The November 16 governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa States presented another opportunity for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to correct noticeable errors from its previous elections especially the 2019 general election and improve on the electoral process in order to gain the confidence of Nigerians. The electoral commission had through one of its National Commissioners and the Chairman of INEC Board of Electoral Institute; Prince Solomon Soyebi assured that the off-season elections in the two states would give INEC the opportunity to correct its mistakes.
The Chairman of the Commission, Prof Yakubu Mahmood who shuttled between Lokoja and Yenagoa, capital cities of Kogi and Bayelsa States respectively to hold stakeholders meeting confessed during a meeting with royal fathers that the two states “are not easy states” to conduct election because of the attitude of the political class but expressed confidence that INEC was ready.
To nip in the bud the shenanigans of the political class in the two states, the Inspector- General of Police, Mohammed Adamu deployed 66,241 Policemen to the two states; 35, 200 in Kogi and 31, 041 for Bayelsa. The deployment also included Police Mobile Force, Special Protection Unit, Intelligence Response Unit, Mounted Troop, K9 Section, Air Wing and the Marine Detachment. The IGP to demonstrate the seriousness the Police issued a stern warning to those planning to foment trouble.
Sadly however the promise of credible and peaceful by INEC and the Police was not fulfilled. Nigerians watched in horror as polling units were turned into a battlefield. The political class behaved exactly as bookmakers had predicted. The armed militia recruited before the elections held sway, invading opponents’ strongholds. In open display of savagery, they unleashed terror and in some instances carted away ballot boxes.
In Dekina Local Government Area of Kogi State for example two voters, Umaru Shuiabu and Faruk Suleiman were reportedly shot dead. In Ochadamu, Ofu Local Government Area of Kogi, when results were being announced suspected political thugs in a most barbaric way reportedly set ablaze the PDP Woman leader for the Wada/ Aro campaign council, Mrs Salome Abuh in her house. In Opolo, Yenagoa Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, reports said one Prince Odede had his hands amputated by suspected thugs. In Bumoudi- Gbene, also in Yenagoa Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, irate youths reportedly rounded up four INEC officials and detained them in an uncompleted building. In Ologi, Ogbia Local Government of Bayeslsa State, another INEC official was reportedly kidnapped forcing the electoral commission to cancel the elections in the area. In SUBEB polling unit in Lokoja, an INEC official was also kidnapped. From reports of observers on the fields in Kogi and Bayelsa when the political class were not deploying violence through their army of thugs, they mobilized cash, which they used to buy votes in the full glare of security agents. Credible information from accredited observers indicated that agents of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practises Commission (ICPC) deployed to arrest those involved in vote-buying were complicit.
Our hope that the heavy deployment of Police and other security agencies would curtail the antics of the political class was grossly misplaced. Policemen deployed for election duties were seen colluding with armed militia of political parties to harass and arrest political opponents and also hijack electoral materials. There are reports by accredited observers that in several wards, the Policemen were for the highest bidder. The political party that paid more had Police to provide cover for their armed thugs. In Lokoja and Okene, both in Kogi State, there have been recriminations by political parties on how armed thugs in brand new Hilux vehicles drove from one polling unit to the other unchallenged. In the water ways of Sagbama and Southern Ijaw Local Government Areas of Bayelsa State similar allegations have been levelled on how suspected thugs loyal to political parties in speed boats hijacked electoral materials, diverted them to private residences where Corp members and party members thumb-printed at will. The IGP who had previously assured that the Police would protect the sanctity of the ballot admitted later that fake policemen disrupted the exercise.
Comments attributed to former President Goodluck Jonathan indicated that INEC’s performance was poor. In many polling units voting materials and electoral officers arrived late. Also accredited observers like Womenfest for Betterlife Living, Society for Advancement for Credible Leadership Ideas, Centre for Positive Change and Civic Responsibility, Human Rights Monitors and Advocacy for Peoples Right and Justice in their various reports alleged INEC officials and ad-hoc staff compromised and allowed politicians to hijack the process for pecuniary benefits. They also alleged that even at the crucial stage of collation, INEC officials looked the other way when figures were being altered; results were announced even in polling units where election never took place and results cancelled in political parties’ strongholds at the promptings of political opponents.
We therefore agree with those who have described the elections in the two states as a low for democracy. With the resources available to INEC, it could have done better than this. Mrs Idayat Hassan, a Director at Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) presenting a report on the elections said “the very foundation of our 20-year-old democratic order came under a grievous assault”. According to Hassan the level of violence and coordinated disruption of the electoral process as seen in Kogi and Bayelsa pointed to the need for a fundamental re-organisation of election security. YIAGA Africa through Cynthia Mbamalu of Watching the Vote (WTV) initiative that used the Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT) to monitor the credibility of the voting process called for the outright cancellation of elections where violence and ballot box hijacking marred the process in Kogi. She also alleged that the Bayelsa election was manipulated at the collation stage.
We join those who have called on President Mohammadu Buhari to urgently assent the new Electoral Act. He has another opportunity to save the integrity of Nigerian elections. This country cannot continue with a voting system allows politicians, electoral officials and security agents to compromise the sanctity of the ballot. The Electoral Act which is currently undergoing amendment with the introduction of 26 clauses by Senator Ovie Omo- Agege(APC Delta Central) and Abubakar Kyari(APC Borno North) provides for transmission of results from polling units to a central server in INEC headquarters. We believe these amendments are necessary to guarantee the credibility of our electoral process. We also agree with those advocating electronic voting as a solution to widespread electoral fraud. We have had enough bloodbaths in this country, the disastrous events in Kogi and Bayelsa as witnessed on November 16 should not be allowed to repeat itself.