Before the November 16 off-season gubernatorial election in Kogi State, many analysts raised concerns that blood was likely to flow going by the level of desperation shown by some political parties and their candidates. Some non-governmental organisations also had expressed same concerns.
The Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu alluded to the expectation of chaos when he said that prior to the election, series of signs showed what was in the offing.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu also suspected that the election was not going to be violence-free. He made the observation before the exercise during some of the meetings he had with stakeholders. The repeated attacks on Natasha Akpoti, candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) by political thugs, gave an indication that it was not going to be a smooth exercise.
Akpoti’s attacks were not stopped even though she raised the alarm. In fact, the woman was shell shocked that despite the presence of the security apparatchik at the last stakeholders’ meeting, she was prevented by thugs from entering into the venue of the meeting, yet the security agents did not stop the assault nor ensured she attended the meeting to which she was duly invited.
She left the venue without participating in the meeting. Her party’s secretariat was torched by thugs few days to the election and no one was arrested. She suffered series of intimidation and nobody stopped her attackers. It was at that point she knew that for some people, the election must be won by “all means.”
Haruna Mohammed, INEC resident electoral commissioner that supervised the Kogi election, said the violence witnessed during the exercise was predictable. He cited the impeachment of the deputy governor of Kogi State a few days to the election as a pointer to the unbridled disturbance that greeted the election.
Six days to the exercise, BDSUNDAY had carried a cover story on ‘Those who will make or mar Kogi, Bayelsa polls’. In the permutation, certain individuals and institutions were listed. From what transpired at the election and the reports by local and international observers, it would appear that they marred, rather than make the election.
The INEC has continued to receive bashing for its actions and inactions. In some places, election materials were allegedly deliberately delayed and made to arrive late. The commission has also been roundly condemned for going ahead to announce result despite obvious proofs that the exercise was a sham.
Despite the damning reports by local and international observers calling for outright cancellation of the poll by reason of the killings and high level of fraud that characterised the election, INEC said it was credible. While friends, relations and families of innocent victims were grieving over the cold blood murders, INEC said everything went well. Whereas election did not hold in many places as attested to by observers, the Commission said it was satisfied with all that happened.
When it was public knowledge that thugs and “fake policemen” disrupted the exercise in many polling units and carted away ballot boxes and election materials, INEC declared results. The body language of the umpire has given it away as being complicit in the malfeasance that took place in Kogi.
The permutation before the election was that it was going to be bloody as the security agencies may turn a blind eye to electoral fraud. Reports alleged that they did not acquit themselves so well. Although the IGP has claimed that those that perpetrated the fraud or helped politicians to carry out the killings and the reported electoral fraud were “fake policemen”, many Nigerians believe the police are being economical with the truth on this matter.
They wondered how a few fake policemen could overrun Kogi without resistance from the over 35,000 (Thirty-five thousand) policemen that may have been posted to the state out of the sixty-six thousand (66,000) deployed to the two states where elections held that day.
Doubting the claim by the Inspector-General of Police on “fake policemen”, Dino Melaye, candidate of the PDP in the Kogi West senatorial run-off election on November 16, said: “It is therefore, a serious problem for Nigeria if fake policemen could overpower the 66,000 policemen provided for elections in Kogi and Bayelsa States.”
According to him, “Nigeria is in a precarious and perilous situation. If justice is not done, then Nigeria has become a banana republic and everybody will go for self help.”
INEC trumpets its innocence
Whereas many Nigerians are heaping the blame of the dangerous trend elections are assuming nowadays on the Commission, INEC is looking elsewhere for scapegoats. It is blaming the politicians. But critics allege that it appears that INEC is speedily losing the confidence of Nigerians. They are also saying that the umpire appears to have learnt nothing from the charade of election in 2019.
While debunking allegations that the INEC did not do its job well in Kogi, Rotimi Oyekanmi, spokesperson to INEC chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, laid the blame at the door posts of politicians.
“They were the ones that were responsible for the violence and ballot snatching we had in Bayelsa and Kogi states,” he said, declaring that the experience witnessed in those two states had posed a new challenge.
Oyekanmi also claimed that the commission had been more transparent and open in its work; made itself available and provided up-to-date information about its activities to the world.
He also said that the number of registered voters in the country has since increased to 90million and, therefore, the need to reach out to them as part of the challenges facing INEC, disclosing that the commission had since made efforts to reach out to Nigerian teeming youths by going to university campuses, using star artistes with a view to encouraging them to register and also vote in elections.
But analysts disagreed with the claim by the umpire that it had learnt some lessons from what transpired in Kogi. They also alleged that INEC’s handling of elections and what the exercise has become in Nigeria have discouraged many Nigerians from voting. They claim that majority of those who go to INEC to register for permanent voter card (PVC) were merely doing so to possess the card, and not for the purpose of voting.
From the 2019 general elections that produced the present crop of ‘leaders’ in the country, to the Kogi and Bayelsa elections, it is clear to Nigerians and their friends all over the world that electoral process in the country has taken a turn for the worse and that means democratic growth is impaired.
According to analysts, Kogi election, particularly, will ever remain a watershed, a sore spot in Nigeria’s democratic journey. That state’s November 16 governorship election represents everything negative, bizarre and absurd about an electoral umpire that decided to declare victory in an election that was steeped in blood.
They are of the view that if there is anything anybody could do, going forward, to refocus the country’s democracy that is already adrift; it has to start with the electoral body.
Implications for future elections
Tony Alams, a public affairs commentator, said: “I don’t personally believe that the present INEC can ever conduct a credible election in Nigeria. We saw its work in Ekiti, Osun and in the 2019 general election. In fact, many Nigerians believe INEC was going to do nothing different in Kogi and Bayelsa. If you followed the pattern of conduct of the exercise, particularly in Kogi, it was exactly a replication of what happened in 2019 general election.”
Alams said further: “We have seen that the ratio of actual voters viz-a-viz those who registered has been on a downward decline. The reason is simple- people have lost faith in the process. People have lost confidence in today’s INEC. How many youths would want to die for going out to vote? People are wiser these days. It would even grow worse.”
A school teacher in Itakpe, Kogi State, who spoke with BDSUNDAY on condition of anonymity, said the state was like a war zone on the Election Day. According to her, a day to the exercise, an ominous sign had hung around the state, and everybody knew it was going to be bloody.
“Neither my husband nor me stepped out to vote. We knew that our votes would not count. I pity those that risked their lives to go to vote,” she said.
On the future of elections in Nigeria, the teacher said: “The future is bleak for Nigeria. I am sorry to say, but that is the whole truth. When you see government championing these things, what it tells you is that hope is lost. Unless there is a divine visitation on Nigeria, the country is gone.
“How do you explain that in an election where over 10 people were brutally murdered, and a woman politician assassinated in broad day light, yet the result of such an election is upheld; does that make any rational sense? True power comes from God. And power is transient. Kingdoms rise and wane. This is my consolation.”
Speaking in tandem, Vitalis Avoaja, a psychologist, said that the INEC may have put itself in a tight corner that many Nigerians no longer believe what it says, even when it has the best of intentions.
“I think what has happened is that INEC has gotten itself muddied that an average Nigerian no longer takes it seriously. Everything it does or says is now being taken with a pinch of salt. Look at what happened a few days ago; there were reports in some media platforms that Smart Card Readers were no longer going to be relevant.
“That story was on the cover of some prominent papers. By evening of that day, the Commission came out to deny it. Even at that, some Nigerians have marked that. A day is coming, depending on what they want to achieve in that particular election, they will point out to you that those reports were correct; that they had said it that the Smart Card Readers would no longer be recognised.
“We followed some of these arguments in court recently. But honesty, these things portend grave danger for the country,” Avoaja said.
Many Nigerians converge on the opinion that it is no longer a secret that virtually all the institutions in the country have been weakened and compromised.