The Nigeria Police Force has advised all politicians to eschew violence and caution their supporters against threatening voices of dissent and opposition in the run-up to the 2023 general elections.
The police said any threat to life was a criminal offence, adding that the Electoral Act is also clear on the appropriate punishment prescribed for election-related crimes.
The Force spokesperson, Olumuyiwa Adejobi stated this in an interview with The PUNCH on Sunday against the backdrop of online bullying and violent verbal exchange between the supporters of the All Progressives Congress presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu and the Labour Party flagbearer, Peter Obi.
A report had alleged that the Ghanaian President, Nana Akufo-Addo advised Tinubu to seek medical care and give the LP presidential candidate the chance to rule, but the Ghana High Commissioner in Nigeria, Abdulrashid Bawa, had since denied the report in a statement.
The High Commissioner described the report as false and misleading, adding that the Ghanaian leader did not write such a letter to the APC leader.
A viral video of the Pyrates Confraternity in which the members were mocking a leading presidential candidate in a song also attracted anger and condemnations across the country.
Similarly, there has been increased cyber bullying on social media and attacks by over-zealous presidential candidates’ supporters sparking anxiety that this might culminate in electoral violence during the campaigns which would kick off in September.
This is happening as findings by The PUNCH indicate that no fewer than 27 persons were killed in 28 separate incidents of electoral violence in the country in the past seven months.
But stressing that the police would not take lightly the violation of the provisions of the Electoral Act, Adejobi advised anyone who felt threatened to report to the police for necessary action.
He stated, “Threats to life is a criminal offence, and everyone has the right to take up cases against anyone who threatens their life or engages in an act capable of making their life precarious, or causing a problem in the country. Hence, whosoever feels threatened is at liberty to approach the police formally, for necessary action.
“The Electoral Act is clear on electoral offences and appropriate punishments. Also, our criminal laws can be applied in handling election-related crises. We have our laws and we are duty-bound to enforce them at all times.
“While we urge all political actors to be law-abiding and desist from violating the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2022, we will always engage relevant stakeholders, especially politicians, in deliberations, from time to time, on how to have a seamless exercise in 2023.”
INEC backs police
The Press Secretary to INEC chairman, Mr Rotimi Oyekanmi, said the Nigeria Police was in order to advise supporters of presidential candidates not to engage in violence, pointing out that no meaningful electoral activities can take place amid chaos.
He noted, ‘’It is not for nothing that the Independent National Electoral Commission works closely with security agencies under the auspices of the Inter-agency Consultative Committee on Election Security to guarantee peace in all our elections.
‘’The commission also works closely with the National Peace Committee to ensure that candidates in all major elections, especially the off-season governorship elections held in Edo, Bayelsa, Kogi, Anambra, Ekiti and Osun states, sign the Peace Accord.
‘’My appeal to supporters of various candidates is that they should shun violence. The next general election will not be about who throws the most vicious punches. It will be about fundamental issues affecting the well being of all citizens across Nigeria.’’
Efforts to reach the Director of Media and Communications for Tinubu Campaign Organisation, Bayo Onanuga proved abortive, but the Director General of Asiwaju Tinubu-Shettima Coalition for Good Governance, Adebayo Shittu, described the police warning as a welcome development.
According to him, putting a punitive measure in place to checkmate violation of the electoral act by political candidates and their overzealous supporters is long overdue.
He said, “It is a welcome development for the police to rise against fifth columnists. People who deliberately want to foment trouble by attempting to ensure elections never hold in the country instead of losing to the oppositions. There must be law and orderliness.
“Certain candidates and their supporters are already afraid, knowing that they stand no chance at the polls. I am not just an optimist. My optimism is buoyed by what I see happening in the country.”
The former Minister of Communications also noted that the result of the Kenya presidential election is a clear indicator for those still living in denial and believing that social media can make a change in the voting pattern of Nigeria.
“Just imagine how the man with the highest votes on social media was humbled. I am sure their eyes will clear now. Recall I once told you that the choice of Shettima and Tinubu is an unassailable combination hence people will always seek all means to run down their personalities.
“Otherwise, why would anybody cook up a fake narrative to implicate Ghanaian president last week because they want to make Tinubu look bad the way they did. Is Nana Akufo-Addo Tinubu’s supervisor or what?” he stated.
But,the Spokesperson for the Peter Obi Support Network, Onwuasoanya Jones, in an interview with The PUNCH, Obi had been “an advocate of peaceful and responsible conduct both in speech and action and he has always encouraged his supporters and volunteers to toe the same path of issue based engagements.
“Unfortunately, Peter Obi has been at the receiving end of very bad and tasteless blackmail against his person and even family, especially, from the angle of some ill-trained social media hirelings of Tinubu and the All Progressives Congress.
“We have seen many badly constructed fake news, outright falsehoods and hate speeches targeted against Mr Peter Obi, but in his characteristic tolerance and noble temperament, he has taken these with equanimity.
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“If we a group, we wish to respond or take action against such, we know where and how to channel these complaints, we won’t overburden the Police with civil complaints like defamation of character when we know that the Police have a lot of criminal acts they are yet to tackle.
“The police must do their jobs professionally and patriotically by being non-partisan, especially, as we are about entering the main campaign period. They should not become bodyguards and attack dogs for a political party or some candidates. The issue of defamation of character should be a matter for civil litigation, and Police shouldn’t allow itself to be used to intimidate those who hold contrary views with certain “protected politicians”
Also, the National Publicity Secretary of the New Nigeria Peoples Party, Agbo Major, said, “The task of maintaining public peace rests with the police. We have always canvassed for the need to migrate from campaigns targeted at individuals or groups to that of issues as practiced in other democracies and so the warning is not out of place.
“As we head towards the elections, political parties and their candidates should engage voters based on issues and programs not on individual basis.”
When contacted, the Spokesperson for the Atiku Abubakar Campaign Organisation, Senator, Dino Melaye, stated, “The question of whether there should be peace should be channeled to those who make trouble. Everyone knows we are not a violent party. We and you know those who brought violence to the political laboratory of Nigeria.”
Defending the Peoples Democratic Party’s presidential candidates, he stated, “We will continue to maintain peace. Atiku as a man of peace will have to tow that line. The quest for peace should be channeled to those who are violent.”
AAC advises candidates
Commenting on the situation, the African Action Congress said all Nigerians had the right to campaign and rally in any part of the country they deem fit.
The party condemned the use of “caustic, divisive and threatening statements” among supporters of other presidential candidates, stating that Nigerian youths should not lose sight of the goal to change the country in the forthcoming elections.
The National Publicity Secretary of the party, Femi Adeyeye, in a statement on Saturday, noted that the polity did not have to be heated up because of the 2023 elections.
He stated, ‘’It is a matter of fact that the Nigerian space has never been this polarised since it was established. No thanks to the nepotistic, clueless Buhari regime that has further widened the division among Nigerians, through very dangerous social and economic inequalities.
“Should we as people then continue to widen the trench through divisive rhetoric of violent threats to one another, all in the name of a “campaign”?
Meanwhile, no fewer than 27 deaths were recorded in 28 incidents of political violence in the country between January 2021 and August, 2022.
Also, no fewer than 10 individuals were injured while one person was reportedly abducted. Houses and other properties were destroyed during the various attacks.
On January 13, the Peoples Democratic Party secretariat in Ekiti was attacked by suspected hoodlums. The Gombe PDP Secretariat, Atiku campaign office was similarly attacked on Feb 1 while sporadic shooting was recorded at Rauf Aregbesola’s campaign office in Osun state on February 3.
One person was killed while allegedly snatching a ballot box and a vehicle was torched during the Federal Capital Territory council elections on February 12.
Two persons were killed during the PDP ward congress in Osun on February 23 while two policemen and six others were confirmed dead after an attack by gunmen on some polling units in Enugu the same day.
On March 25, four persons were reportedly killed and many injured during the inauguration of the Kano APC executives by Governor Umar Ganduje.
Suspected political thugs were said to have torched a politician’s home in Ondo on March 19 while a victim was shot at the Rivers APC delegate ward congress on May 18.
Violence also marred the PDP primaries in Cross River on May 22 as a policeman and another person sustained gunshot injuries. Also, three PDP delegates were killed by suspected bandits in Niger state on May 25.
The latest incident was the clash between some political supporters in Osun where three persons died, one was kidnapped and property destroyed over election largesse on August 5.
A political analyst, Jide Ojo observed that electoral violence is a crime under the electoral laws, stressing that the laws should be vigorously enforced to teach those defaming others a lesson.
He added, ‘’It’s a warning sign to the political gladiators,particularly candidates and their loyalists to moderate their actions as we enter into the five-month campaign period starting next month.
‘’Hate speech, fake news and defamation of character should not be the dominant feature of our elections. I implore political supporters to market ideas; what is needful at this point is an issue-based campaign, not character assassination, name-calling, defamation of people’s character and slandering because these have consequences whether during or after the elections.
‘’Defamation of character, slander, character assassination and libel all have laws guiding and regulating them and people can be sued and heavy compensations including jail terms could be the punishment given to any of the guilty parties.”
A lawyer, Sunny Anyanwu, argued that the police warning was of little value, adding that the security agencies should be equipped to do their job.
“Equip them with fighting equipment and the rest. They should be up to the task,’’ he submitted.