How Will Jega Handle Touts and Hooligans?

Professor Jega on a daily basis is asking for several billions of Naira; Prophetess Ayoka’s presence is precipitating pandemonium in Ondo state; the electoral timetable is tearing politicians apart; and the northern elite are torn between zoning and Goodluck. Politicians across the nation are planning, political underdogs are panting, and law abiding citizens of Nigeria are panicking as we drive towards 2011.

On paper, Professor Jega is qualified to lead Nigeria’s electoral body. His spell at ASUU is enough exposure for someone on that hot seat considering the perennial agitations of Nigeria’s ivory tower elites. As a learned individual, he has the intellectual capacity to run the central agency and possess the diligent audacity to address political parties’ excesses. Though it looks like Jega’s INEC is getting its house in order and on the right path to organizing befitting elections, not everything is within the tight reins of Jega and his commissioners. These defiant areas are where dangers lie ahead of our electoral reforms.

Last weekend, the terror-characterized bye election that was held in Ondo state under the religious eyes of Mrs. Ayoka was a tip of the iceberg of what we should expect in the forthcoming 2011 general elections. While transporting electoral materials and personnel to some areas, the INEC crew and security officials were waylaid by political touts who shot sporadically and went away with the ballot boxes. As usual, the policemen at the scene outran Usain Bolt for their dire lives.

While this is new to the Jega-led INEC, incidences like this are frequent in our political history. In fact, currently, Nigerian elections are considered to be null and void without incidences of ballot box snatching and stuffing, cutlasses and clashes, and widespread bloodshed. The south west region of Nigeria, as an extension of the entire country, has several flashpoints where there is strong panoply of political hooliganism.

Before the political days of Obafemi Awolowo, the imminent propensity to violence of political hooligans had been a central political schism. In what seems like a sustained ancestral ritual, the success or failure of a south western politician remains a factor of the number, strength, dexterity, and sophistication of his Calvary of touts; thus making elections in the area similar to the much-awaited Armageddon. The situation becomes quite embarrassing considering what seems like relics of law enforcement.

The Nigerian Police is notorious for its rare blend of haplessness and helplessness when it comes to handling political uproars and preventing break down of laws and orders at the polls, and beyond. In several cases where evidences are substantive, the force is often reluctant at effecting meaningful arrests. Moreover, the operations of the force had been extensively reduced, by only-God-knows-what, to investigations-in-process that often yield no meaningful concrete results. It is regrettable that in the real sense, The Nigerian Police Force is ill equipped, unprepared and woefully failing in its role of ensuring security of lives and properties.

It’s widely acclaimed that Nigerians, despite the deplorable state of the state, value individual life greatly and would dissociate from anything that brings them within arms reach of danger. Hence if the next elections are intended to validate the voice of the real Nigerian people, and not that of the blood shot red eyed societal miscreants, then Jega and his crew should worry more on how to provide and ensure adequate reliable security during and after electoral outings. Apart from this, the proposed new electoral register would be additional archival materials for the post-2011 INEC chairman. For start, Professor Jega needs to tame the growing wild wings of members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) in the south west region.

Ogun and Oyo states are state studies of the effects that the union has on state peace and stability. Troubles are fomented at the slightest provocation and when the dust settles, several lives and properties are usually lost. In times past, the mayhems used to be restricted to disagreements over the ownership and control of motor parks until recently when politicians had saddled the various chapters of the union with the duty of recruiting, managing and deploring touts at will.

When hell was let loose at the Oyo state House of Assembly, observers and several media publications claimed that the leadership of the state chapter of the NURTW played central role in the success of the fracas under the supervision of some highly placed members of the state executive. The state’s local government elections also witnessed a mammoth turnout of NURTW members that were armed with reflecting sharp cutlasses. In all instances mentioned, the respective security operatives are still carrying out their ‘investigations’ while the beneficiaries of the terrors are smiling to the bank.

It is expedient for the Jega-led INEC to critically understudy this union, and similar ones, that politicians are using as unregistered electoral armies. The electoral body should look for a constitutional means of ‘substituting’ the present Nigerian Police with something that can truly police the poling booths.

The major setback in Nigeria’s quest for free and fare elections is not Iwu’s voters’ register, poor training of electoral staffs,-but the land-mine status of the polling booths. While Jega is talking big grammar and electoral economics, the local offices of the various political parties are fast becoming homes for societal misfits who smoke hemps and sharpen their cutlasses in preparation for the battle of 2011. Who will stop them?

How much will Professor Jega need to equip Nigerian policemen that are poorly equipped and well outnumbered? How many billions of Naira is needed to fix the cantankerous twenty-Naira addiction of our official men-in-black-uniforms which could make them complacent or accomplices in electoral manipulations? Does the agency have enough money to grant amnesty to political thugs? And do we have sufficient time to reform them?

President Goodluck Jonathan should make good his promise to organize a free-and-fair election by tightening the loose nuts and replacing worn out tires in the system. The voters’ register is not the major issue; we need adequate security. Of what use is an accurate voters’ register and well trained electoral officers when touts and hooligans with dangerous weapons are disrupting electoral process and disenfranchising law-abiding citizens of their constitutional rights? None I guess.

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