Monday, March 28, 2011

Nigerian Electoral Violence--New Victims on the List

As the 2011 General Elections draw near, the spate of violence has also increased. Lives are lost and property destroyed. But all of that is familiar story. A new dimension is war on billboards and posters. It seems the saying is "if you can't reach the neck of the candidate [to cut it off], reach her/his billboards". [Billboard belonging to Mr Rasheed Ladoja, former governor of Oyo State, allegedly torn down by supporters of his former deputy, current governor and governorship candidate, Mr A. Alao-Akala] In Nigeria, it costs about N250,000 (about $1,650) to erect a billboard. In my state, where pupils in government schools receive lessons sitting on bare floors in the sun or in un-roofed classrooms, that is a lot of money. That will roof a four-room block of classrooms or provide furniture for 250 pulpils. And it is important to note that politicians in power spend government money on their campaigns. There is no difference between a governor's purse and state purse. See more pictures below. [Billboard belonging to Mr. A. Alao-Akala allegedly torched by supporters of one of his opponents, Mr R. Ladoja or Mr A. Ajimobi] [Billboard belonging to a member of the Oyo State House of Assembly, also ripped.] I spoke with a few party loyalists. You can predict their position: "We didn't start it. They first tore our billboard. We merely responded". [Billboard completely ripped.] What do Nigerians think? Nigerians would be much happier if the only things that were ripped, torched or destroyed were billboards, and if heads, limbs, houses and cars are spared! "This is okay", an elderly man told me. "If this is all they cut, it is their problem. Let them stop cutting people's legs or destroying innocent people's car. No one will complain". Yemisi Pedro, an undergraduate student of environmental engineering thought differently. According to her, "if we cost the environmental hazards and depletion caused by this behaviour, we would be very sorry for ourselves and our future. The more you destroy these things, the more manufacturers have to manufacture; the more raw materials are used up and resources are depleted. And when you burn them to destroy them or to dispose of them, you're just burning our fragile ozone layer". I think when we combine the cost of destroyed property and lives with the environmental hazards mentioned by Pedro, we will realise that democracy is indeed very costly in Nigeria.