Use of armed gangs in determining the outcome of electoral polls in Abia State might be responsible for traditional poor performance by successive administrations and high risk environment for enterprises in the state.
According to security report on Nigeria by SBM Intel, electoral credibility in Abia State ranks lowest in the southeast zone of the country owing to regular use of cult groups in the electoral process.
SBM Intel is an Africa focused geopolitical research and strategic communications consulting firm that provides political, social, economic, market and big data analytics.
In its “Report on Small Arms, Mass Atrocities & Migration in Nigeria” dated April 2020, SBM Intel pointed at Abia State as veritable example of where violent cultists were used to drive electoral victory in 2007.
Oracle Intelligence reports that the state has been governed by candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) since 1999 under a succession plan that has also seen top political appointees sponsored by incumbent administrations to become succeeding governors.
“Violent gangs, often referred to as cults in Nigeria, have always operated in Southern Nigeria, enabled by the proliferation of small firearms. The 1980s saw the rise of violent cults in university campuses. There is evidence that former university cult members later got involved in thuggery, intimidation and violent politics. Violent campus cults have also been known to influence secondary school students.
“In Abia State, during the governorship election of 2007, busloads of cultists from the various higher institutions within the state and its neighbouring states, were brought in by the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party; and armed with weapons to ensure his victory,” SBM Intel stated in the report.
The 2007 election was conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) but the government of the state under Governor Orji Uzor Kalu had the responsibility of providing safe, secure and level playing ground for peaceful conduct of the gubernatorial polls. Chief of Staff to the former governor, Chief Theodore Orji, was also the candidate of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the election.
The consultancy firm also pointed out that proliferation of arms also led to a rise in kidnap-related incidents in Southern Nigeria, pointing out that kidnapping was initially confined to the Niger Delta has today spread to become a serious menace in Southern and Northern Nigeria.
The Oracle Today reports that within the period of the 2007 election, Abia State also became a hotbed for indiscriminate kidnapping of men, women, and children. The industrial scale kidnapping in Abia State became and national embarrassment when kidnap of leaders of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) transiting through the state captured international attention and condemnation.
Commercial kidnapping in the state prized and targeted company executives and led to rapid investment flight and collapse of thriving enterprises in Aba. Some of the companies that hurriedly left the state include the International Equitable Association (IEA), makers of Truck laundry bar soap and Palm Olive toilet soap among numerous detergent brands. Others that collapsed include Golden Guinea Breweries, Glassforce International, Karisto Industries and makers of switchgears amongst many others.
Kidnapping in Abia State, according to inside sources, decimated active membership of the Aba Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (ACCIMA) by about 45 percent.
In pointing at the broader Nigerian incident figures, SBM Intel quoted secondary reports which state that “The threat from kidnap for ransom is primarily fuelled by endemic corruption, inadequate policing and economic inequality.”
In pointing at the role of cultism in elections in Nigeria, the firm stated that “there is evidence that former university cult members later got involved in thuggery, intimidation and violent politics.”
Outside the southeast, however, Abia State still recorded lower number of cult related violence than states in the southsouth and southwest zones of the country.
“In the research study of datasets between 2006 and 2015 carried out by Nwankwo, there were 2363 deaths from cult-related activities in 28 states of Nigeria. Of that number, Rivers state accounted for the most deaths with 765 deaths, while Lagos followed in second place with 323 deaths; Edo with 306 deaths, Delta with 202, Bayelsa with 104 deaths, and Ondo with 99 deaths,” according to SBM Intel.
The data set also revealed that there were sharp increases in 2006 and 2007 and 2014 and 2015, all in the build up to elections; and guns supplied to gang members by politicians in the build up to elections are never recovered, according to the report.