By Brenda Chidinma Imo-Eze
Political violence is gradually rearing its ugly head again in Ebonyi. Campaigns for the 2023 general election are ongoing. Rather than discuss issues and woo the electorate with good manifestoes, some politicians have decided to throw a spanner in the works of democracy by goading their supporters and thugs into unleashing violence on innocent people and political opponents.
On Saturday, November 12, 2022, there were reports that the Members of Labour party in Ebonyi State were injured following an attack on the party’s rally venue by gunmen in the State.
The gunmen were alleged to have been sent by the ruling party to distrupt the activities of the party.
According to the Labour party house of Assembly candidate for Ohaozara East constituency , David Ogbonna, the gunmen pushed a woman, who hit her head on a hard concrete surface, leaving her unconscious.
He disclosed that the attackers inflicted varying degrees of gunshot injuries on the party faithfuls.
The Assembly candidate blamed the Ohaozara Council chairman, Consider Ajah for the attack.He maintained that the ruling party, used the security outfit, unknown as Ebubeagu to attack party faithfuls on that fateful day. Meanwhile the the council chairman denied leading any attack on Labour Party. Stating that Ebubeagu was sent to clear the federal high which was blocked by some persons. Adding that the party did not get approval from the council before holding any rally as the law stipulates.
In a conflicting statement, the Ebubeagu Commander claimed that the Ebubeagu was never in the area to unleash any attack, while warning that the security outfit, Ebubeagu shouldn’t be wrongfully accused.
Attack of various kinds have been unleashed on the opposition party in Ebonyi State. A similar occurrence happened last month, when the Guber candidate for the All Progressive Grand Alliance party, Prof. Benard Odoh narrowly escaped death.
His convoy was said to have been attacked in Izzi. According to him “we have a visit to Izzi LGA because Izzi is part of Ebonyi State. We have our supporters in Izzi because it is one of the 13 LGAs of the State. We have our campaign office there.
“As early as 6:00 a.m. this morning, I started receiving distress calls. One of our coordinators called and said that the chairman of Izzi LGA called and warned him that no event will take place in the local government, that he is under pressure from the State government.
“The DPO also called and raised the same alarm, that he is under enormous pressure that we shouldn’t come. I’m the Gubernatorial candidate of APGA in Ebonyi, and I’m in this race to govern everybody in the State, therefore, if I can’t go to Izzi, then it means that, I’m not qualified to stand election.
“On reaching Izzi LGA, we were confronted by Ebubeagu operatives. They shot at one of our cars, the glass was shattered. We went there with official security men, the police, the DSS, together with our campaign team” he said.
Aside from attacks on campaign rallies, party faithfuls in the minority parties are not safe. The recent attack on a PDP chieftain and former commsioner for information and State Orientation, Chief Abia Onyike describes how violent the political atmosphere is in Ebonyi State.
Onyike, who is a veteran journalist and political analyst, was reportedly abducted by operatives of Ebubeagu and allegedly taken to their head office in Abakaliki, where he was beaten and brutalised before he was later released.
The Ebubeagu Commander in Ebonyi State, Mr. Friday Nnana, while reacting to the assault on the former commissioner, said he was mistaken for someone else.
Nnana claimed the PDP chieftain was arrested in a location where a suspect was being trailed, adding that as soon as his identity was established, he was released. However before his released the former commissioner had gone through pain and severe torture.
The Voice believe that it is unprofessional for a security outfit like Ebubeagu to arrest a former commissioner, who is well known and claim it was a mistaken identity, this should be properly investigated, and their activities in the State checkmated, as they are gradually becoming terror to the citizens they claim to be protecting.
Beyond physical attacks, there have been some other incidents which portray intolerance in the State. In Ebonyi State, opposition parties are denied access to government media, as they are restricted from airing their campaign jingles in the State media.
They are not also allowed to erect their billboards or use other public utilities for campaigns, if they do, it will be pulled down by political miscreants, while the prices for public utilities are exhorbitant for the opposition political parties not to afford, therefore denying them access to public utilities.
This is against Section 95(2) of the Electoral Act which warns that state apparatus including the media shall not be employed to the advantage or disadvantage of any political party or candidate at any election.
However, recently the State Governor, Engr.David Umahi of Ebonyi State placed a ban on the holding of political rallies in public schools in the state with effect from 1 November.
Stating ““Let me make it clear that from November 1, before any political rally can hold in primary and secondary schools, political parties must get approval from the Ministry of Education.
“No political campaign must hold in any public school and this is our position.
“We do not want situations where facilities in our schools are destroyed in the name of campaign. We don’t want people to go there and begin to defecate around school premises.
“We want to checkmate destruction in our schools and preserve facilities there,’’ he said
Be it as it may, this Newspaper believes that this order by the State government sounds obnoxious, anti-democratic, aiming at frustrating, intimidating the activities of the opposition parties.
Although the intention to secure school properties, is good but it is unfair to place such order , knowing fully well that it will restrict the activities of the opposition, as they don’t have the resources to rent government utilities.
We in THE VOICE condemns the attack on political rallies and urge political parties, their candidates and supporters to help to curb this ugly trend.
They should adhere strictly to the code of conduct for political campaigns. They must not obstruct or interfere with any meeting, rally or any campaign activity of another party.
And they must instruct their members and supporters not to carry arms or any object that can cause injury to a political rally or any other political function. It is incumbent on security agencies to deal with attacks on political rallies. They are expected to provide adequate security during rallies and throughout the political campaign period.
We also call on the State Governor, Engr.David Nweze Umahi to make the State a level playing for all political parties to thrive. Laws which will restrict the activities of the opposition parties should be avoided while prices to rent government utilities should be made affordable for members of the public to use.
INEC should ensure that it enforces the guidelines it has given for campaigns. It should not just monitor the rallies and campaigns, it should ensure that it’s violence-free. Any breach of these guidelines should be severely punished.