In Nigeria, elections are akin to going to war. The last general election testifies to this fact. In the off-season gubernatorial elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states, scheduled for November 16, 2019, interest is high, particularly on the part of the two leading parties in the country- the All Progressives Congress (APC), the ruling party and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the main opposition party.
In Kogi State, for instance, where the APC is incumbent, the party is doing everything and anything within its powers to retain the state. In Bayelsa, the PDP, which has claimed the state belonged to it and would remain so, is in an attrition war to stamp its supremacy. It is expected to be a show of force beyond just an exercise to elect a governor. Little wonder therefore, for the high level wheeling and dealing going on in various quarters ahead of the polls.
Power is not served à la carte; it is struggled for. Elections in Kogi and Bayelsa have always been violence-ridden. So far, there are no indications that history would not be on playback when eligible voters file out to exercise their franchise on Saturday, November 16, 2019.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) seems to be seriously worried as the Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, a professor, at a meeting with security agencies declared that there are already warning signals in the two states, both are politically volatile and elections have been severally disrupted by violence in the past.
He expressed concern 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.
David Anyaele, director of Centre for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD), a non-governmental organisation (NGO), a few days ago raised the alarm that the vibrations from Kogi and Bayelsa did not give any hope for violence-free election.
“We are worried about the security situation in Kogi and Bayelsa states. Every day, politicians are talking like warlords and we are asking INEC and security agencies to ensure adequate security for voters, particularly people living with disabilities,” Anyaele said with serious concern.
Those whose actions or otherwise are expected to heavily impact on the election are Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State, Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State, Adams Oshiomhole, national chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Kola Ologbondiyan, national publicity secretary of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP); Timipre Sylva, minister of state, Petroleum Resources; Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the security agencies, particularly the Nigerian Army, and the Nigeria Police.
Although he is not contesting the election, he has a lot at stake. In politics, it matters who succeeds an incumbent. In a political party arrangement, every out-going governor, particularly in Nigeria, would want to be succeeded by a member of his/her party. Moreover, because the incumbent would want someone that could cover his track, act as a stooge or continue with his programmes and projects; they do everything to ensure that their candidate wins by hook or crook. Dickson has been under fire for singlehandedly picking Douye Diri as the gubernatorial candidate of the PDP, which has since pitted him against many party faithful in the state. The governor is also seeing the election as a show of supremacy; he had boasted to the opposition parties that Bayelsa was a PDP state, and that the status quo must be maintained. This has formed his campaign rhetoric and a message to indigenes as he moved from one part of the state to the other.
“This state is unshakably PDP. Anybody who wants to contest an election, let me put you on notice, the only platform that can win an election in this state under my leadership is the PDP. Which election will be tougher than the one we won with me as candidate? “We will lead the party to win all elections in the state, God willing,” he said at one of his rallies.
Recently, while in Abuja, he boasted again, “In Bayelsa state, PDP is the largest, biggest and the most formidable political platform. Compared to the other side which didn’t have the luxury of having a credible primary; a candidate was brought out from the pocket of the leader of the party; a candidate that is not sellable; a candidate that we all know can’t govern, so for us the election is already won. Won by us and lost on the other side.”
This former governor of the state is expected to fight like a wounded lion, all for his party, APC. Since he lost, on January 27, 2012, his office as governor, in a controversial manner, Sylva has been nursing a feeling of anger against the PDP and some individuals in the party. He was a sore loser to Dickson. With his current position as the deputy oil minister, which opponents alleged was given to him to muster a lot of money for the gubernatorial election; Sylva is now capable of wooing some PDP members to the APC and also ensuring that the victory pendulum swings to the broom party on November 16. As one of the political bruisers from the Niger Delta that President Muhammadu Buhari recently appointed to key positions, he is expected to reciprocate the good gesture by delivering Bayelsa to the APC.
As always, Oshiomhole has been militant in his verbalisation that the days of PDP in the Government House of Bayelsa were numbered. His utterances on the election have given an indication that the election must be won by his party, at all costs. During the flag-off of the party’s campaign in Ogbia town, Ogbia Local Government Area of the state, he said: “APC is coming to right the wrongs of the PDP government in Bayelsa State, come November 16. The APC government, under David Lyon, will work assiduously to provide security, employment and empowerment for all Bayelsa people.” Throwing a jibe at Dickson, he said: “I understand that my dear friend, the outgoing governor of Bayelsa, is already visited by the withdrawal syndrome facing any governor close to the end of his tenure. I want to assure him, on behalf of our candidate, Lyon, that he is not coming to chase him away or witch-hunt him; our candidate is only coming to correct his wrongs. Our desire is to see that the people of Bayelsa will witness great change.”
The PDP, through its spokesman, has been talking tough, warning mischief makers to steer clear of Kogi and Bayelsa. The party has repeatedly said that it would not tolerate election fraud and must resist those who may wish to upturn the will and wish of the people in the two states. The other day, the party cautioned the INEC over the deployment of National Commissioners and Resident Electoral Commissioners (REC), for the elections. Ologbondiyan pointedly said: “Our party recognises that while some are of clean records in their previous responsibilities, there are others who are known to be of questionable character and fared far below expectations in their responsibility.”
“We caution the Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, to note that the deployment of officials with known integrity issues is capable of triggering crisis and jeopardising the credibility of the electoral process,” he added.
Apart from mere playing of politics, the consensus opinion in Kogi State is that Governor Yahaya Bello’s first tenure is a disaster and that he does not deserve a second term. But Bello is in the race and optimistic of winning. Adam’s Oshiomhole, national chairman of his party, alluded to Bello’s disastrous performance that ordinarily should not get him a return to the Government House, when he begged Kogi voters to give the governor another opportunity to right the wrongs of his first term.
“I think Governor Bello has shown that he has capacity and going forward he would have learnt a couple of lessons in his first term. I have passed through that process and I know that your second term is always the time you want to do those legacy projects you will like to be remembered for,” Oshiomhole said.
Bello, knowing that his rating is low and that in the event of a credible exercise, he may not stand a chance, may decide to resort to self-help. And such desperation may negatively impact, not only the conduct and outcome of the election, but also the fragile peace in the state. But if he decides to allow the people make a choice of who to govern them without being intimidated or coerced, then the exercise would be rancor-free.
INEC- Mahmood Yakubu
If the elections in Kogi and Beyelsa states would be free, fair and credible, it is going to be determined by whatever INEC does or fails to do. The Commission’s image as election umpire in the country has plummeted so badly that many Nigerians no longer reckon with it. In past elections, INEC had been accused of partisanship; adopting parties and politicians, and going ahead to write and announce results that did not reflect the wish of the electorate. The Commission has also been accused of deliberately starving some areas of electoral materials, or going there late just to give some candidates or parties edge over their opponents. Up till now, many Nigerians have not forgiven the INEC over its actions and inactions during the last general election. Over the years, INEC has not fared well in Bayelsa for instance; it has repeatedly conducted “inconclusive elections”, which critics alleged were born out of compromise with some political actors; to swing victory to such politicians or parties.
INEC should therefore, prove critics wrong, by truly asserting itself as an unbiased umpire. What it does or fails to do next Saturday in Kogi and Bayelsa would determine the outcome of the polls. The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) final report on the 2019 elections observed that lack of transparency and inconsistent numbers during the collation of results by the INEC cast a long shadow over the integrity of the 2019 elections. The Kogi and Bayelsa elections present an opportunity for the Commission to show that it has become committed to free, fair and credible election without being influenced or manipulated.
The Police- IGP (Mohammed Adamu)
The role of the Nigeria Police in Nigeria’s elections since the return of the country to civil rule has been questionable. The police have created the impression that they are for sale, and to the highest bidder, or that they are there for any party in power. Their independence is questionable. Police have not acquitted themselves well in many of the elections they have featured since 1999. Their worst outing, critics insist, was in the 2019 general election. Police personnel deployed to keep the peace turned themselves into INEC. They were allegedly conniving with politicians and parties to intimidate opponents and to commit a lot of electoral fraud. Reports of several observer groups indicted the police in the last elections. Although Mohammed Adamu, inspector-general of police, has deployed thousands of his men to Kogi and Bayelsa, the question on the lips of many is, what is the assurance that they are going there for the job they were sent to do? Analysts have also urged the IGP himself to maintain apolitical in the two states, before, during and after the elections. The police have a serious role to play to ensure that the elections in the two states are violence-free. Engaging in intimidation of candidates of one party; random arrest, threat of clamp down on some politicians and their supporters and selective ill-treatment of members of one party may not help the exercise. The police must go to Kogi and Bayelsa with clean hands.
The Army- Tukur Yusuf Buratai
Although the INEC chairman has announced that the police are going to be the lead security agency for the elections in the two states; that does not mean that other security agencies would not be there. In the past, it used to be said that soldiers would not come close into the state where an election is holding, (as voting is a civic responsibility) but would station themselves at the borders into the state to prevent any invasion of such state, or movement into or from the state of unwanted elements. But experiences have shown that, not only do soldiers enter, they became instruments of oppression against political opponents. In Bayelsa in particular, given the terrain, involvement of soldiers cannot be ruled out. The Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Yusuf Buratai, must ensure that innocent citizens are not intimidated or harassed. In the 2019 general election, several reports from local and international observer groups including the European Union Election Observation noted that soldiers were brazenly partisan and aided thugs of preferred parties and politicians in carrying out all manner of electoral frauds.
What should be done? All the actors, whose influence, overtly or covertly, could jeopardise peace, should put the lives of the people above whatever pecuniary gain they hope to make from the exercise in the two states.