With the conduct of polls yesterday for the office of President and National Assembly legislators as scheduled, Nigeria’s 2019 general elections can be said to be fully on course. The next stage is slated for March 2, 2019 for state level polls for governorship and state houses of assembly seats. Given the pre-election tension which raised public concern to fever-pitch, the mere fact that the polls are holding at all, provided palpable relief to many citizens, who now have to contend with the eventual winners of the contests, at various levels. Clearly, each individual winner or loser at the polls, offers his or her supporters defining implications – specifically with respect to the prospects of guaranteed or denied access to the proverbial democracy dividends – which in Nigeria refers to opportunities to benefit from the spoils of political office.
Yet nothing would assuage for the macabre taint on the polls exercise, from the series of avoidable deaths of Nigerians, at the instance of electoral campaign rallies, as well as associated events. For many of these unfortunate victims, their deaths would end up as nothing beyond incalculable losses which are exclusive to their families, as they constitute little more than the unfortunate spoils of partisan political wars. Painfully, the incidence of such unwanted deaths spans the entire country and feature routinely during the major outings of leading political parties, as partisan political tussles in Nigeria hardly run without macabre endings and body counts. Incidentally some of such incidents enjoyed the benefit of documentation, while the majority remained unknown and unsung.
For instance, between December last year and January this year, Rivers State recorded several political campaign related deaths by gunmen. Almost at the same period, reports had it that at least three persons died with scores – including a journalist, suffering varying degrees of injuries, as rival party factions took on each other during the APC launch of its gubernatorial campaign in Lagos. Likewise, during the APC campaign rally for President Muhammadu Buhari in Taraba State, at least eight persons died, going by the confirmation by the Presidency which sent a team to condole with the bereaved families of the victims. Meanwhile at least three other persons were killed in Kano during the PDP Presidential rally for Atiku Abubakar, with scores of others sustaining various injuries.
Beyond the reported and unreported deaths were other contingences which ended up in damages and injuries of varying intensities, but equally unfortunate. While there were reports of the podium collapsing in Kebbi State, President Buhari missing his step in Kogi State, there were also other instances of anomie. Perhaps the most outstanding must be the case of the APC rally at Abeokuta Ogun State, where the VIP stand was pelted with stones, bottles and other missiles even when the President Buhari was seated there. As for the Abeokuta incident, if the country’s security establishment impute any hyperbolic connotations to it, such would not be out of place. Supposing one of the missiles actually hit the President or a real life assassin deployed the incident as a decoy to hit the President mortally? Needless to state that the Abeokuta incident remains most horrendous with echoes that may not abate in a hurry.
Seen in context, most of these anomic developments were entirely avoidable, as they could have been prevented or minimised by simple, better planning. This contention enjoys credence as in most of these venue based contingencies including Abeokuta, over-crowding remains fingered as the causative factor, which the organisers should have demonstrated better control of. As does not require the benefit of clairvoyance to appreciate, the over-crowding led to poor crowd control, and possible slip of security protocol as in Abeokuta.
It is most likely that in the enterprise of crowd renting which was the order of the day for all the political parties and throughout the nationwide rallies, size of the crowd meant everything. The bigger the crowd the higher the pay was the unmistakable mantra. Hence the mammoth turnout at the various campaign grounds was all that dominated much of the trending conversations. Yet the fact remains that a mammoth crowd without control measures is simply a headless and mindless mob, that constitutes a prime factor for anomy, with the harvest of untimely deaths serving as the grim evidence of the indiscretion of the organisers. And this is in spite of the ample lead-time they all had to organize better and safer rallies.
The odium splashed on the integrity of the campaigns and rallies is deepened by the official non-challance that would greet the victims in the harvest of deaths, as relief would be far from most of them in their misfortune. Besides the foregoing is the likelihood that the syndrome of unintended harvest of deaths at mass participation events across the country, is far from over in the country’s political space, as no meaningful response has so far been recorded. While the situation calls for attention even if such be a review of mandatory security and protocol regime at rally venues, such is not yet in the public domain. To accentuate the dilemma of the country in this regard, is the fact that in most cases such rallies are held in any of the country’s myriads of inhospitable, open and bare spaces, or at best any of the motley collection of sports arenas; some of which are mere caricatures of a passable stadium.
Fore-shadowed in reflections on the harvest of campaign related deaths, is the fact that the country is bereft of suitable well-appointed venues for hosting large number of people for political and other mass participation activities. Even the development of adequate modern stadia for the various sport activities which Nigerians love so much, has so far remained a no go area for most state governments, as the mindsets of generations of state governors, do not even veer towards such contemplation. The harvest of deaths at the makeshift rally venues, therefore remains the payback for our institutional indiscretion in this respect.
Bravo Dickson Seriake, Welcome New Bayelsa Airport
At least, even as Nigerians remain hooked on the polls and the highly anticipated outcomes, the country still deserves the joy of celebrating a most commendable breakthrough by the Governor of Bayelsa State – Seriake Dickson, with respect to the advent of the new Bayelsa International Airport which recorded its maiden flight last Thursday. Even if its significance may not be immediately obvious to many Nigerians, its advent remains one of the greatest infrastructural developments that graced not only the state, but the entire Niger Delta region. Take or leave it, Nigeria’s most isolated state Bayelsa, is now connected by air to the entire world, with the glory for such a generational feat going to Seriake Dickson. Many people who watched the maiden flight by an ‘Air Peace’ aircraft as it touched down, on the brand new tarmac, and saw the door open with Dickson disembarking from the plane – and on the good side of history, could not restrain themselves in their outpouring of accolades for the spectacle and the actors behind its success.
Nevertheless, a poetic counter-pose to the Bayelsa State breakthrough with respect to the legitimate development challenges of the Niger Delta region, was the saber-rattling, macabre dance on a podium by the Minister of Transportation Mr Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, as he bayed publicly for war and instigated his followers to fight if possible during the polls, if only such will be required to dislodge the PDP government of Nyesom Wike, in Rivers State – a neighbor to Bayelsa State. Amaechi who as Minister of Transportation – the very agency that administers transportation and airports in Nigeria, played oblivious of the Bayelsa breakthrough and its huge promise to the Niger Delta region he was supposed to represent. Rather he seized the APC Port Harcourt Presidential rally to fan the embers of hatred and acrimony among his supporters, whom he instigated to go for broke as far as the polls in the River State are concerned. What he hoped to gain from a possible conflagration arising from his war mongering, is anybody’s guess.
Without much equivocation therefore, based on the fruits of their labour and the backdrop of the contemporary development challenges of the Niger Delta, the region needs more Dicksons than Amaechis.