As one examines the peaceful way elections are conducted in the West, one is tempted to question why the case of Nigeria seems different. This is basically because of the activities of thugs who are engaged by corrupt politicians to disrupt the electioneering process in their favor. In view of this, the scope of this research essay lies in defining some terms, examining a case study, discussing the causes of thuggery, highlighting its implications, and proffering solutions that will help in curbing the menace.
Definition of terms
Political thuggery is a form of political violence that poses a threat and scares politicians, thereby unduly influencing the outcome of the political process and gaining an undue advantage, particularly in elections, against certain politicians, especially those in the minority or those touted to create an upset at the polls.
Political thugs are an organized set of criminals who engage in acts such as intimidation and violence to undermine a perceived or real political opponent to enable their sponsors to achieve their selfish political objective or interest.
Thuggery has been a serious menace in the political architecture of our dear country for decades now. During the build-up for the 2023 general election, for instance, it discouraged many youths from actively participating as INEC Adhoc staff. Even those who managed to participate came back with bitter testimonies about how they escaped lynching from thugs for refusing to dance to their bidding.
Prior to the presidential election, INEC, security agencies, religious organizations, and civil societies tried their best to sensitize the public from engaging in thuggery. This indeed paid off to some degree as people moved freely to fulfil their civic duties. However, during the governorship election, things took a new turn maybe because of the localization of the offices being contested for. As early as 8:00 am, I went to my polling unit to cast my vote for my desired candidate before heading back home. I then tuned in my radio to the gubernatorial situation room to catch the latest update in other parts of the country. To my dismay, the presenter announced the killing of a political thug in Gboko for attempting to snatch a ballot box and disrupt the election. As I struggled to digest the news, the internet space was already littered with pictures of other political thugs killed in other parts of the country. The week following, I resumed back to work to be told by a colleague that one of the thugs killed was his in-law. According to his report, the boy was a graduate, and due to hardship, he was lured into the act with the sum of 10,000 naira. When he arrived at the polling unit, he neglected the presence of the female soldier on the ground to commence his evil mission. As he scattered the election materials and was about to leave, the soldier fired a shot which led to his death. As many heard about the news of what happened, the question on the lip of many Nigerians was, “Why will someone that is suffering because of poor leadership choose to die for politicians whose children are enjoying the comfort of Europe”?
Another colleague of mine who summoned the courage to serve as a presiding officer also shared his experience with me. He said after accrediting about 89 voters using the Bvas, some thugs asked him to inflate the figures to about 200 in favor of a leading political party to which he initially objected. When he sensed his life was at stake, he heeded their bidding by changing the figures on a temporary sheet. He, however, discarded the fake result and reported the authentic result to the INEC officials at the collation center where there was safety. He even told me that a serving senator set aside his security aides so they don’t interfere with his mission and recruited some local thugs during his movement from one polling unit to the other.
History of political thuggery in Nigeria
During the colonial era, the political climate of the country was peaceful because key decision-making was done by our colonial masters. Things however changed after we got our independence in 1960. By 1962, thuggery began to manifest when the political crisis that rocked Action Group (a dominant political party in Western Nigeria) was publicized. The rift which was actually between Obafemi Awolowo and Samuel Akintola made many members of the party pitch tents against each other. As the situation aggravated, Akintola left the party to form a new regional party called NNDP. This move led to the wanton destruction of lives and properties by the warring factions till the Federal government declared a state of emergency. After the conduction of the 1964 Federal elections and the 1965 regional elections, the Akintolas party was accused of rigging. This motivated thugs to take advantage of the protest and cause pandemonium in the region. While this was going on, a group of political thugs in the North known as yan akusa was being used by the Northern people’s congress to check the winning streak of the Northern Elements Progressive Union. Since then, the act has continued to gain ground with each passing republic cycle because of the decision of the political class to prioritize it for election manipulation. During the 2011 elections, crises also erupted in Northern Nigeria when thugs took advantage of the protest against the presidential election to cause a commotion.
Causes of political thuggery
*Poor value system: The value system of society is gradually being eroded because of the overemphasis on money. People no longer care about the source of one’s wealth but are concerned if such an individual has money. This attitude stimulates youths to engage in thuggery to amass wealth from politicians.
*Poverty: The record shows that the majority of the people who engage in political thuggery come from poor backgrounds. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, about 82.9 million Nigerians lived on less than a dollar daily in 2020. With such a fraction of the population lacking resources, it is easy for them to be lured into thuggery by selfish politicians.
*Unemployment: From the case study examined, it is safe to say that the lack of jobs for our teeming youths motivates them to become thugs. The thug who was killed during the last election wouldn’t have been tempted to disrupt the election were he gainfully employed.
*Poor home training: Many parents, out of the quest to make ends meet have abandoned the training of children to cultivate virtues and abhor vices.
*Manual electioneering process: In the Western world where voting is done electronically, issues of thuggery are low compared to Nigeria which is still practicing the manual voting system.
*Desperation by politicians to get power: Many political players engage in political thuggery due to desperation to get power. With the system designed to favor money politics, players are forced to seek legal and illegal routes that will ensure they get elected to recoup the money spent during the campaign.
*Quest to manipulate elections: When politicians notice that the populace will vote against them due to bad records, they employ the use of thugs to manipulate elections against the wish of the people.
*Illiteracy: Due to the high level of illiteracy in many rural areas, it is difficult for people to process their thoughts and make accurate decisions.
*Lack of prosecution of previous offenders: Since 1962 when political thuggery became pronounced, many perpetrators have been left to roam the street without a successful prosecution. This makes the illegal act attractive to politicians and their loyalists
Implications of political thuggery
*Leads to the breakdown of law and order: The activities of thugs often result in violence that fuels the loss of societal peace. As this goes on, other members of the public seize the opportunity to steal, kidnap and perpetuate vices. Vivid examples of this can be seen when one examines the escalation of violence in the South-west and North during the 2007 and 2011 general
*Loss of lives: The activities of political thugs lead to the loss of lives during electioneering periods. From the case study examined, we notice that a youth lost his life during the last gubernatorial election because of thuggery.
*Loss of properties: After the 2011 general election, for instance, many properties in Northern Nigeria were destroyed by political thugs. This frustrates the development of the country and stretches resources.
*Promotes voter apathy: In spite of Nigeria having a population of about 200 million people, only about 89 million Nigerians collected their PVCs. Out of those that collected theirs, less than 25 million participated in the election. This is because of the electoral violence that characterized the previous elections. With the populace gripped with fear, they choose to stay away from politics to remain alive.
*Lack of growth and development: Due to the activities of thugs, politicians elected against the will of the people go in to embezzle public funds meant for the development of their communities as a way of repaying the electorates.
*Sabotage of the people’s will: Thuggery often leads to the election of unpopular politicians thereby, sabotaging the will of the public.
*Withdrawal of credible candidates: The activities of political thugs discourage credible candidates and politicians with the technical know-how to turn things around by shying away from politics.
*Destroys practical democracy: Although many countries are theoretically practicing democracy, thuggery makes it difficult for them to effectively practicalize true democracy.
Solutions to curb political thuggery
*Provision of economic opportunities: Since poverty and unemployment are the major factors fuelling the menace of political thuggery in Nigeria, there is a need for the provision of economic opportunities through the creation of jobs, youth empowerment, and grant allocation. When this is in place, Nigerians will be too occupied to be lured into the act.
*Raising awareness: Civil societies and governmental agencies like the National Orientation Agency should increase efforts to publicize anti-thuggery messages to members of the public regularly. This will help in changing the negative mindset of the public.
*Provision of adequate security: The government should make effort to increase the number of security personnel at each polling and collation center during the elections to maintain law and order among the electorates.
*Re-education of politicians: Many politicians in Nigeria are ignorant about the game of politics. This makes them see politics as a do-or-die issue. There is, therefore, a need for these novice politicians to be given refresher courses that will educate and keep them updated about electoral laws.
*Non-interference of politicians in the voting process: Before any election, participating politicians should be forced to sign an undertaking about their decisions not to interfere with the voting process. This will discourage those planning to engage in the use of thugs for election disruption.
*Removal of immunity: Due to the immunity that prevents elected politicians from being prosecuted, many cases of abuse of this privilege arouse a band of thugs during elections. In view of this, political immunity should be removed from the constitution to give law enforcement agencies, the right to prosecute and punish those found wanting.
*Digitization of the electoral process: The use of Bvas is a welcome development but the manual voting method in use makes it possible for ballot box snatching. In view of this, INEC should make provisions to digitize the voting process to curb thuggery.
*Shortening of electoral malpractice litigation time: Due to the lengthy time it takes to conclude cases in court, corrupt politicians are leveraging upon this window opportunity to free thugs loyal to them. Lawyers and members of the judiciary should make effort to speed up the litigation process in order to stop public interference in cases.
*Criminalizing the act of thuggery and prosecuting offenders: On many occasions, those caught promoting thuggery have often been left to roam freely without punishment. This attitude has continued to encourage the unabated recruitment of political thugs over time. I am of the opinion that anyone involved in any form of political thuggery should be arrested and prosecuted to serve as a deterrent to others. The law guiding the prosecution of thuggery should also be amended to meet up with global best practices.