• Sunday, December 10, 2023
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Flooding in times of electioneering

Mahmoud Yakubu and the burden of history

Before last week, the major concern of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was how to conduct the general election and the high level of insecurity in parts of the country.

At a recent meeting with stakeholders, Mahmood Yakubu, INEC chairman, had promised that the commission was ready to conduct a credible, free and fair general election; but expressed concern that the insecurity in the North East, North West and South East, particularly may pose a threat.

But unexpectedly, the flood disaster crept in on some parts of the country, ravaging several states. This, observers believe may have added to the INEC’s headache, although the Commission has shrugged off the challenge, saying it was not going to adversely impact its activities.

Anambra State government claims that one-third of the state was affected. Bayelsa State is not saying anything different. Kogi and many other states affected are wreathing in pain.

In those affected communities across the states were located INEC’s polling units that may have been wiped off.

Many of the affected victims are now in Internally Displaced Persons’ (IDPs’) camps away from their homes and where they registered as eligible voters.

Many of those that ran away from the disaster did not pick anything except the cloth they were wearing; so, their permanent voters’ cards may have been irretrievably lost in the flood.

The questions on the lips of many people are – can INEC possibly address all the issues above, and possibly the replacement of those lost PVCs within this time frame? Will INEC now organise the elections in IDPs since it does not seem that there would be total remedy that could make all victims to go back to their ancestral homes anytime soon?

The INEC National Commissioner in Charge of Information and Voters Education, Festus Okoye, while speaking on the challenges of flooding on INEC’s preparations for the 2023 elections, said INEC was “fully prepared to mitigate any issue that will arise from the floods, if any.”

For weeks now, Nigeria has been hugely impacted by the widespread flooding prompted by extreme rainfall and the release of water from a dam in Cameroon.

The flood, the worst in a decade, has left the country counting losses since early October, as over 2.5 million people are affected out of which 1.3 million are displaced, 2,407 injured and 603 persons are dead across 25 states that are hard hit by the natural disaster, according to Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs.

However, the natural disaster seems to be happening at the wrong time when Nigeria is preparing for the 2023 general election, leaving many fearing that the huge losses still being incurred may likely affect next year’s election.

According to Telum Amande, an auditor with the Federal Ministry of Finance, Abuja, the huge casualties and losses incurred by people along the flood belt of River Benue and River Niger will impact the coming elections negatively.

“The over 600 dead Nigerians, means lost votes, many of the millions displaced by the flood will also be disenfranchised in the coming election if they lose their PVCs to the flood and I don’t see INEC doing an emergency rescue for them,” the Benue-born auditor said.

In the same vein, Emele Onuh, former senior lecturer in the department of Environmental Science, Federal Polytechnic Oko, Anambra State, thinks the situation is going to impact the election seriously because of the growing number of casualties and displaced people as elections cannot hold in a vacuum.

“For me, the flood has thrown many people into poverty, offering politicians more clients for vote buying and stomach infrastructure. These people are likely not going to vote because of lost PVCs, and those who manage to vote, may be doing so in favour of those who came to their rescue and not necessarily for the right candidates,” Onuh explained.

He commended Peter Obi for calling for a halt in the campaign to address the disaster, but noted that the INEC will not compromise its time table, as the outgoing president will not waste time to hand over to whoever emerges as the next president.

But Godfrey Otiono, an Ndokwa, Delta State-born Political Science lecturer-turned politician, said that the government cannot undermine the impact of the flood as the toll casualties is still growing and will definitely affect the conduct of elections in the affected areas.

“I have done some consultancy jobs for INEC in the past and that exposed me to how elections are organised from the state, local councils, wards, and polling units, which is the last. The flood will disfranchise some wards and many polling units, which INEC may likely merge with those in areas considered safe for the election next year. When that happens, many of the voters from these disaster affected areas may likely not stress to go and vote in farther communities. This scenario keeps happening in many riverine areas in Niger Delta, especially when INEC considers the risk of sending staff in riverine communities,” he said.

The political scientist also thinks that voter-apathy will be high in these flood-impacted areas as people will see an excuse to stay back on Election Day.

“Ordinarily, it is the unhappy man that should queue on Election Day to vote for the change and welfare he desires, and also defend his votes because he is already down and fears no fall. But the reverse is the case; many keep concluding that they will always rig in favour of the bad guys. All these may combine with the impact of the flood to keep people away on Election Day in these disaster-impacted areas,” he said further.

Toeing Otiono’s line, Amande noted that most communities along River Benue and those of lowland elevation in Benue and Kogi states are usually the first to hit by flood, and they often relocate afterwards, hence he foresees many affected people relocating and may likely not return to vote on election day in their wards except INEC does emergency transfer of polling unit for them.

“Many will not exercise their civic rights in the 2023 election and I don’t see INEC doing magic for these affected people because of the short time frame and its timetable, which it can only adjust for the selfish political parties,” he concluded.

As CNBC, a South Africa-based media outfit, rightly captured the situation, with thousands of homes and large swaths of farmland, roads and other critical infrastructure damaged or destroyed by the widespread flooding, Nigerians are facing worsening situations with politicians having more to do ahead of the 2023 elections.

While Nigerians are expressing eagerness to vote massively in the 2023 election to effect the change they want, voters in the flood-impacted areas may likely not join to ensure the change unless INEC does a magic, observers concluded.

Concerns have grown in recent days on the impact on the devastating floods which have hit Southern states across Nigeria resulting in the death of hundreds of Nigerians and displacing thousands.

The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) noted that the release of excess water from a dam in neighbouring Cameroon had contributed to the flooding.

In recent days, there have been calls from Nigerians for President Muhamamdu Buhari to take decisive action in checking the floods and provide succour for affected victims by setting up a committee.

The impact of the floods across the affected states, have led to growing concerns among stakeholders on the negative impact the flooding may have on the conduct of the 2023 general election, considering that many people may have lost their PVCs as flood took over their homes.

There are increasing fears that INEC offices and vital documents may have been affected in some towns and communities affected by the heavy flooding.

The current situation is particularly worrisome because hundreds of those affected who registered in the Continuous Voter Registration and had hoped to get their PVCs and exercise their franchise may not have the opportunity.

It thus, appears that the situation may be worse in the next few weeks, considering warnings from experts and state governments that people should move away from their places of residence to a safer environment.

Similarly, last week, the Lagos State government alerted residents of the state in some local government areas and towns, especially those residing on the banks of Ogun River to relocate upland.

Commissioner for the Environment and Water Resources, Tunji Bello, who issued the red alert, stressed the need for residents to be vigilant.

Bello said the situation might also be worsened by the release of water from Oyan Dam by the managers, the Ogun Oshun River Basin Development Authority which has increased the level of water in the lagoon.

He listed areas likely to be affected to include: Ketu, Alapere, Agric, Owode Onirin, Ajegunle, Alagbole, Kara, Isheri Olowora, Araromi Otun Orisha community, Agiliti, Maidan, Mile 12, Odo Ogun, Owode Elede, Agboyi 1, Agboyi II, Agboyi III.

If this happens, it would lead to people leaving their original homes, which is likely where they are registered to vote, thereby putting their chances of voting in the 2023 general election at risk.

Already, some political actors have advised political office seekers ahead of the 2023 general election to suspend their campaign, while efforts should be intensified to help the victims.

Peter Obi, the labour Party presidential candidate, last week suspended his presidential campaign and asked other candidates to follow suit.

In a tweet, Obi said if candidates across political parties can buy expensive presidential forms, they should be able to take action to help the victims of the flooding.

“I personally stopped, and I told my people, No more campaigns, until we are able to visit some of the flood sites, I’m calling on other presidential candidates to also stop. If we can buy forms for millions of Naira, we should be able to do something,” Obi said.

In recent days, the LP presidential candidate is visiting some states affected by the flooding, including Benue State.

While in Benue State last week, Obi commiseratesd with the victims, and emphasised on the need for candidates to suspend their campaigns and assist victims of flooding in the country.

He said Nigeria was greater than everyone, irrespective of political differences, adding that he has suspended his campaign activities to visit victims affected by flood.

“Nigeria is greater than all of us and we must work hard, irrespective of our political differences, to ensure that we build a better Nigeria for our children,” Obi said.

Observers have commended the effort of Obi; they added that it was senseless to talk of campaign in a period of national emergency.

“I think that is what they should do ordinarily, this is a national emergency and you are talking of campaign.

“Are you saying the candidates can’t see what is happening on television and even social media? Look at the number of people killed and displaced so far, in a more developed society the government would have declared a national emergency and moved fast with rescue efforts to all the affected states, but we don’t value lives here,” Tunde Okeoye, public policy analyst said.

Some observers, who spoke with BusinessDay said that the current situation may have been avoided or damage impact minimised if the state and federal governments were proactive; they advised the government to begin to think of rescuing the situation, because election would definitely hold in such places when the floods recede.

“I don’t think this will stay till next year, when the election will be conducted. Don’t forget that the rainy season will come and go.

“There is no doubt that a lot of these people affected by the flooding may be affected one way or the other, which could prevent them from taking part in the general election.

“A lot of them have lost their PVCs and other vital information in the floods, hundreds or thousands would leave their homes to other places, meaning they may not vote”, Tope Musowo, public affairs commentator, said.

Why polls will not be shifted

The 2022 Electoral Act, signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari in February, this year, has provided critical time bound activities from the publication of Notice of Election to the Conduct of Polls

The Act provides for the timely publication of all guidelines that will enable all stakeholders in the electoral process to become conversant with their provisions as they prepare for the 2023 General Election.

The Regulations and Guidelines as well as Manuals issued by the Commission are also part of the legal regulatory framework for elections.

The Act provides for Publication of Notice of Election – Monday 28th February 2022.

According to the INEC timetable, the Conduct of party primaries, including the resolution of disputes arising from them is scheduled for Monday 4th April 2022 to Friday 3rd June 2022.

Submission of nomination forms to INEC via the online portal for Presidential and National Assembly election, was scheduled to start from 9.00am on Friday 10th June 2022 to 6.00pm on Friday 17th June 2022.

Submission of nomination forms to INEC via the online nomination portal for Governorship and State Assembly elections, held from 9.00am on Friday 1st July 2022 to 6.00pm on Friday 15th July 2022.

Thus, Commencement of Campaigns by political parties for Presidential and National Assembly election, commenced on Wednesday 28th September 2022.

Commencement of Campaigns by political parties for Governorship and State Assembly elections, also commenced from Wednesday 12th October 2022.

Last day of campaign by political parties for Presidential and National Assembly elections is midnight on Thursday 23rd February 2023, while the Last day of campaign by political parties for Governorship and State Assembly elections is midnight on Thursday 9th March 2023, as election into those offices hold the next day.

Thus, tinkering with the dates will not only distort ongoing preparations, but may affect outcome of their results.

The flood has led to tales of woe across the country, ravaging communities and destroying lives, business, property worth billions of naira and have brought economic activities to a standstill in the affected communities.

The situation is also threatening food security, as flood destroyed several hectares of farm lands, alongside crops and displacing several persons from their areas of residence.

Read also: Flooding: Suspend campaigns, Peter Obi tells Tinubu, Atiku others

INEC will rise to the occasion

Speaking on the issue, the National Publicity Secretary (NPS) of the People’s Democratic Party ( PDP), Debo Ologunagba expressed confidence that INEC will rise to the occasion to ensure that the flood does not adversely affect the election.

He disagreed on the need to halt political campaigns, adding that “it is the responsibility of the various government at both the state and federal levels to tackle such challenges.”

According to him, “Government exists to provide succour and ameliorate challenges occurring due to such natural disasters

“It is because of the failure of the APC-led administration that Nigeria is daily degenerating into these crises. Look at Bayelsa, a PDP-led state, we do not need to announce what we are doing to help the people of state as a party.”

He therefore, called on Nigerians to “vote out the APC government and restore the nation’s falling image.”

The Director-General, New Dream for Grassroots Development, Onwubuya Breakforth, had in a passionate appeal in Abuja, at an emergency meeting of his organisation, asked the President to declare a state of emergency over the massive flooding across the country and assist victims.

He expressed concern as a grassroots Civil Society Organisation (CSO), over the saddening development.

According to him, “Over 28,980 communities across the country have been displaced and submerged in an avoidable flood disaster.”

He blamed the lack of political will by successive administrations to proactively address flood disaster by constructing the Dasin Hausa Dam in Adamawa State “to checkmate in the future, water from the Cameroon’s Lagdo Dam.”

He also called on the Independent National Electoral Commission to set up a joint monitoring team to follow up on the campaign spending of political parties in compliance with the Electoral Act of 2020 as amended.

Osita Nwanjo, an Abuja-based lawyer, in his assessment of the flooding and its impact, charged INEC not to fall victim of poor preparations which had been the hall mark of many government agencies, ahead of the 2023 general election.

“With this high number of displaced persons, it is expected that INEC must put in place structures to deal with the fall out of the floods.

“I also believe that INEC will protect its offices across the country, especially the Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs), which are yet to be collected by the registered voters.”

Nwanjo however, expressed the optimism that the electoral body will rise to the occasion to ensure that the election was hitch-free, adding that “We expect that the flooding would have been over before the 2023 general election.”

It is feared that due to the devastating floods, houses and farmlands have been submerged in several states, including Lagos, Yobe, Borno, Taraba, Adamawa, Edo, Delta, Kogi, Niger, Plateau, Benue, Ebonyi, Anambra, Bauchi, Gombe, Kano, Jigawa, Zamfara, Kebbi, Sokoto, Imo, Abia States, and the Federal Capital Territory.