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Politicians Using Thugs To Frustrate Gubernatorial Poll In Southwest Nigeria State

As the Osun State Governorship election comes up on July 16, politicians are enlisting the help of thugs, a development that could result in more violence and a lower voter turnout.

Thugs, suspected to be members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), on Monday, July 11, attacked the home of Lasun Yusuf, the governorship candidate of the Labour Party in Osun State, Southwest Nigeria. 

The incident was the latest of many that had been recorded since the preparation for the July 16 poll. Some of the attacks have been linked to the Osogbo branch chairman of NURTW, Kazeem Oyewale, popularly known as Asiri Eniba.  

In addition to making millions from transport taxes being collected from drivers of commercial buses, tricycles, and motorcycles, one of the perks attached to holding key positions in NURTW is the ability to charge politicians to organise thugs who deter the electorate from actively participating in political processes. 

This is despite the fact that election violence is punishable with up to four years imprisonment or a fine of ₦500,000 or both according to Nigeria’s Laws. 

On July 6, Ataoja of Osogbo, Oba Jimoh Olanipekun Oyetunji, accused Asiri Eniba of disrupting the peace of Osogbo when thugs invaded his palace during the visit of Ademola Adeleke, candidate of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

“Go and tell them and let Asiri Eniba know that I won’t tolerate disruption of peace in my domain,” the monarch said.

On June 23, thugs disrupted Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) collection in some wards at Ilesa West Local Council of the state, terrorising citizens planning to exercise their franchise. 

Multiple sources in different political parties told HumAngle that thugs are being hired by the highest bidders as they sometimes also attack the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) campaign.  

“We belong to nobody. We work with any party that hires us for self-defence. Our job is to send signals to any potential attackers and help our principals to threaten their opponents,” a member of NURTW, who simply identified himself as Iku, told HumAngle in Osogbo. 

While it is a fundamental right for voters to vote freely, violence threatens the ability of ordinary voters to participate in elections and will empower some politicians to subvert the electoral process before and during polls. 

Osun residents who spoke with HumAngle said sponsoring thugs will not guarantee fairness and equality in the competition among candidates and political parties.

“I’m not sure people will participate in this election like they did in 2018 because they are scared of attack. If candidates are being attacked at home and PVC collection centres destroyed, there is likely to be violence because the thugs are everywhere threatening people from one house to another. They are campaigning with cutlasses,” Tunji Alimi, a civil servant, said. 

A trader, Serifat Olaiyat, argued that the pre-election crisis perpetrated by thugs in Osun is enough to scare people to stay away from the electoral process. 

HumAngle contacted Asiri Eniba, the NURTW leader, over allegations that his members are orchestrating violence, but he denied saying “I know nothing.” 

Meanwhile, our reporter observed that as it counts down to election day on Saturday, Osun State is witnessing the influx of armed men wielding cutlasses, dressed in NURTW uniforms of white and green from other states, a development that poses serious danger to the peaceful conduct of the election.

The Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, a coalition of over 70 civil society organisations that monitor Nigeria’s electoral process and elections across the country, has called on the government to wake up to its responsibility of protecting democracy and citizens.

In addition, Alfred Ajayi, a political and public affairs analyst, told HumAngle earlier that to promote future peaceful elections, Nigeria needs to make it impossible for public office holders to use political offices as avenues for wealth accumulation as well as ensure that offenders and sponsors of violence are penalised regardless of their party affiliations.

As Osun residents prepare to elect their governor for another four years on Saturday, July 16, the question asked by many voters is how will security operatives ensure their safety? Yemisi Opalola, spokesperson of Osun State Police Command, did not respond to HumAngle’s enquiries.

This report was produced in partnership with HumAngle Services.

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Adejumo Kabir

Kabir works at HumAngle as the Editor of Southern Operations. He is interested in community development reporting, human rights, social justice, and press freedom. He was a finalist in the student category of the African Fact-checking Award in 2018, a 2019 recipient of the Diamond Awards for Media Excellence, and a 2020 recipient of the Thomson Foundation Young Journalist Award. He was also nominated in the journalism category of The Future Awards Africa in 2020. He has been selected for various fellowships, including the 2020 Civic Media Lab Criminal Justice Reporting Fellowship and 2022 International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ) 'In The Name of Religion' Fellowship.

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