According to John Donne, 17thCentury Jacobean metaphysical poet-cleric, “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” Four centuries after, Dele Giwa, the late founding editor-in-chief of The Newswatch magazine, echoed Donne’s compelling insight: “One life taken in cold blood is as gruesome as millions lost in a pogrom.”
Indeed, the essential theme of both existential insights speaks to the sacrosanctity of human life and not to the number of fatalities. In other words, it stresses the importance of a life as being the same as many more of it. It is in this context that I seek to evaluate the blood-stained election that held last Saturday countrywide. To be sure, the election was also characterised by death. It was sordid that any life was lost at all. To now talk of the loss of many lives raises the question as to whether what we had last Saturday was an election or a war.
It is remarkable that in his acceptance speech, a few hours after he was declared winner of the presidential election in the morning of Wednesday, February 27, President Muhammadu Buhari expressed sadness at what he described as “the grievous loss of lives during the election.” It is good that he promised that security agencies would step up effort to protect voters in the forthcoming state elections.
This time round, there was the absence of the usual presidential exhortations that the perpetrators of the dastardly acts would be brought to book. But, as it were, it would appear that those who died last Saturday, some of them due to no fault of theirs, have died “for nothing”, to use the refrain of the late Afro beat music maestro, Fela Anikulapo Kuti.
But I feel terribly sad over the lives that were lost in the course of the election. I would like to use this medium to urge readers of this piece to observe a minute silence in their honour. I refer, in this instance, to Ms. Ibisaki Amachree (the INEC ad hoc staff member killed by a soldier in Rivers during the election) and Police Corporal Sunday Idoko (killed last Sunday by yet-to-be-identified gunmen in Eredo Area of Yewa Local Government of Ogun State while escorting results from Ipokia to Ilaro Collation Centre).
I refer also to that first-time, enthusiastic 19-year-old voter, Daniel Usman, who was hit by a stray bullet while trying to cast his vote at a polling unit somewhere in Ayangba in Kogi State. I refer to Monsuru, that teenage graduate of St Luke’s College, Molete, Ibadan, who was killed at Polling Unit 2 of Ibadan Southeast Local Government by thugs after the counting of votes. I refer to the three people who were reportedly killed in election-related violence in Rivers State.
Overall, I refer to the sixteen people that were reportedly killed in election violence across eight states, according Mr. Clement Nwankwo, convener of the Situation Room, which represents more than 70 civil society groups; or, more comprehensively, I refer to as many as 35 deaths cited by a Lagos-based consultancy- SBM Intelligence.
These deaths, by any standard, are certainly too many for a single election or even a series of elections for that matter. That they happened in a single election is a greater indictment of our fractured political elite that encourage such acts of desperation, do-or-die politics and umbriddled contestation for power. Our collective sense of humanity is unconscionably battered while our sensibility is viciously shattered.
In developed countries or advanced democracies, no such thing can happen by the hands of political opponents or even governments in power, otherwise the incumbent executive heads would be charged with crime against humanity at the International Criminal Court (ICC). It is only a terrorists’ attack, sans a war, that can cause such a huge number of human fatalities in those climes. This is the reason the international community must note the nationwide tragic electoral processes that have produced winners and losers at our national level of governance.
Winners are in a celebratory mood while losers are in some corners licking their wounds and contemplating the next steps to take to mitigate their losses. It is in their respective places to so act. But they must, in their solitary moments, ponder the blood-stained election that produced their victories and losses. How they react to the human tragedy would mark them out as either statesmen or blood-thirsty demagogues.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan had written his name in gold when, possessed of the full complements of state power, chose to toe the path of peace and preservation of life and property. His personal declaration, in 2014/2015, that his reelection was not worth the blood of any Nigerian continues to resonate positively with history and posterity’s verdict. Jonathan, on that score, is sui generis. No Nigerian president, before or after him, so far, had been able to replicate his rare demonstration of humanity.
I have a proclivity to believe that Jonathan has the magnitude of character and the capacity to reject a blood-stained electoral victory as flawed. Although, no leader has yet demonstrated that kind of rejection, I look forward to a day when political leaderships will become so conscionable and responsive such that electoral victories will be rejected as flawed on the basis of rigging, bloodshed and killings.
If such begins, political partisans will become restrained by those positive acts of rejection by their benefactors who are supposed beneficiaries. This will be a good starting point in our quest for genuine national electoral renaissance. Such disposition will quicken the process of electoral reform by officialdom. It will mark the outset of governments that will consciously work for the purity of the nation’s electoral and governance processes.
Granted that this will be revolutionary in outlook and scale, I believe that it will take one person to set off the process of cleansing the augean stables of electoral fraud and violence in Nigeria. I remember a story that a former Chairman of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), the late Chief Sunday Awoniyi, told me about how he reined in his supporters with a threat to reject his victory as flawed if there were reports that they rigged his senatorial election, in 1991, in his favour. And that helped to ensure the purity of the process. He won and it was difficult for his opponent to upturn his victory at the Tribunal.
The Awoniyi case was a classic example that leaders can set good examples that will help strengthen the integrity of our electoral process. Unless political leaders are able to demonstrate that kind of selflessness by putting national interest above parochial interests, so long shall our nation continue to wallow in the sea of her antediluvian fault-lines of ethnic jingoism, religious bigotry and other considerations that have constantly been deployed in promoting the emergence of leaders through processes that are anything but honest.
Concluding, the question of integrity of the process has to be answered by stakeholders and political players. Can the electoral and governance processes ever be credible in this clime? The answer is blowing in the wind. In fact, the subsisting fear is that until the motivation for public offices ceases to be pecuniary, there will always be rampaging desperation or quest for power, especially at the governorship and presidential levels in order to have an unfettered access to the public treasuries and an undisciplined management of the same. Sad!
· Ojeifo contributed this piece via firstname.lastname@example.org