of a whole nation. It was also under him that Chief Niyi Akintola (SAN), then the Deputy Speaker of the state Assembly was bundled in a car boot and severely beaten on the orders of the viceroy of Molete. The former Deputy National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Chief Yekini Adeojo, was also similarly assaulted and stripped naked by Adedibu's henchmen while coming out of a political meeting at the Premier Hotel, Ibadan .

Scores were to die or maimed in other bloody clashes involving Adedibu's boys and opponents in and outside the state, part of which was a shootout between Ladoja's supporters and those of the maverick politician at the PDP South West Rally/Presentation of flags in Ondo State in the build up to the 2007 elections. Adedibu's excesses and impunity went unchecked by the law, largely because of his big influence in the corridors of power and the tacit support and protection he enjoyed from the Presidency of Olusegun Obadanjo.

So, when he died in 2009, not a few Nigerians, heaved a big sigh of relief with hope that with the old political warhorse off the stage, peace would return while politicking would take on a fresh, healthy turn in the pace-setter state. Events in the state post-Adedibu have, however, proved this a mere illusion. If anything political violence with attendant blood-shedding has escalated, perhaps, worse than when the old politician was alive

Rather than break away from the odious political culture of the past, gladiators simply moved in to inherit the late Adedibu's terror machine. Exploiting the power struggle within the NURTW leadership, contending factions within the PDP namely Adedibu's loyalists and internal opposition leaders just carved out private armies to fight themselves. While the chairman of the union in the state, Alhaji Lateef Akinsola (aka Tokyo ) is believed to have sympathy for the erstwhile Ladoja group, his estranged deputy, Salako queued behind Governor Adebayo Alao Akala, a protégé of the late Adedibu.

In fact, the protracted crisis between these NURTW factions is seen as the battle for dominance and control of the motor park lords, whose support, in the calculations of the politicians, are crucial to their fortunes in next month elections. But at what cost? The frequent clashes that flared at Olomi secretariat of the union and motor parks in the last one year alone has so far about 40.lives. At the onset of the crisis middle of last year, several were killed, while property including buses, cars and other vehicles valued at millions of Naira were destroyed.

Also in a dawn invasion by the Eleweomo faction on the rival Tokyo group, guarding the Olomi union office in September of the same year, about 30 persons were reportedly killed, while scores were hospitalized for gunshot and machete cut wounds while 85 vehicles were vandalized.

There have been other fatal skirmishes afterwards.
Although the police denied it, two persons also reportedly died, when armed gangs of political touts supporting the PDP factions clashed at an anti Akala rally staged at Ogbomoso, hometown of the governor, sometime last year.

Before this, there had been isolated cases of political assassinations across the state. One was the killing of a PDP chairman in Atiba Local Government area in Oyo town, Alhaji Azeez Adegbile. He was murdered by gun-totting assailants who shot him in his house at night. Few days after, two aides of a Senatorial candidate for Oyo Central were also shot by gunmen in another assassination bid, in the heart of the town. Although, they survived, one of them lost the use of one of his legs where bullet ripped through.

Dust over the Oyo incident had hardly settled when an Action Congress chieftain in Ibadan South East Local Government area Taiwo Falade, was gunned down in cold blood.

The death toll for the year climaxed with the gruesome killing of Eleweomo during a fracas between Governor Alao Akala's supporters and those of Senate Leader Teslim Folarin at the controversial PDP local government congress in Ona Ara Local Government area, on the outskirts of Ibadan on December 30.

The murder also spurred another wave of violence across the city which, left scores bloodied. Tokyo 's investments including a filling station were attacked and damaged by hoodlums suspected to be Eleweomo's loyalists.

The worrisome trend has not abated since entering the New Year. Recently, the state government's insistence on dislodging members of the Tokyo 's faction from the union's secretariat at Olomi left two persons dead following a fierce resistance put up by the union members against armed mobile police men who accompanied the demolition squad. Then, about a fortnight ago, two persons, including one Yusuf Sakariyawu, were killed in a bloody encounter in Iseyin between PDP supporters returning from a governorship campaign rally at Atisbo Local Government and a band of Congress for Progressive Change (CPC).

Both parties are trading accusation. While the CPC allege that its members in the campaign train of a House of Representative s candidate were attacked by thugs in the PDP convoy, the PDP secretary in the state, Alhaji Bashir Akanbi claimed the CPC members were the aggressors.

The party scribe, who had his official Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) registered OY441A01, damaged by the hoodlums, said he was lucky to escape from the mob with his personal assistant, driver and a National Ex-officio member of the PDP from the state, Mrs. Funmilayo Arulogun, with whom he was traveling in the vehicle.

While the truth is up to the police to unravel, investigations show that virtually all the political parties hire the services of thugs to accompany them to rallies. As a politician rationalizes it 'They are needed to provide security and prevent opponents, who may wish to disrupt the rallies'. Apart from public rallies, entering private compounds of politicians even supposed elites across the political divides in the state, one gets the impression of stumbling into war camps, as some of these armed youths kept in the name of body guards swarm the premises, with their guns menacingly unconcealed.

The proliferation of arms has heightened tension and fear that more people may be eliminated as the April elections draw nearer and the stakes get higher.

Unfortunately, the security agencies appear helpless to deal with the situation. Apart from failing to crack the various cases of assassinations and assassination attempts, they seemed indifferent to arresting the armed youths who openly flaunt their own arms, side by side those of policemen and State Security Service (SSS) operatives at political rallies or other public functions attended by their bosses.

On the only one occasion, in which the police arrested some suspects including a serving law maker, Hon. Jimoh Fadipe, for alleged possession of arms at a pro-Akala rally at Mapo, they exposed themselves to charge of partisanship from the opposition, who accused the authorities of treating the suspects as sacred cows by refusing to promptly put them on trial and treating the case with hush, hush.

However, the state Police Commissioner, Alhaji Baba Adisa Bolanta, told Daily Sun that the suspects had since been charged to court. But the state political class has disappointed many, apparently stuck as it were, in an odious political culture that view political contest as a desperate struggle of life and death.

A professor of History at the University of Ibadan , Olutayo Adesina, bemoans the situation, saying it is a tragedy that a leading light which gave the nation many firsts, could not lead the way in reforming the polity through responsible, healthy political behaviour. 'Why can't the politicians play by the rules of the game? They are not growing democracy, or helping the system by arming youths, who should otherwise be engaged in productive ventures.

'They are destroying the society, they claim to love and it raises the question on their motives for seeking political offices. Is it for the love of service or for the selfish interest of what they stood to gain for themselves?', the university don querried.