Opinion: Police, thugs, guns, and violence at campaign rallies By – NIYI AKINNASO
Thinking with You Niyi Akinnaso firstname.lastname@example.org
The shooting at the secretariat of the All Progressives Congress in Ekiti State during a welcoming rally for its governorship candidate, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, on Friday, June 1, 2018, sparked off more than controversies about motives and motivators. True, we need to know who fired the shot, why it was fired, and who is behind the incident; but there are also serious questions about the role of the police, thugs, and deadly weapons at campaign rallies.
The claim of accidental discharge of the bullets that hit a former Member of the House of Representatives, Opeyemi Bamidele, and others during the rally is really immaterial. The real issue is about the presence of guns and other deadly weapons at campaign rallies and how to prevent it from happening in the future. If there were no guns, there would have been no accidental discharge.
It is easy to prescribe the proscription of guns from campaign rallies. It is, however, difficult to enforce proscription without a law to back it up. Beyond that, however, something must be done about those who bring guns to campaign rallies, namely the police and thugs.
One group of police consists of the local police deployed to maintain law and order at campaign rallies. These are policemen on legitimate duties, who are deployed to campaign rallies by the state police command. The argument for deploying them for that purpose is that they are needed in a country riddled with insecurity, including terrorist activities.
How to strategically place such officers remains a problem for the Nigeria Police. In other countries where police are used to maintain law and order in big crowds, they are strategically located at the gate and the perimeter of the location. Those among them who infiltrate the crowd may not even be in uniform.
The other group of policemen is much more problematic. It consists of those who function as orderlies, otherwise known as “escort” or “security detail”. These are policemen, who are attached to so-called Very Important Persons, that is, politicians, rich businessmen, wealthy traditional rulers, (ex)military officers, and so on, throughout the country. Most politicians in particular, who currently serve, or once served, as legislators, ministers, governors, or even Local Government Area chairmen, roam the country with gun-toting police escorts. It is this group of policemen which follows politicians all over the place at campaign rallies, pushing and shoving people around their principals.
It was this group of policemen which caused the Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Rasheed Akintunde, to lament earlier this year that “only 20 per cent of policemen are engaged in protecting lives and ensuring peace in the country. The remaining 80 per cent are just busy providing personal security to some prominent people … Every big man wants personal security, they want a number of policemen to come and secure them and their family members, instead of supporting the police to work and ensure a safer environment. Honourable members want police security, even Reverend Fathers, Bishops now want police security, so the remaining 20 per cent police the whole country. If we can redistribute policemen from some government formations and deploy them to work on their core duty, it will yield positive result’’ (Premium Times, February 18, 2018).
There are many dangers inherent in the use of police for private security. In the Ekiti case, for example, it was such a policeman who was implicated in the shooting. According to the Ekiti Police Command, “the policeman came on illegal duty to Ekiti”. The Command added, “A politician, who conspired and removed the said policeman from where he was posted by his Squadron Commander and came to Ado-Ekiti with him for an unofficial reason has also been arrested.” The said politician reportedly hired the policeman in question to protect him from kidnapping (The Nation, June 4, 2018).
Yet another danger with gun-carrying police escorts is the ease with which unauthorised persons, particularly terrorists and miscreants dressed in police uniforms, could infiltrate campaign rallies with their guns. After all, the policemen on security detail are often unknown to the local police command. In a country where guns are on the loose, it may not be difficult for evil doers to get guns and infiltrate their rank.
Political thugs constitute yet another menace at campaign rallies. They are known to molest perceived opponents or competitors even in intra-party struggles. Besides, they easily could contribute to the escalation of danger. For example, they quickly took control of the policeman believed to have fired the shot at the Ekiti rally. But for the quick intervention of the police on the scene, they probably could have killed him.
Given the historical roots of thuggery and its contribution to election violence in this country, it is unrealistic to expect that thugs could be banned in a single election cycle. It is like expecting the Bureau de Change to disappear in this country within a single financial year. What can be done is to prevent thugs from carrying weapons of any kind at any time and police escorts from carrying guns to campaign rallies. This will require that possible entrances to campaign rallies are heavily fortified and monitored by local police.
Whatever measures are taken to curb the excesses of political thugs at campaign rallies and other public political events, politicians must realise that thugs tend to behave like run-away trucks on a slope, even when the election season is over. The Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, is currently learning this lesson as thugs allegedly hired by him at one time or the other have implicated him in the deadly Offa robbery.
If the real purpose of campaign rallies is to afford politicians the opportunity to convince the electorate to vote for them, then it is reasonable to suggest that the police, thugs, and guns are not needed to perform such a function.
The problem, though, is that nowhere and, indeed, virtually no one, in the country is secure, owing to threats to life by armed robbers, kidnappers, herdsmen, and terrorists. This is why it is premature to argue against private police escort for those who can afford it. This, perhaps, is why the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, could not stand by his order to withdraw private police escort across the country.
Without a doubt, private police escort for VIPs can only contribute to the dualities of existence between the rich and the poor in this country. These dualities will persist unless there is a bold leader, an upright legislature, and a corruption-free judiciary to halt them.
If the events in Ekiti within the past five weeks are anything to go by, Nigerians must be prepared for a possible electoral war in 2019. If nothing else, deepening poverty, high rate of unemployment, and a declining economy are likely to raise the stakes so high that some politicians may go the extra mile on the rough road to power. Better be careful with campaign rallies! Punch