As campaigns intensify ahead of the general elections this year, one issue that may security agencies may have to contend with is the issue of thuggery. Political thuggery is one of the social malaise that has characterised Nigeria’s brand of democracy over the years.
Political thuggery in Nigeria is characterised by conflict, crisis and violence which have devastating effects on the development of the country and the sustenance of its democracy. Thugs, mostly young persons, are recruited and used by politicians to harass, oppress, kidnap, terrorise and intimidate their opponents. These politicians, who want to hold onto power at all cost, engage the services of these young persons to further their selfish interests. In the era before the advent of card reading machines, these thugs were also used for ballot box snatching by politicians desperate to win elections. Political thugs have also been implicated in the violence that has characterised elections in the country, including the 2015 election, according to election observer accounts.
The use of thugs to disrupt activities and cause mayhem reared its ugly head again, thus electioneering period, when people suspected to be political thugs disrupted the governorship campaign rally of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Lagos. Violence erupted following the attack, leading to many people, including journalists, sustaining varying degrees of injury from bullets fired at them. It is unfortunate that in spite of the peace pact entered into by political parties, the parties are still unable to rein in their supporters to guard against such violent acts. Acts such as that witnesses in Lagos are sad reminders of some of the things that are wrong with our democracy.
Thuggery is a national security issue which must be treated with the seriousness it deserves as these thugs, it has been found, often graduate into robbers and kidnappers off election season, as a means of sustaining themselves. Thuggery has also been fingered in the proliferation of light arms and weapons in the country as the politicians no longer have control over the arms and ammunition given to the thugs in their desperate bid to gain or hold onto power at all cost.
Youth involvement in thuggery, in our view, is as a result of the fast eroding value system in the society, poverty, wrong political ideologies, corruption, unemployment, weak enforcement of laws, slow justice system and marginalisation, perceived or real, as well as the influence of the internet and movies among others.
The consequences of thuggery are manifold, from social to physical to psychological among others. Thuggery has led to maiming and deaths of youths involved, in the event of clashes with opponent’s thugs or law enforcement agencies. It also discourages others from being active participants in the democratic process and also leads to destruction of property.
As we go into another season of elections, youths rather than allow themselves to be used by politicians for their selfish interests, must begin to take more interest in goings on in the polity by asking the politicians pertinent questions about critical issues such as education, infrastructure, unemployment and healthcare delivery among others. Parents also have a role to play in this regard by monitoring closely the activities of their children, and inculcating in them, the right values which will serve as a guard against such vices.
There is the need for enforcement of penalties for thuggery as enshrined in the Electoral Act to serve as a deterrent to others.
Government must also do it’s part by doing away with those issues that make thuggery an option for its teeming youth population by providing jobs and creating the enabling environment for youths willing to go into enterprise to thrive and also providing them the necessary support. Similarly, there is the need for government agencies such as the National Orientation Agency (NOA) and non-governmental agencies to sustain advocacy on the dangers of thuggery especially ahead of the elections.
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