In a democratic spectacle, 1.83 million residents of Kogi State exercised their electoral rights on Saturday, November 11, 2023, as they flocked to the polls in the quest to determine the next Governor of the Confluence state. The election, marked by an initial 1.93 million registered voters, witnessed a 5.13 percent difference, with 1.83 million individuals collecting their Permanent Voters Cards (PVC), according to the Honourable Resident Electoral Commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Kogi State, Hale Gabriel Longpet.
Monitoring the Election: Yahaya Bello’s farewell and the optimism of Usman Ododo
The electoral journey began with a focus on Okene local government, the stronghold of the incumbent Governor, Yahaya Bello, whose two-term tenure of eight years concludes in two months. The journey from Lokoja to Okene, covering 17 heavily manned checkpoints, painted a picture of heightened security in the state.
After casting his final vote as the youngest Nigerian governor, Yahaya Bello lauded INEC for the election’s conduct and commended security operatives for providing a peaceful environment for the citizens. Expressing optimism in the victory of his party’s candidate, Usman Ododo, Bello stated, “We are united and happy at this exercise. By the special grace of God, we are going to come off very triumphant.”
Reflecting on the 2019 governorship election, Bello dismissed claims of electoral violence, stating, “The issue of violence in our election in Kogi is a media creation and figment of the imagination of all those who do not want good things to happen here in Kogi.”
Usman Ododo, the opposition candidate, expressed satisfaction with the conduct of security operatives and thanked Kogi residents for their massive turnout. “While I express confidence at winning this election, I thank the Kogi people for turning out en-masse to vote in the crucial exercise,” he remarked.
Voter voices: New enthusiasm in Okene
In Okene, citizens like Mohmoh Zaria, a civil servant and first-time voter, voiced their satisfaction with the voting process. “The process so far went well; we thank God for everything. For the previous elections, I didn’t pick interest, but this time around, I find it interesting. I felt like I wanted to vote, and I came out for it, and I am happy to cast my vote.”
Momoh Dauda, a 56-year-old public servant, praised INEC and the security team, emphasizing the smooth logistics and encouraging voter turnout at his polling unit.
Audu Dahiru Onimisi, a 33-year-old businessman, expressed surprise at the early arrival of officials and efficient security measures. “My expectation is that the candidate I voted for will win with a landmark victory,” he shared.
Lokoja’s low turnout and challenges: Vote-buying and mourning in the air
BusinessDay’s journey extended to Lokoja Local Government, where sparsely attended polling units reflected a low voter turnout. The Open Space Under Mango Tree, Opp. Kenwon Hotel, polling unit 073, anticipated 314 voters but witnessed only 65 casting their votes.
This particular polling unit, located in the base of the late chairman of Lokoja Local Government Area, Muhammed Danasabe, who passed away just a day before the election, experienced subdued electoral participation amid a sombre atmosphere.
Amid the low turnout, reports surfaced regarding the unfortunate practice of vote-buying, observed at Crowther Memorial College and the Open Space Under Mango Tree, Opp. Kenwon Hotel, polling unit 073. Money was allegedly disbursed to voters after they cast their ballots, raising concerns about the influence of money in the democratic process.
Concerned citizens and electoral watchdogs expressed apprehension, emphasizing the need for robust measures to curb voter apathy and illicit practices.
Security situation report: Vigilance and additional deployment
Deputy Inspector General of Police, Ahmed Habu Sani, overseeing the governorship election in Kogi State, provided an assessment report. He informed that forty thousand security personnel were deployed across the state to ensure adequate security for the election.
Speaking during a visit to the Ganaja community at 2:33 pm, Sani assured citizens, saying, “People should have confidence and be law-abiding; the results will be counted and entered appropriately.” He addressed concerns about Ganaja as a potential flashpoint, stating, “If you have checked round, you should be able to see the type of deployment that was placed in this area.”
He further mentioned ongoing investigations into reports of fake voting sheets, asserting, “When our team sends in their report, we will be able to see and identify where that report came from and take appropriate action.”
Longpet’s Perspective: INEC’s preliminary reports
In providing a preliminary report on the election, Longpet stated, “From our starting point up to this moment in Ganaja, and everywhere we have visited, including checking the accreditation of voters, the voting process unfolded smoothly in all areas.”
“As we arrived at Ganaja, which happens to be the largest polling unit in the country with 13,000 registered voters, the size of the crowd was evident,” he continued. “We emphasised the need for orderly conduct, clarifying that as long as individuals are in the queue, the accreditation process will continue beyond 2:30. Voters will be accredited and allowed to cast their votes, with the polling station remaining open until the last person in the queue has voted.”
IReV update: INEC’s result uploading progress
At the time of reporting, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has started to upload the results of the Kogi governorship election on its INEC Result Viewing portal (IReV). Currently, 2,496, or 71.12 percent, of the expected 3,508 results have been uploaded.
In the Local Government Areas (LGA) observed by BusinessDay in Kogi, such as Lokoja LGA with 10 Wards and 273 Polling units, 218 results have been uploaded. Additionally, in Okene, where the incumbent governor voted, there are 11 Wards or Registration Areas and 284 Polling units, with 216 results uploaded so far. Ajaokuta LGA, another location monitored by BusinessDay, has 14 Wards or registration areas and 146 Polling units, with 115 results uploaded as of the time of this report.
Adavi LGA, which BusinessDay also monitored, consists of 11 Wards and 217 Polling units, with results from 104 units uploaded.
Challenges and Incidents
However, pockets of challenges emerged, including reports of missing result sheets in Ogori-Magongo Local Government. Voters in the area claimed they were not allowed to vote, alleging that voting took place overnight, and a man was caught with filled result sheets and one million cash.
In a separate incident, soldiers reportedly intercepted the council chairman of Igalamela Local Government, James Onoja, and APC supporters in possession of ammunition and large sums of cash. The soldiers impounded the money and ammunition, allegedly intended for use during the election.
Concerns about compromised electoral areas prompted calls for INEC to reject results from such locations, emphasizing the need for a transparent and untainted democratic process.
The election drama unfolds as citizens await the final results that will shape the political landscape of Kogi State.