The Authors of Violence: By Tony Momoh
Last week, I attempted to define violence because of what people who want to manipulate what people believe and do have made of it. They jump a rung of the violence ladder and think everyone should swallow their trash. What has happened during the week points to the very heart of the matter. Violence is engulfing the nation and attention is being deliberately drawn to the wrong quarters. On radio, television and newspapers, evidences abound that yes violence is engulfing the land. But we are all failing to accept that the authors of violence may well be those who are accusing others of it.
I said in discussing the Definition of Violence last week that we must know the violent ones in our midst and that we should stop blaming those who are preaching the good lesson of prevention being better than cure. I did not fully elaborate this prevention being better than cure. My explanation is simple, and that is that great truth lies in the saying that those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable. So, the unwillingness or deliberate refusal to permit change in a polity gradually builds up to the explosion we experience that we seem to think is sudden. Nothing is sudden in the affairs of God Almighty. What happens at any time, whatever it is, is the result of an act that preceded the occurrence. The occurrence therefore is always the reaping of the seed sown through the precedent act.
Let us illustrate with seeds. You put corn in the soil and it grows and brings forth hundreds if not thousands of seeds of the same kind. You put a mango in the soil and it grows into a tree which produces thousands of mangoes every year. In nature, cassava can never bring forth rice or beans give birth to yam. This lesson we learnt from farming is true of every act of man. And man's acts manifest in one of three ways - what he thinks, what he says, and what he does. All are deeds that grow to bear fruits for the reaping. And we should not blame others when the reaping comes.
The proper thing to do is to take a step back into time and be honest enough to see, with eyes of the just, the role we played in what is happening to us as individuals, as groups, even as a nation. There is no accident in this matter, and any attempt we may make to change the rising and setting of the sun will never change the course ordained for it.
All the stakeholders in the Nigerian political space have a role to play in ensuring that we do not make violent change inevitable because we have failed to make peaceful change possible. The stakeholders are the people of Nigeria who have chosen to walk the democracy path. This is possible only through delegation. We cannot, all 150 million of us, be lawmakers, law executors and law interpreters. Our constitution spells out clearly what should be done. Under it, duties are assigned to those who make law, those who execute it and those who interpret it. Provision is made for those who want to seek office and how they should be organised. A specific law, the electoral act, clearly settles what should be done in the formation and management of political parties. The body to moderate this chore is the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) headed by Professor Attahiru Jega. At the last count, this body was dealing with 63 registered political parties, many of them not taking part in the current and worrying phase of picking those who should have our mandate for the next four years.
It is this phase that has given rise to this piece on the authors of violence. And I make bold to say that every stakeholder can be the author of violence which easily comes in form of a reaction to breaches of the clear provisions that regulate our walk on the democracy highway.
How can there not be problems where you are supposed to drive on the right and some insist on driving on the left! Take any newspaper published in this country and you will think we are at war. The Daily Trust of March 24 reported 'violence in Jigawa, Ekiti, Akwa Ibom.' In Jigawa, two political party offices were torched. Two persons died when two political parties clashed at a rally in Ekiti State. The report of what happened in Akwa Ibom was the most worrying.
'This is no longer politics', Daily Trust reported Governor Godswill Akpabio as saying. Hear him, 'You cannot just go and destroy 800 brand new cars and burn down over 500 brand new Keke Napep and burn down all sorts of edifices in the place. They went as far as cutting the private parts of (people) and killing others..'
That was the story of the PDP. But the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), gave names of people in government who master-minded an attack on the party that he said claimed 20 lives. There had been an earlier statement warning that no one should come to named parts of the state to campaign for another political party aside of the ruling party!
In Jos, Congress for Progressive Change candidate Muhammadu Buhari was advised not to come there because security reports did not favour his visit! The evening before his arrival, two persons died when the bomb they carried exploded on them. The police had written to the party saying that permission had earlier been granted to the PDP for a rally in Jos and so the CPC should reschedule its rally. But the party would not have this. How can a rally by the governor at a local government area in Plateau State disturb a rally by a presidential candidate whose outing was in another part of the city? On the morning of the day for the rally, six people died and about 40 were injured when CPC supporters were being barred from attending the rally that would be held later in the day. The reports in the newspapers the following day said that CPC were rioting! Who was the victim of that riot?
In Nassarawa state, emirs that General Buhari wanted to call on, as other candidates do before they go for campaigns in their domains, were warned not to receive him. The stadium in Lafia was locked up, and another place that would have been used was also under lock and key. The General had to speak to his supporters at a hotel compound!
Who are the authors of violence? It is obvious that they are stakeholders in Nigeria's walk on the democracy highway - INEC, political parties and their supporters, governments and their agencies, security bodies, even the courts. The worst offenders are the courts because they are the last port of call when issues are raised about how we have used the instruments settled for maintaining discipline to subvert justice. If you lock up a public facility which had been paid for to be used for a political rally, you are as much an author of violence as the person who felt angry and frustrated enough to bring down the gates. If you as governor of a state go on television and announce that a political party that wants to launch its presidential campaign in the state is not welcome, you are an author of violence because the supporters of that political party may insist that the country belongs to all of us and that they cannot be barred from use of public space which they have secured for the purpose.
If you pounce on the convoy of your opponent because you do not want them to campaign in any part of the state where you think you are the alpha and omega, you are an author of violence because you are opening the gate of possible violent reactions from those attacked. If a court looks at facts in the face and makes pronouncements that are so clearly seen to be biased, that court is the author of violence because the frustration that arises from long delays in the appeal process are not expected to bring smiles to the faces of the those who think they have been denied access to justice.
Most of the cases cited have nothing to do with the Congress for Progressive Change. But when people in government speak, they no doubt have the Congress for Progressive Change in mind. At lots of fora I have attended, especially those organised by government and its agencies, you will be in no doubt that reference to violence is reference to the CPC and its presidential candidate General Muhammadu Buhari.
But the truth is that the most peaceful rallies that have been held in this country are CPC rallies. For those who see what is happening, the CPC now seems to be more than a political party. It is a movement not because those who founded it wanted to make it one, but that the leader of the party, with his antecedents, has been identified as the only one standing that can fix a dying country.
Yes, this country is dying and those who have an opportunity to serve it today do not seem to see the rot. For how much longer are we going to sustain a contraption that gobbles 80 per cent of its earnings on servicing the lascivious tastes of less than 18,000 of its population of more than 150 million? The teeming millions of young people have nothing to point to that would inform them of a future in a country they call their own. The middle class has collapsed. The aged who worked for what is now blatantly stolen without the looters sensing the approaching justice die in queues waiting for pensions that are neither properly documented nor paid regularly.
The surging crowds that surface at the rallies of Buhari are unprecedented in the annals of electioneering in this country. Someone told me he has been part of organising rallies since the 1959 federal elections and he had never seen this type of surging seas of people. They are desperate for change, angry that they are in a rich country that is looted in broad daylight. They cry at rallies, tear their clothes in anger at what we are doing to, and about them. Buhari is the only light they see in the firmament, the symbol that represents what they crave for - security, stability, peace and justice.
I am myself frightened by what will, not may, happen if we do with the April elections what we have perfected since the return to civil rule in 1999. The good news is that Professor Jega has told everyone who wants to listen that he will conduct free, fair and transparent elections in April. I was at a meeting at the INEC offices during the week and I must say I was impressed with the preparations. But as they say, it is one thing to plan, it is another to execute. So, to avoid violence which we ourselves may cause by manipulating the ballot, we must ensure that the proof of the INEC pudding be in the eating.
Prince Tony Momoh, National Chairman, Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Plot 1132, Festus Okotie Eboh Crescent, Utako District, Abuja, March 25, 2011.