Bayelsa, Kogi: Election as warfare

THE Kogi and the Bayelsa state governorship elections held on November 16, 2019 will go down in the annals of election in Nigeria as one of the most violent elections in the Fourth Republic. There were many instances of violence, ballot snatching and intimidation during voting. About 30 ad hoc staff engaged for the 2019 Kogi governorship election and posted to polling units 002, 006 and 013 at Olamaboro III; and polling units 006, 012, 015, 016, 022 at Imani in Olamaboro Local Government Area were initially reported missing due to violent attacks by some armed thugs at their duty posts. A few days after the election, precisely Monday, November 18, Salome Abuh, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) woman leader in Ochadamu ward, Ofu Local Government Area of Kogi State, was set ablaze and burnt to death in her home by political thugs who shot sporadically to scare people away from rescuing her. The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) reported that there were 10 deaths and 129 cases of violence and electoral crimes in the polls in Kogi and Bayelsa states. Thus, before, during and after the elections, the two states were engrossed in violence that are related to the elections. The significance of the elections-turned war is disquieting when it is realised that the violence occurred in spite of the deployment of about 60, 000 officers and men by the police and other security agencies to secure the states for the elections.

Virtually all election observation groups reported that the elections were marred by violence. Some of them have called for an outright cancellation of the election in Kogi State. The diplomatic watch group, which includes teams from Austria, the European Union, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States reported widespread incidents of violence, intimidation, fatalities and missing people during the elections. The Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement (YIAGA Africa) called on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct a new election in Kogi State following reported cases of violence, vote-buying, and manipulation of voters. YIAGA declared that the election in the state did not reflect the preferences of voters because voters were not able to freely exercise their right to vote.

Similarly, the Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room comprising 400 civil rights organisations called for the total cancellation of the Kogi State election, decrying it as a major dent on Nigeria’s democracy. “In Kogi State, the level of violence perpetrated by the two major political parties seriously undermined the elections, deterred voters and made the exercise a farce,” it said. The Nigerian Bar Association Election Working Group (NBA EWG) described the governorship election in Kogi State as falling below the minimum standards of a credible election. It declared: “In light of the large scale acts of violence, disruptions of the electoral process, snatching of electoral materials by armed persons, some of whom were dressed in police uniform, coupled with sporadic gunshots that scared voters away from voting centres, as observed by the NBA EWG, the elections in Kogi State failed to meet the minimum standards of a credible election.”

A dangerous trend reminiscent of the 1983 experience when the police were converted into the military arm of the ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN) appears to be rearing its head. Blatant misuse of the police by the ruling party presaged the collapse of the Second Republic. The current government must protect the neutrality of the security forces by insulating them from partisan involvement in elections. There is a clear failure of the police to provide effective security for voters and election officials in Kogi and Bayelsa states. We condemn the police and the other security forces for failing to arrest armed hoodlums who killed dozens of voters in Kogi and Bayelsa states.Security agents, especially police officers, have been accused of either colluding with thugs to steal ballot boxes or actively participating in the disruption of polling units. The response to these allegations by the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Ibrahim, that the men in police uniform who colluded with thugs to perpetuate violence and prevent voters from exercising their franchise were fake policemen is not good enough. It is the responsibility of real policemen to ensure that fake policemen are apprehended and prevented from messing up the electoral process.

It is not only the behaviour of the security agencies that have been questioned in the violence that engulfed both states during the election. The integrity, competence and impartiality of INEC has also been eroded in the public eye. The declaration of results in many violence-riddled areas questions INEC’s involvement in the heist witnessed in the state. There were reported cases of inducement and intimidation of INEC officials during ballot counting and collation of results. The implications of the disappearance of INEC officials who had to abandon election materials in the midst of violence was never addressed. A prima facie examination of the results declared buttressed this point. In Okene Local Government Area, for instance, the PDP recorded 139 votes against APC’s 112, 762. This is incredible when the result of this election is compared with the performance of the party in previous elections.

Finally, it is disheartening that the key political actors have downplayed the grave violence that characterised the elections. Politicians must work to keep the peace in the aftermath of the controversial poll. This is particularly important as the people of Kogi West senatorial district and Ajaokuta federal constituency return to the polling stations on Saturday, November 30, for the supplementary and re-run elections. Those aggrieved should resort to the courts to seek redress.  We call on the security agencies to ensure a thorough investigation of the malpractices during the elections and bring the perpetrators to book.

 

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