Kogi, Bayelsa elections: The fear of military deployment
KUNLE ODEREMI examines the buildup to the governorship elections on November 16, 2019 in Kogi and Bayelsa states in relations to security issues.
THE top functionaries of the Independent National electoral Commission (INEC) are not mincing words about volatility of Kogi and Bayelsa states, especially during elections. The leadership of the commission had for umpteenth time declared that the states are prone to election-related violence based on the record of past elections. Accordingly, the chairman of the INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, has cautioned that he and other members of his team were putting in place necessary measures to tame the menace.
Similarly, the different leadership of the various security organisations have been talking tough because of what happened in the past. Coupled with that is the allegation that some elements were plotting to cause a breach of public peace during the governorship elections slated for November 16 in the two states. The INEC also accused some major stakeholders of conduct incompatible to the rules of engagement for the elections.
In the last governorship election, for example, the orgy of violence led to the abduction and torture of a deputy commissioner of police, Kola Okunola in the Brass area of Bayelsa State by thugs. Angered by the spectre of violence, a former Chairman of Senate Committee on Privatisation, Senator Ben Murray Bruce, promised to take up issues concerning the killings, if the authorities failed to prosecute the culprits. He added: “I have observed with dismay, the killings in Bayelsa State in the ongoing governorship election. The military and the police have been seen to watch with indifference while thugs and criminals kill law-abiding citizens who were out to perform their franchise. So far, about four people have been reported killed, many injured, including youth corps members serving as adhoc staff to the INEC. Citizens have a right to vote for any candidate of their choice in any election without coercion or intimidation. And it is the responsibility of the government to protect these citizens as enshrined in our constitution. But it is sad to note that these defenseless citizens were killed without being protected by the law enforcement agents even when they were watching.”
Against this background, a lot of people are becoming apprehensive about the possibility of history repeating itself during and after the poll. INEC and other authorities that have a role to play in guaranteeing peace are not leaving any stone unturned. Worried by some ominous signs, the leadership of the INEC and security agencies have held meetings to plug all possible loopholes ahead of the election. The commission’s boss, Professor Yakubu, had expressed concern that certain elements were mobilising thugs from within and outside the states with the aim of either influencing the elections or disrupting the process on behalf of partisan sponsors. He was quoted to have said, “There are already warning signals in the two states. Both are politically volatile. Elections have been severally disrupted by violence in the past. Our own risk assessment, which will be shared with the security agencies at this meeting, has identified some flash points.
We are also concerned that thugs have been mobilised from within and outside the states with the aim of either influencing the elections or disrupting the process on behalf of partisan sponsors. This calls for a robust response before the elections, on the day of the election and during the process of collation and declaration of results. Nigerians expect that by now, we have learnt enough lessons from previous elections to ensure a swift security response to the increasing desperation by political actors to disrupt elections and subvert the will of the electorate. If that happens, many Nigerians will blame the electoral umpire and the security agencies. We must continue to rise to this challenge.”
To douse the tension, the Inspector General of Police, Adamu Mohammed, has also warned troublemakers to have a rethink, because the police were prepared to uphold law and order. The IGP said a large number of police personnel were already on standby for the election. He explained that the police would deploy 35,200 and 32,041 police rank and file to Kogi and Bayelsa states, respectively, to ensure that every part of the states is secured for the election. He explained that all persons involved in the conduct of the elections should feel save while the INEC personnel directly involved in the election should not entertain any fear. According to the IGP, the police have learnt from the experience of the past, especially during the conduct of the last general election in the country and is poised to remain neutral. “The security of the two elections is highly guaranteed and no thug will be allowed to cause any security breach. The INEC officers and offices and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), where the sensitive materials are kept, will be protected and the elections will be peaceful. Polling centres and coalition centres will equally be protected. We have taken care of the security breaches of the 2019 general election. The police officers will have name tags and their telephone numbers displayed for ease of identification. Vote buying will not be tolerated. Those who may be caught in the act will be arrested and prosecuted according to the laws of the land,” he said.
Meanwhile, there are allegations and counter-allegations of arms stockpile with less than two weeks to the election. Both the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) have been accusing each other of plans to subvert the process of the elections. Besides, the parties have been sublime in their pre-election campaigns thereby heating up the polity. However, the IGP said the police would neither condone nor compromise on security before, during and after the election. “We are aware of the security challenges in the two states and we have made adequate provisions in terms of personnel and logistics to tackle any security challenge we might face. In Bayelsa, we are deploying 31,041 personnel to cover the election; in Kogi, we are deploying 35,200 personnel. These personnel are to cover every terrain in both states;no tout will be allowed in to disrupt election, all those areas will be manned,” he said.
The INEC boss, Professor Yakubu equally said the commission had engaged all the major stakeholders in the nation’s security network to ensure a peaceful poll. He said he and his team had held a series of consultations with the leadership of the Police Force as part of the measures.
“In these meetings, we reviewed the security situation in Bayelsa and Kogi and how best to secure the environment to enable the commission conduct free and fair election.Doing so means providing security that will guarantee safety of voters; protection of the INEC officials, unimpeded movement, including access to polling units and collation centres for election officials. These include protection of accredited polling agents, observers and the media; effectively and dispassionately dealing with disruptive behaviour by political actors and persons acting on their behalf; enforcement of the restriction of movement in both states on election day and the prompt arrest and prosecution of offenders,” he said.