POLITICAL THUGGERY AND VIOLENCE IN NIGERIA: THE BANE OF WOMEN PARTICIPATION IN POLITICS
Olusegun Obasanjo (2002: 50-51) asserts:
We fight, and sometimes shed
blood to achieve and retain political
power because for us in Nigeria, the
political kingdom has for too long been
the gateway to the economic kingdom
The foregoing statement captures the content and context of political thuggery and violence in Nigeria. The statement demonstrates how blood is being exchanged for political power in Nigeria. The use of thugs in Nigerian politics has not only led to waste of human resources, but it has also resulted in the dearth of able-bodied men who may be useful in the future of Nigeria, and low participation of women in politics.
Without doubt, Nigerian politics has since independence, been characterized by thuggery and violence. Little wonder, politics is conceived as a dirty game and exclusive right of thugs and hooligans in Nigeria. Consequently, Nigeria politics manifest in acrimony, assault, assassination, intimidation, harassment, maiming and killing. This trend is not a phenomenon of recency; thuggery, brutality and violence political behaviour have been with us for the past four decades. Immediately after independence the politicians, in an attempt to capture, exercise, and retain power within their regional settings involved themselves in various acts that were politically immature, unwise and distrastrous. They adopted a style that was antithetical to democratic tenet and good governance. They recruited, trained and empowered thugs to harass, intimidate and victimize perceived political opponents and opposing views against their political ambition. This culture of thuggery has not only been imbibed and sustained as part of the country’s political behaviour since independence to the present moment, it has been one of the potent causes of the low participation of women in politics. It is against this background that this paper examines thuggery and violence in Nigerian politics, its causes, effects on women political participation and suggest ways of ensuring maximum and high participation of Nigerian women in politics.
UNDERSTANDING THE CONCEPTS
Thuggery according to the (Oxford Dictionary of Current English (1998: 952), simply means violent act or behaviour by ruffians. From the foregoing, it is observed that thuggery is synonymous with violence.
Howell defined thug politics the tireless repetition of misleading facts designed to depict an opponent as personally despicable and in regard to governance as dangerous to physical and spiritual life of a nation (2004:3). Thuggery is an act characterized by rudeness, hooliganism, touting, intimidation and harassment. It is a behaviour that contradicts peace, harmony and co-existence among groups. Political thuggery is an illegitimate and violent means of seeking political power with a view to subverting national opinion for parochial ends through self imposition.
Therefore, political thuggery is simply the criminalisation of politics. When politics is criminalized, it is left in the hands of ruffians, thugs and hooligans, because the good people are scared away.
Violence is defined as “the illegitimate and unauthorized use of force to effect decisions against the will or desires of others” (Wolf, 1969:606).
Karl Schmit (1968:3) posits that violence, particularly political violence, represents a disturbance to the political equilibrium system. According to Gurr (1970:2), political violence refers to all collective attacks within a political community against the political regime, its actors including competing political groups as well as incumbents – or its policies. From the foregoing, one can observe that there is a correlative relationship between the two concepts. As a matter of fact, they are complementary. The end-product of thuggery is violence. Violence is the means through which thugs achieve their aims.
THUGGERY AND VIOLENCE IN NIGERIAN POLITICS
It is evident that Nigerian politics is characterized by thuggery. Similarly, it is an indisputable fact that Nigerian politics is not violent-free. In fact, contemporary events, across the country have clearly demonstrated that Nigerian politics has been hijacked by political thugs.
Since the 60’s, no regime can be said to be immune from this syndrome, both military and civilian governments have been partaking in this dastardly act. Thuggery has been elevated to a fashionable but regrettable status within the Nigeria polity. The number of thugs a politician can keep serves as a determining factor for his electoral machinations and outcome. Put differently, the more thugs a politician has, the more relevant he becomes in the society. Thuggery has become a means to an end in Nigerian politics. It is a means of sustaining power and life, an asset that brings money for thugs for life sustenance while it brings and sustains power for their barons. It is an indispensable instrument in the hands of hungry power seekers.
Thuggery and Godfatherism have become so prevalent in transitional process even in democratic dispensations. The social, political and economics status and stature of those involved have made it a national concern. Since Godfathers are themselves the ruling elite or potential ruling elite, their activities have been institutionalized to the point of subverting the constitution for parochialism and aggrandizement. Subscribing to this assertion, a scholar has tersely submitted that:
Political godfathers are by design
placed above the laws of the land
including the constitution. They and their
thugs can carry arms without hindrance.
They are entitled to Police escorts
and are immune to the crime of abduction,
harassment and maiming (Gboyega, 2004:6).
Most of these thugs are recruited and trained for various political purposes such as intimidation, harassment, violence, assassination etc. some of them are placed on regular salaries, with allowances accompanying their remuneration. Some of them are employed as special advisers, special assistants and personal assistants while those who do not fit in for the aforementioned positions are made contractors to the government. Still, some are paid off immediately after the usual assignment.
The politicians recruit the youths comprising of men as their thugs and touts. Most of these thugs were used to rig elections in 2003 and 2007 general elections in Nigeria, especially in the south-west, where most of the bye-elections were monitored and conducted by political thugs as officers who were officially designated to do the job were overpowered by these hoodlums, causing crisis and violence in the voting venues. These thugs compelled innocent people to vote against their wishes. The party agents at the polling booths were threatened to compromise, and INEC officials were forced to do what they would not have done ordinarily.
Adeyemi and Adeyemi (2003:370) express concern over the situation of politics in Nigeria, when they observe that:
During the ward congress of the PDP,
an intra-party affair, many politicians
went to the congress venue armed
with assault rifles and acid containers
for possible use on opponents
CAUSES OF POLITICAL THUGGERY AND VIOLENCE IN NIGERIA
Poverty and unemployment – The majority of youth in this nation are jobless, with no means of livelihood, they are impoverished, and mercenary politics becomes the way out. The politicians capitalize on this and recruit the youth who not only constitute the pillar of society but also the most vulnerable to the self-inflicted poverty, as their thugs and touts to perpetrate violence.
Sit-tight Syndrome – This has becomes a phenomenon in Nigerian politics. This is a situation in which an individual tries to hold on to power for personal aggrandizement or gains. In an attempt to hang on to power, leaders often create a regime of violence, repression and bloodshed. They organize political thugs, hooligans and scavengers to sing their praises, intimidate opponents and kill them if they become intransigent (Oyatope, 2003:115). The unnecessary and uncoordinated urge to control, dominate and amass wealth for their progeny in the infinite future by the politicians informs the emergence of the sit-tight phenomenon
Prebendal politics – In Nigeria, politics is conceived as an investment. The politicians, having invested colossally on campaigns and other political activities, coupled with the existing system of winner takes all, would want to win at all cost. And the need to employ the use of thugs and touts to distabilize and rig elections becomes inevitable, especially when such politicians are not popular candidates.
Refusal to accept electoral defeat in good faith is also a fertile factor that can breed thuggery and trigger violence in politics.
Absence of good governance and low political culture are also contributive factors to the menace of thuggery and violence. Hunger, marginalisation, incapacitation, intolerance, domination, apathy and cynism etc can also cause political violence.
Esew (2003:232) Summarizes the causes of political violence as follows: Domination and marginalization of sections and groups and persons in the acquisition and sharing of political positions, rigging of elections and manipulation of political process in favour or against certain groups, sections and persons; and falling apart of sponsors and those sponsored (Godfather and God sons) over contracts, appointments or methods of management of states.
EFFECTS OF POLITICAL THUGGERY AND VIOLENCE ON WOMEN PARTICIPATION IN POLITICS
The first issue to be considered is the issue of thugs. Since it has been established in this study, that the number of thugs a politician can keep serves as a determining factor for his electoral machinations and outcome, the game may not be palatable for women. This is because women find it difficult if not impossible to breed and keep thugs for political purpose. And this will definitely affect her electoral machinations and outcome. Also, due to the near anarchical nature of Nigerian polity and society, women who want to participate in politics usually discover that the political environment is often unfriendly. Rather than being democratized, the Nigerian state has largely been militarized by the struggle for power amongst the various contending groups in the polity. The civil disturbances, rise of ethnic militias and politically motivated killings of opponents are pointers to increasing or simmering militarism of the Nigeria state, which has further discouraged women from participating in politics.
Another important issue is the natural stature of women as weaker sex. Women naturally are not as strong as men and so cannot be engaged in thuggery. As a matter of emphasis, woman nature deters thuggery and violence and not willing to engage in such. No woman wants to be seen as thug or perceived as sponsor of such. Women like to preserve their dignity anywhere they found themselves. And since Nigeria political terrain embraces thuggery and violence, it becomes difficult for women to compete favourably with men in such situation.
Additionally, is the “Light Heart” imbued in women. Women cannot struggle in the atmosphere of rancour and violence. The fear of being attacked is always in their heart, their mind is not as strong as that of men. As mothers, women cannot risk anybody’s life for election victory which the men in Nigerian politics care less about (Olugbemi, 2004:233).
Thuggery and violence are not gender neutral. Male youths and men commit much of the political violence throughout the world. Males are at the centre of political tussles. The killings and destructions reported from the different political dispensations results from men’s quest for power (Adeniyi, 2003:350). Male formulate and finance political crises. Consequently, the attainment of political power in Nigeria is through violent struggle, which cannot be undertaken by a person with light heart. I have a practical experience to illumine this point. During the gubernatorial election crisis in Ondo State, Nigeria, in the year 2007, INEC, an electoral body in charge of general elections, delayed the announcement of result of the Governorship election; people mobilized themselves to INEC Office to ensure that the results were not manipulated. I was among the multitude that staged the protest: At a point, Policemen came into the scene and started shooting sporadically into the air, the next thing I heard was a phone call from my wife weeping profusely via the phone that I should come back home and allow INEC officials to do whatever they want to do with the result. While I was ready to risk my life to prevent the election results from being manipulated, my wife was much concerned about my life. I could not ignore her cry that I had to leave the venue immediately. I know that several wives would have called their husbands that same day in such manner, while several mothers would also have done same to their children. This is reality. Women have no heart to harbour thuggery and violence that accompany politics in Nigeria.
Last but not the least is self-complacency being exhibited by women in time of political crisis and violence. When political environment is saturated with violence women tends to display complacency, especially the Yoruba women, from the south western part of Nigeria. They prefer to remain where they are and maintain the status quo than to be engulfed with crisis and violence in the process of making a change. This attitude cannot ensure adequate participation of women in Nigeria politics. This is because of the perpetual fear in their mind. For instance all the women that contested for assembly seat and lost in Ondo State, Nigeria did not go to court to challenge the victory of the winners at the election. Even though, some of the losers came from the ruling party, but the courage and boldness to challenge was lacking. The reason for this cannot be farfetched; it is simply because the political environment was tensed with thuggery and violence. Politicians in the state were living under a perpetual fear. None could sleep with his two eyes closed as politicians were regularly being attacked, intimidated, harassed and killed. Women have no space in their body system to accommodate this perpetual fear and danger. And this tends to limits their electoral victory, and consequently their participation in politics.
This paper has discussed extensively political thuggery and violence as the bane of women participation in politics in Nigeria. It has been established in this paper that women folk do not subscribe to thuggish and violent behaviour that currently defines and situates Nigeria politics. And so, limit their political participation.
In order to ensure that more women participate in politics, the Nigerian state and the political milieu have to be more democratic, secured and peaceful to pave way for further entrance of women into active participatory politics. With good governance, enduring democracy and a democratic political culture that promotes peace and orderliness, and eschews thuggery and violence, it is believed that women participation in politics will be on the increase in the foreseeable future.
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Kwanashie. M. (ed) Politics and Political Power Relations in Nigeria, Lagos Dat and Partners Logistics Ltd.
Gboyega, A. (2004) “Democracy in Nigeria: Dividends, Prospects and Problems” A Paper
delivered at the event marking the fifth Anniversary of Return to Civil Democratic Governance in Oyo State, May 26
Gurr, T. (1970) Why men Rebel, Princeton, Princeton University press
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Magazine, No. 41, October 14, 2002
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The Author, Tolu Lawal, is a Doctoral Student of University of Ibadan, Nigeria. He holds B.sc and M.sc in Political Science and Public Administration respectively. He hails from Ondo State, Nigeria.
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