It is no longer news that Nigeria might have a violence filled election. After all, elections in this country have been trailed by one form of violence or another. And given the recent happenings in the political space, it is obvious that the forthcoming election may also be tainted by bloodshed. What will actually be news isNigeriaís ability to conduct an election adjudged as free, fair and credible, void of violence. The country is mouthing its ability to reduce the incidence of violence during and after the election to the barest minimum but will she be able to achieve this feat?
It is imperative to note that if we must have a violence free election, certain issues must be addressed. At the top of the list is the issue of communication. This election, unlike previous ones, has seen a massive use of inflammatory language, rumor peddling and bad publicity as a means of scoring cheap political points. If Nigeria is to have a violence free election, there must be a shift away from this trend. This is very essential to preventing a war because war often begins with words.
Over the years, it has become common for alleged polling results to be declared by supposed observers and eyewitnesses before the results are officially announced by INEC. Some of such stories have even found their way into the media. It is imperative that Nigerians must desist from this potentially damaging trend. This is because conflicts more often than not arise from such practice.
The 2011 post-election violence provides an excellent case study of the dangers of this practice. Supporters misguided by rumors and encouraged by devious elements resorted to killing of innocent citizens in protest of an alleged malpractice. But truth was, that election was adjudged by the international community as one of the most credible election the country had ever conducted. Obviously, the source of the violence was not in the countryís inability to deliver a credible election but in its citizenís unpatriotic communication of events surrounding elections.
There is also the need to exercise caution in interpretation of events during this period. Many opinion leaders and public analysts have been guilty of inciting public outrage with their negative outbursts and propaganda.History of electoral violence in Nigeria shows that violence doesn’t just happen. We are not monsters who love to kill for the fun of it. Instead, time and time again, we have been pushed to kill each other by intolerance born out of inciting words. Just like in Rwanda where the media was overrun by “kill the cockroachesî propaganda, violence is sown and nurtured by negative outbursts and propaganda.
It has therefore become important for the media and opinion leaders to avoid bias reportage and analysis. The media has tremendous power in opinion molding. Therefore whatever is propagated on the media can, to a large extent, determine the peopleís attitude towards an issue.
The media has not been innocent in the increased heat in the polity. There have been cases of false reports or analysis skewed away from the original issue to other sensitive and explosive topics. There has also been a lot of bias in reporting.
Recently at an event with the commissioner of police in AkwaIbom State, a journalist in the bid to describe an incident that occurred in the 2011 election, stated that the police officers at a particular polling unit were bribed. When he was asked to provide evidence of his allegation, he could not do so. Instead he claimed he drew such inference from the attitude of the officers. Imagine how far that journalist has abused the mind of his audience by going on air to say such a thing. A public outrage could be incited and violence would be the resultant effect.
With the advent of the social media, much of the mediaís power has been shifted from organizations to individuals. In fact, the trends of the 2015 election has been mostly determined bythe social media. It is therefore pertinent for Nigerians on the social media to understand that the onus of national unity and peace is on them.
As an eyewitness to events, it is improper to make any declarations without evidence. If anything abnormal, like rigging, use of force or bribes to influence the electoral process, is observed,then endeavor to preserve an evidence before spreading such stories.Better still, instead of sharing such stories, express your displeasure through the appropriate quarters. It is better to make those involved face the consequences of their actions than incite public outrage. Often in the bid to express our angst, we often embellish or make descriptions tainted by our bias thereby starting an uncontrollable fire. Desist from doing that. Our peaceful coexistence is more important than the displeasure you may be feeling.
This is not to say that we are not to express our views or bring to light issues of malpractice. It is just an advice to objectivity in our communication. As patriotic citizens, it is our duty to say something when we see something. But the responsible thing to do is to say something only when we have sufficient evidence to back our claims and we can ascertain that what we are saying does not undermine national security because Violence is like a wildfire, you can tell where it starts from, you cannot tell where it will end.
In order to achieve a peaceful election, we must all begin to focus on one agenda only: peaceful transition. Nothing else must take the center stage as we interact during this period. Even when external forces are trying to incite violence we must say no not just by refusing to fight but by promoting peace. It is our collective responsibility. Therefore,stop the rumor peddling and badmouthing. Refrain from passing on information that is malignant. Most of all, desist from unnecessary verbal assault in the name of airing your opinion. If you support any candidate, show your love for him at the polls. If that is too hard for you to do then keep quiet. But donít vex the spirit of others with diatribes. If everyone were to retaliate with equivocal force, a war is what we will have. A violence free election begins with you.