Kogi, Bayelsa elections: The die is cast
Tomorrow, the governorship elections will hold in Kogi and Bayelsa states amidst tension, writes DAPO FALADE
AS voters in Bayelsa and Kogi states file out tomorrow to elect their governors for another four years, a lot of things are likely to be uppermost in their heart. Many of them will be ready to defy the attempts by some forces to stop them from performing their civic responsibility as eligible citizens. It is apparent that some leading political actors have employed all manner of antics and subterfuge to create a climate of fear and tension. In a few instances, the situation led to killings and arson, with the political parties passing the buck.
The agents and promoters of the culture of political intolerance became more daring and defiant at the threshold of the elections, going by the level of violence visited on the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the secretariat of the party in Lokoja, the state capital. True to tradition, the political gladiators traded blames on the act of violence. It is also on record that the unruly behaviours of some elements traced to the main parties in Bayelsa and Kogi states led to the disruption of stakeholders’ meeting convened by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) at different times in the final countdown to the elections.
The series of court cases relating to the choice of candidates by the parties have also constituted a major issue of worry for the electorate and other citizens of the states in the last few days. Majorly, the party leaders have been engrossed in claims and counter-claims on the ruling of courts concerning the eligibility or otherwise of the candidates.
Another issue that may underline the thoughts of voters is the credibility of the process that will lead to whoever will be declared winners in the government houses in Lokoja for Kogi and Yenagoa for Bayelsa, respectively. Some stakeholders in the states have raised concern on the integrity of the system based on what they considered as the mesh of complaints that characterized election in both states. The states are categorised as prone to election-related violence with actors in the leading political parties as the agent provocateur.
Apart from members of the political elite, the law enforcement agents, including the police, have always faced crisis of credibility and confidence in the two states. While the major players in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) usually double-speak on the neutrality or otherwise of the military and police personnel deployed on election duty, many other stakeholders shape their opinions based on political affiliation or sympathy or even patronage.
Whereas the leadership of the Independent National electoral Commission (INEC) says it has done all the needful in terms of preparations for the elections, some prospective voters seem to share the views of a few of the political leaders that the position of the commission is suspect. They are concerned that both the powers of incumbency and the centre seem to loom large in Saturday’s electoral contest in Kogi and Bayelsa. The countenance, conduct and utterances, as well as the disposition of the key actors, including the candidates for the elections has exacerbated tension at the dawn of the polls.
According to the INEC, a total of 2,467,088 are registered voters for the elections in Bayelsa and Kogi. A breakdown of the figure shows that while the number of registered voters in Kogi is 1,646,350. The figure for Bayelsa is 867,088. However, not all the registered voters will avail themselves of the opportunity provided by the elections to exercise their franchise, having failed to collect their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs). The state APC governorship candidate for the election Bayelsa is David Lyon, while the standard-bearer for the PDP is Senator Douye Diri.
The INEC is deploying 26,000 ad hoc staff for the elections in both states, while the Police Service Commission (PSC) is sending 45 policemen to monitor the poll. The Bayelsa State team will be led by Mr Austin Braimoh, the Commissioner representing the South-South zone and the media, while the Kogi State team would be led by Mr Rommy Mom, the Commissioner representing the North Central and the human rights organisations in the PSC. The body said in a statement that it would investigate possible complaints of misconduct that might concern police personnel on the day of the elections and sanction any officer found culpable. Part of the extra security measures already on ground for the elections include the deployment of 66, 241 policemen, comprising 35, 200 to Kogi and 31, 041 to Bayelsa.
Some non-governmental organisation like the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) through its chairperson, Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, have called for caution on the part of all stakeholders to guarantee violence-free elections. She particularly called on the political elite to comport themselves. Akiyode-Afolabi said: “The political parties are responsible for heating the polity, we need to reduce their influence on the citizens’ ability to vote, and there is a need for citizens and government to activate the section of the electoral law that punishes those who promote violence in elections. The antecedents of the two states are a great concern. Steps must be taken by the police to ensure that innocent citizens are not caught up in the violence being orchestrated by political parties.”
Similar words on the need for reason and restraints came from the president of the Voters’ Assembly, Comrade Mashood Erubami. He urged the INEC, politicians and security operatives to strictky adhere to the rules of the game. “Peaceful and fair conduct of the elections have always been our desire, but this can only be achieved through the adherence of the stakeholders, namely political parties, politicians themselves and security operatives that we can have a peaceful conduct of the exercise,” he said.
Erubami noted that while the INEC and other agencies had always taken preemptive measures against violence, the onus of ensuring a peaceful elections was a collective responsibility of all the stakeholders. “Note that before the commencement of every election in the past, there had always been assurances from all quarters that they were set to ensure peaceful conduct, whereas when the elections came, all the issues that we identified and condemned ended up being repeated. So, we need to get the concrete commitment of politicians before elections are conducted because they are the ones who mobilise thugs, bribe security operatives and also buy votes. Once they agree that they are not going to do anything contrary to the electoral law, then you can rest assured we would have peaceful elections. The electoral body has always got politicians to sign a peace accord, but when the rules are breached, what happens? The INEC alone cannot achieve peaceful conduct; they must work with all the stakeholders to achieve this desired peace. Politicians too must begin to stick to the rules of conduct that they signed to ensure peaceful exercise while the security operatives must learn to stick to the rules. They must all do it in a way that no party can perpetrate electoral offences,” he added.
A major slur on the nation’s electoral process is the undue influence of money, especially during elections. Politicians and their foot soldiers have stepped their game on the inducement of voters. While the security agencies and other concerned bodies have yet to evolve a full-proof mechanism to checkmate those behind such sharp practices, the INEC chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu said the commission had approached the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to monitor the elections. At one of the parleys he had with political parties in Abuja, Yakubu said: “Of course, voter harassment, voter intimidation, including vote buying at polling units, constitute violations of the Electoral Act. Prohibition of the use of mobile phones by voters in the voting cubicles is still in force. We are going to deepen our collaboration with the EFCC and the ICPC in this respect. They will keep an eye on the movement of cash during electioneering campaigns and on election day.”
But, will the plan and all other measures put in place by the INEC and other critical stakeholders make a difference in the off-season elections taking place in Bayelsa and Kogi on Saturday? There is no doubt that the elections have serious implications for the future and fortune of the leading political parties like the PDP and the APC. Ditto their gladiators, especially those with aspirations to higher offices in the next political dispensation.