• Wednesday, June 19, 2024
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Worrying signs as pre-election violence threatens Kogi guber poll

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Few months to the Kogi State gubernatorial election, the recurring problem of politically motivated violence, and attacks on perceived opponents in the confluence state in recent years, appears to have taken frightening dimensions ahead of the poll.

Kogi State has become notorious for political violence, a situation that has not served the state any good; however, political analysts say clashes among key political actors in recent weeks may just be a sign of what to expect as the electioneering gathers momentum.

The off-circle governorship election slated for November 11, 2023 is expected to be keenly contested among the major parties, since the incumbent governor, Yahaya Bello would not be contesting, because he is serving out his constitutionally allowed two terms of eight years in office.

With the primaries held between March 27, 2023, and the final list of candidates published on June 9, 2023.

Campaigns by political parties commenced on June 14, and are scheduled to end at midnight on November 9, 2023.

Already, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has cleared 18 candidates of political parties who are now jostling to take over the incumbent governor on January 26, 2024, the day his tenure ends.

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Some of the cleared candidates as published by the INEC include the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate (Ododo Ahmed Usman); Senator Dino Melaye of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); Muritala Yakubu Ajaka of Social Democratic Party (SDP); Leke Abejide of African Democratic Congress (ADC); Olayinka Braimoh -Action Alliance and Okeme Adejoh of the Labour Party.

Currently, with the beginning of campaigns, there is heightened climate in the state, the environment has generally been characterised by inciting and fierce rhetoric, threats of violence and actual incidents of violence among key political actors.

One of such occurred recently, when an attack was unleashed on the SDP gubernatorial candidate, Muritala Ajaka, in the forthcoming election. Reports have it that his motorcade was attacked by gunmen.

Some days ago, according to reports, suspected thugs in the wee hours invaded the SDP campaign office located along Paparanda Kpata market and destroyed billboards showing the picture of President Bola Tinubu alongside the governorship candidate of SDP in the state, Yakubu Ajaka.

A similar attack was reported on Governor Yahaya Bello’s convoy, allegedly, by the supporters of SDP, where some aides of the governor were said to have been injured. The security situation in Kogi has attained mind-boggling proportions.

A few days later, a radio station, Radio Kogi Ochaja, was looted and destroyed by gun-wielding hoodlums and others armed with dangerous weapons, after beating up the staff and security guards on duty.

In the last two weeks, the camps of the Governor and the SDP candidate have been engaged in a war of words that has continued to heat up the state political atmosphere.

Speaking of the convoy attack, Governor Bello warned at the unveiling of his party’s deputy governorship candidate: “Let it be the first and last antelope will cross the lion’s way. Next time, there will be no warning”.

Also speaking recently, Governor Bello, also warned individuals spreading falsehood to prepare to face the law. The Governor stated this through the Information Commissioner, Kingsley Fanwo,

He was particular about comments reportedly made by the governorship candidate of the SDP candidate, Yakubu-Ajaka, on security and political matters in the state.

He said: “We wouldn’t have bothered to respond to the candidate of the SDP who is dipping himself in the messy mud and having an ignominious macabre dance on the sensibilities of the people of Kogi and Nigerians as a whole.

“It is important to tell Nigerians and the world that Yakubu- Ajaka, the said SDP governorship candidate, is on an agenda of whipping sentiments,

“He is spreading falsehood with reckless abandon so as to put on himself, a garment of importance and create unnecessary air around himself as a contender that he is not”.

The electoral violence in Kogi State is not new, similar experience occurred in the last gubernatorial election conducted in November, 2019, in which large scale violence was witnessed before and on Election Day.

Natasha Akpoti-Uduaghan, who was then the candidate of the SDP, complained severally about politically motivated violence directed at her and supporters.

She also faced a similar incident in the 2023 general election, in her attempt to win the senatorial seat of her constituency.

In November 2019, shortly after the announcement of the result of the gubernatorial poll, the PDP woman leader of Wada/Aro campaign council, Ochadamu Ward, Acheju Abuh was burnt alive in her home by suspected political thugs. Up till, now one has been prosecuted by security agencies over the gruesome murder.

Unfortunately, these violent attacks are nothing new. Nextier Violent Conflict Database, in its publication titled “Nigeria’s 2023 State elections: Mirroring hotspot States,” listed Kogi as propensity for electoral violence based on historical evidence and existing security situation.

During the general elections, Nextier reported violent activities by thugs in Anyigba and Dekina areas resulting in two deaths and 11 abductions. It was such that INEC threatened cancellation of results.

In the run-up to the 2019 November governorship election, the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) reported a total of 10 deaths, 79 cases of violence and election malpractices across the 21 local government areas (LGAs) of the state.

Stakeholders say politicians should focus on issues based campaigns, rather and caution their supporters to operate with the rules as amended in Electoral Act 2022.

Analysts say reoccurring electoral violence in Kogi State in recent polls, without any prosecution of culprits was an indictment of security agencies.

They said security agencies must act to arrest and prosecute those perpetuating electoral violence, otherwise the consequences could be dire for the state.

Other stakeholders in Kogi State and Northerner Nigeria are equally worried about the gory tales of political violence.

Chairman, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Gabriel Aduku, expressed worry over recent political violence in parts of Kogi State, raising the alarm that the forthcoming governorship election in the state may not hold if violence continues.

Aduku, who is also the Chairman Kogi East Elders Council, lamented the situation where the powers that be in the state would not allow political opponents and other stakeholders to run for political offices in the state, without subjecting them to threat and intimidation, describing such a situation as undemocratic.

According to him, “The coming election in Kogi State is not only sensitive but is something of great concern in view of insecurity in the state. Kogi State is pestered with insecurity for the past few years, even at the beginning of this democracy and it is escalating.

“There will be no election at the end of the day, if this violence continues to occur, and my feeling is that there may be no election in Kogi state, it is an obvious thing because people are allowed to carry arms and go to specific places that are not favourable to the administration to destroy them”.

“The coming election in Kogi state is not only sensitive but is something of great concern in view of insecurity in the state. Kogi state has been pestered with insecurity for the past few years, even at the beginning of this democracy and it is escalating.

“There will be no election at the end of the day, if this violence continues to occur, and my feeling is that there may be no election in Kogi state, it is an obvious thing because people are allowed to carry arms and go to specific places that are not favourable to the administration to destroy them”.

Last week, researchers with Nextier SPD warned that violence may mar the off-season polls as a result of the outcome of the February 25 presidential and national assembly elections and the Match 18 governorship and House of Assembly elections.

Nextier canvassed for the extension of security deployments and monitoring in hotspot communities beyond election days to ensure sustained peace, law, and order.

It has also admonished INEC and the police to rebuild their image during the off-cycle elections by curtailing actions that question their integrity.

Nextier SPD further said, “The outcome of the general elections will surely impact Nigeria’s off-cycle elections. However, election security depends on the readiness and sincerity of INEC and the security agencies doing their part in making November 2023 better.

“Other election participants, such as political parties, supporters, voters, and the general public, also have to play their role in maintaining a peaceful process.

“The likelihood of election violence may be reduced if the relevant election stakeholders consistently uphold their legal obligations.”

Political analyst, Tope Musowo said the spate of politically motivated electoral violence in Kogi State and indeed Nigeria was as a result of several factors. He blamed impunity and the culpability of security agencies in fuelling the violences.

“The issue is not new, but maybe it is more intense this time around considering what is at stake, but of course we know those in authority should prosecute these people are culpable.

“So, our democracy is growing, but we are on a bad path when impunity rein and some people are above the law. It does not offer much hope going forward.

” It is a combination of several factors, desperation; people seeing politics as a do-or-die affair, because there is so much to gain”, he said.