• Tuesday, November 28, 2023
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Flaws in off-cycle elections seen as threat to democracy

Meet major contenders for Bayelsa, Imo, Kogi guber polls, and their chances

The flaws in Saturday’s off-cycle governorship elections in Bayelsa, Imo and Kogi have been described as a threat to democracy in Nigeria and a clear indication that the country still has a long way to go in ensuring credible, free and fair polls.

Experts say flawed elections over the years in the country have reflected in governance and slowed down development at all levels.

Although winners have emerged in the three states, with Hope Uzodinma winning in Imo, Usman Ododo in Kogi and Douye Diri in Bayelsa, several reports indicate that the polls were characterised by several irregularities.

Reports of electoral violations were rampant with incidents of violence, ballot-snatching, abduction of election officials, and voter suppression.

From the start of the vote, it was clear that many voters were reluctant to go to the polls, for fear of violence as seen in past elections.

Despite the massive deployment of security forces, the vote was disrupted by incidents, intimidation and vote buying.

Some polling stations even had to suspend the process due to the discovery of pre-filled result sheets. These irregularities raised doubts about the integrity of the vote.

“It is disappointing and unfortunate that we still had reported cases of vote-buying and other electoral malpractices, including ballot box snatching at various polling units during the election in these three states,” Hameed Muritala, a media and development practitioner, said.

Read also: Off-cycle elections: Voter apathy, thuggery, abduction raise concerns

“There were also cases of logistics challenges in many polling units. Flawed polls threaten Nigeria’s democracy, and there cannot be good governance for the people of Nigeria if nothing is done,” he added.

Muritala said the electoral body must punish those found culpable of electoral fraud and called for electoral reform in the country ahead of future polls.

He said: “I just hope the electoral body will do a thorough investigation and punish those involved. Barbaric acts of fraud and killings to win elections are highly condemnable.

“The level of vote-buying during the polls was alarming, and I hope that the EFCC and ICPC will prosecute those vote-buyers they arrested across the three states. This will serve as a deterrent to others. It is obvious that we need urgent electoral reforms in Nigeria, this system cannot give us free and fair polls.”

In Kogi State, about two hours after the election started, Dino Melaye, the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), raised the alarm that all polling units in Ogori/Magongo local government areas of the state had had their result sheets tampered with or prefilled in the early hours when the election commenced.

In a brief video the former senator made public on social media on Saturday morning, he said: “The result sheets have been filled and tampered with already, and people have refused to accredit, people have refused to vote and they are insisting that the plain result sheets must be returned to agents in accordance.”

Speaking on the conduct of the poll in Kogi, Murtala Ajaka, the candidate of the Social Democratic Party candidate (SDP), said the election in the central region witnessed irregularities, alleging that results were fabricated.

Read also: Election: Tinubu congratulates Uzodinma, Ododo and Diri

“In Okene local government, they turned out over 130,000 votes, haba! And INEC accepted that result, and what is on the BVAS is less than 30,000. If they don’t do a checklist and investigate their officials that went to Kogi State and allow this to stand, I doubt there will be an election in 2027,” he said.

In Bayelsa, several people were reportedly seriously injured in the election during confrontations among party members in Yenagoa.

Reports indicate that in Brass, residents ran away from their houses after gunmen took over election materials and scared away voters.

Nigeria has a history of violence during elections which was also noticed in the 2023 polls, despite promises by the electoral commission that the process would be different from previous elections.

Some described the 2023 general election as the worst in the history of the electoral process in the country.

Experts say the situation has been fuelled by impunity and lack of desire to punish election offenders by the government and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

They said if the trend is not checked, Nigerians’ desire for good governance and accountability may just be a mirage.

Many Nigerians have called for concerted efforts among stakeholders to check the trend.

“Electoral offenders are not punished by INEC and security agencies; no one is held accountable for disrupting elections or causing problems which often encourages them to do more. It is sad that relevant agencies are not doing enough. Look at what we witnessed in the last general election,” Ubong Eno, a political analyst, said.

Eno added that the government should set up special courts to prosecute election offenders, noting that the regular courts are congested with the regular cases.

“If we are serious, we know what to do, but the question is: are we going to do it? We need special courts to prosecute the election offenders, the ones we have are preoccupied with other cases,” he added.

Kunle Okunade, another political analyst, said there was nothing new that occurred in the gubernatorial elections in the three states, adding that both the electoral body and the political elite have not learnt anything from past elections.

Read also: Off-cycle polls: Violence, pre-filled results sheet, cast doubt on integrity of polls

He said: “Saturday’s elections were reinforcement of the kleptomania nature of the Nigerian political elite. The electoral process is highly monetised and commercialised and this reflects in today’s elections.

He said: “Desperation to capture state power by the political actors for primitive accumulation of wealth would continue to make violence a strategy in electoral victory. The electoral institution cum security agencies would need to brace up and be ready to ensure sanctity in our electoral process and system.

“Political violence is still and would still be great challenges to the smooth conduct of elections in Nigeria because the elite are yet to have consensus to make the country great.”

Many stakeholders have called for holistic overhauling of INEC to be able to deliver free and fair elections.

They called for removal of the power to appoint INEC chairman and national commissioners from the President.

Temitope Musowo, a public affairs analyst, said: “These guys are working for politicians and the politicians are in power and would do whatever they can to frustrate the louts’ prosecution. They know what to do, but they can’t do it because the system benefits them.

“We need to remove the power to appoint INEC chairman and national commissioners from the President. The commission needs serious reform to deliver free and fair polls.”