AHEAD APRIL POLLS: GOVS MUSCLE OPPOSITION
As April elections draw nearer, almost all the governors have designed draconian ways to muscle out opposition within their territories. The heat, in the recent time, was so intense that it has led to loss of lives, property and roping of opponents into crimes.
The situation had been so embarrassingly disturbing that the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, could not hide his feelings or stomach the dangerous trend.
He tongue-lashed the governors for not allowing a breathing space and enabling environment required for campaigns to sell manifestos. The concerned INEC boss described the attitude as inimical to the growth of democracy. He was particularly irked that some governors were reported to have denied some opposition parties the opportunity to launch their campaigns.
Examples of this sad scenarios abound. In Abia recently, state apparatus laid a siege on the private residence of former governor, Dr Orji Uzor Kalu, where they turned the place upside down in the name of either searching for arms, kidnap victims or other incriminating materials, perhaps with a view to roping him in and keeping him out of circulation till God knows when. The search and accompanying government intimidation was latter extended to the entire Igbere community.
Still in Abia, it was reported that no sooner the former Deputy Governor, Chris Akoma quit and aspired to run for governorship election on the ticket of the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) than he was alleged to have been sponsoring kidnappers, dating his alleged offence back to when he was in government.
Things got to a head when a group of bishops and pastors organised a 'Talk to us' forum-cum to ask for candidates' manifestos for the people.
Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) guber candidate, Prince Paul Ikonne, was the first on the list. But no sooner the programme commenced than thugs believed to be acting on the instruction of the state government stormed the venue to disrupt the event and brutalise those in attendance.
Even the parallel governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state, the High Chief Ikechi Emenike, has complained aloud that he had been a target of attack 'from agents of the state government,' who he said, have even gone a step further to deface his posters.
In Ebonyi, Governor Martin Elechi was reported to have attempted to stop the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) in Abakaliki the capital. He shut the party out of the venue of their planned rally. Later, obviously as after-thought, the governor alleged that the venue had earlier been secured for that day by his ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
In Bauchi State, it was reported that even a law was enacted to forbid any opposition pasting posters within 20 kilometres, either to the state capital or to any of the local government areas. Any poster besides that of Jonathan/Sambo will incur the wrath of the law under the state's Terrorism Act. The case is not different in Niger State where the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) campaign was stopped. There, while the government kept denying being in control of the venue requested by the CPC, it would later emerge that a member of the PDP governor's campaign team was head of the body running the place.
In Oyo State, it is no more news that the muscling of the opposition has pitched the former governor, Senator Rashidi Adewolu Ladoja against the incumbent, Christopher Adebayo Alao-Akala. The example on hand is the alleged denial of Ladoja the right to air his campaign jingles on state-owned Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State (BCOS). Even when he fought it out, Ladoja said he was asked to pay almost triple of the normal charge.
Even in Lagos, the opposition has accused the ruling ACN of muscling opposition, complaining that their posters are being removed by agents suspected to be working for the government. But in a swift reaction, the state Publicity Secretary of the party, Mr. Joe Igbokwe, said there was no iota of truth in the accusation, saying 'we are progressive and we give room and adequate protection to whoever wants to play the game of democracy according to its rule.'
In Kwara State, the story is the same as opposition parties complained recently that the ruling PDP had been unleashing mayhem on their supporters to which the government denied. The matter was so worrisome that the National Assembly had to wade in by cautioning the PDP from muscling the opposition parties. The House expressed worry over the arbitrary nature of bans being placed on political rallies of opposition candidates by PDP governors.
By a unanimous decision, the House mandated the Minister of Interior, Emmanuel Ihenacho and the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Hafiz Ringim to speak up on whose authority some of the governors issued such bans.
They warned that the actions of PDP governors of Ebonyi, Katsina, Niger and Abia states 'are inimical to democratic norms and growth.' Speaker of the House of Representatives, Sabur Dimeji Bankole, underscored the likely implication of the undemocratic actions if not stopped.
He gave the warning in an address in the House where he was quoted to have insinuated that the actions are capable of causing conflagration. 'Since the essence of this motion is to stop tension, already being generated, I will direct that further tension should not be caused by our utterances as it regards happenings in our various states,' he was quoted to have warned.
Even President Jonathan has had to add his voice to the excesses of the governors, warning that he had not asked anybody to bend the rules for him. This notwithstanding, opposition politicians remain an endangered specie as the run-up to next month's general elections heats up. Meanwhile, those on the receiving end have continued to point accusing fingers at their government houses, whether it is the bombing of Labour Party's Timi Alaibe's campaign office in Bayelsa State, attempted assassination in Akwa Ibom or comprehensible arrest warrant in Sokoto or Kebbi, there appears to be no breathing space for opposition candidates in the states.