APRIL POLLS AND MUZZLING OF OPPOSITION CANDIDATES

By NBF News
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Only the intervention of President Goodluck Jonathan made it possible for the campaign to hold as planned, thereby averting a clash between supporters of the two parties. In Abia State, the former governor and senatorial candidate of the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) for Abia North Senatorial District, Chief (Dr) Orji Uzor Kalu, was almost stopped from campaigning in Item, by miscreants allegedly hired by the state. Strangely, the state government celebrated the orchestrated mob attack on Kalu's convoy in an official statement issued by the Media Adviser to Governor Theodore Orji, Ben Onyechere.

The PPA governorship candidate, Comrade Chris Akomas, has also been at the receiving end of the state governor's virulent attacks. His campaign office has been torched and his rallies disrupted in different parts of the state. Agents of the state government were also reported to have equally assaulted supporters of the governorship candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in the state, Prince Paul Ikonne. Not done with these attacks, armed men believed to be agents of the state government also unleashed mayhem at a prayer meeting organised by youths of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) and Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Aba, the commercial centre of the state. Many of the congregants, including bishops and pastors, were inflicted with serious injuries by the rampaging thugs.

In neighbouring Imo, the state government has reportedly been unleashing terror on the campaign plans of rival party candidates. In the last couple of weeks, opposition parties have had one sad tale or the other to tell about how the agents of the government aborted their campaign rallies. A few days ago, the ACN governorship rally slated for the state capital, Owerri, was stopped, apparently at the behest of the state government. Though the government denied this, it, however, bared its fangs few days later when the rally of the presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, planned to hold in the state capital, was forced to relocate to Emekuku.

In Niger State, the presidential campaign team of Buhari was denied the use of the state stadium, forcing the rally to hold at the Polo Field, Minna. In Benue State, the PDP-controlled government disallowed other parties holding their campaign rallies in the state capital, Makurdi.

In Oyo State, campaign posters of rival candidates to the government in power were either defaced or outrightly barred from the state capital and other strategic points. The choice of Mapo Hall, Ibadan, as venue of Buhari's presidential campaign on Monday was initially stoutly resisted by the state authorities, with the permit for the rally withdrawn. The situation in Bayelsa ranks among the worst, with the campaign office of the main opposition candidate, Chief Timi Alaibe, attacked on several occasions.

The excuses so far given by these governors for their actions range from the outright stupid to the supine. Governor Elechi, for instance, attempted to bar ANPP from campaigning in Abakaliki on the excuse that the capital city is 'a small provincial capital struggling to measure up to the status of a state capital', hence, its facilities 'are inadequate for state functions', such as a national rally.

It is instructive that the rally eventually held without any problems after the president's intervention. The same state and venue will also still host the president's campaign rally, so what exactly was Elechi talking about?

All these acts of the governors are simply provocative. They are in bad taste and very unhealthy for our democracy. The acts of intolerance are sure to worsen in the coming days as the elections draw nearer. They constitute a grave threat to the critical April polls and everything should be done now to restrain the governors from the shameful posture.

With elections just few weeks away, this muzzling of the opposition graphically exposes the ugly face of our political elite, especially that of the chieftains of the parties in power. It has negative implications for our fledging democracy. This muzzling of the opposition might also have provoked the attack on the PDP secretariat in Gombe State, allegedly by CPC supporters. This reaction teaches one lesson: that no single party holds the monopoly of violence. But then, violence is not justifiable for any reason, and it remains a serious threat to our quest for peaceful and credible polls.

The unsalutary situation has expectedly drawn the ire of concerned Nigerians. The House of Representatives has decried the arbitrary conduct of the governors and their agents. The House unanimously agreed that the action of the governors posed a present danger to the elections. In a similar vein, the chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, strongly condemned the acts of intimidation, which he said would not allow the level-playing field required in a democratic process. The INEC boss has insisted that the opposition also have a stake in the polity.

We totally agree with INEC. These unconscionable acts can put our quest for democracy in a tailspin. Indeed, we find no merit or justification for the tyrannical posture of the state governors. Their intolerance of the opposition campaigns is roundly condemnable. The desperation to win at all costs is making our electoral process seem like an outright war, a bloody sport of the winner takes all. This should not be so. One inspiring thing about democracy is its in-built capacity to accommodate all views, both agreeable and dissenting. The high-handedness of some state governors in their desperation to be re-elected without allowing rival candidates have a say, roundly defeats the option of multiple choices which democracy guarantees. This freedom of choice is at the heart of representative democracy, which our country has agreed to practise.

We urge our politicians to imbibe values that will give our democracy the oxygen necessary to sustain it. Maturity requires responsibility. This, unfortunately, is still lacking in the attitude and behaviour of our politicians. It is not healthy for the polity.

Such unfair treatment of rival party candidates is a slur on our democracy. Campaigns should be unimpeded. What happens to the message of any party or candidate should be left to the electorate to decide. Sovereignty belongs to the people. It does not reside with the governors. What they have done so far runs against the spirit of the constitution and the Electoral Act.

It is shameful that some of our governors are yet to grow beyond primordial considerations that are antithetical to democracy. The right to free speech and freedom of association should not be curtailed under any flimsy excuse, just to achieve selfish political ends. The world is keenly looking at Nigeria as the general elections approach. It is not only the outcome of the polls that is crucial, the process leading to the elections, such as political rallies will, undoubtedly, play a big part in how the election results will be appraised.

Let the governors, forthwith, provide a level playing ground for political campaigns of all parties. The choice of messages to receive, and those to reject, should be left to the electorate, and that, only on election day through their votes.