Bello's Voter Registration Scandal

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But for immunity, the Kogi State governor, Alhaji Yahya Bello, who was caught engaging in double registration during the Independent National Electoral Commission’s Continuous Voters’ ‎Registration exercise should have faced the wrath of the law, writes Yekini Jimoh

Kogi State otherwise known as the Confluence State has a way of always attracting negative media attention and that is exactly what has happened again with the Governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello being accused of illegal double registration in the Continuous Voters Registration (CVR) by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) .

The idea behind the registration of voters across the country was to accommodate those yet to register, those who were below eighteen years old during the last voters registration exercise and people that moved from one state to another on the register. As in other states, people trooped out in their hundreds to take advantage of the opportunity in Kogi State as well.

But alas! Bello became a subject of public discussion when the people of the state observed that despite having registered in Abuja before, he was again registered at Government House located in Lokoja, the Kogi State capital, which by delineation is in Kogi West senatorial district of the state. The action runs foul of the law and he has recieved bashings for it.

The governor’s double registration came to light when photographs showed him being registered by INEC officials in his office in Lokoja. Most people were surprised when the registration was posted on social media platforms not minding the implication because it is in Kogi State that practically every political appointee of the governor is social media man. Any little thing done by the governor either positive or negative is posted on social media by the so-called political appointees.

It is no news that the governor did not vote during the last governorship election in his ward, Ageva, because his voter’s card was issued in Abuja. So, people expected him to transfer his voters card from Abuja to Kogi State, but sadly, the governor never did that. Rather, he opted to bring INEC staff to the Government House, Lokoja, which is incidentally located in a different senatorial district of the state, to register his name.

The governor comes from Agasa in Okene Local Government Area of Kogi Central. Many wondered why he chose to register in another senatorial district, and why the exercise was carried out in a government house where there was no polling unit.

The obvious mistake, which is already generating controversy in the country is made worse with INEC formally accusing the governor of registering for Permanent Voters Card (PVC) twice, a clear violation of electoral law.

INEC, in a press statement issued in Abuja said Bello acted ‘illegally’ to have registered for voter’s card in Abuja and Kogi, but said it could not take action against the governor because he is constitutionally protected from prosecution while in office.

“The governor’s double registration and doing so outside INEC’s designated centres are both illegal,” INEC’s National Commissioner and chairman, Voters Education Committee, Solomon Soyebi said. He categorically denied authorising any staff to “re-register him and or to do so outside designated CVR centres”.

Soyebi confirmed that Bello was first registered at Wuse Zone 4, Abuja, on January 30, 2011, but illegally did so again on May 23, during the ongoing continuous voters registration exercise in his Lokoja, Kogi State office.

According to him, the commission is taking disciplinary action against the INEC staff involved.

He said: “Were it not for the governor’s immunity, he would not have escaped prosecution.

“Section 308(1) (a) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) precludes INEC from prosecuting him while in office. However, INEC wishes to state that it has cancelled his second and illegal registration forthwith because our electoral law and the commission’s guidelines make no exception for anyone to register more than once and outside the designated areas.”

The governor’s friend-turned foe, Senator Dino Melaye representing Kogi West senatorial district did not take the issue lightly. In his immediate reaction, has asked Bello to resign from office forthwith because he has embarrassed the state, the citizens, and the All Progressive Congress (APC).

Melaye, who is the chairman, Senate Committee on Federal Capital Territory (FCT), while speaking with THISDAY on phone over the double registration said, “It is unfortunate that we have a fraudulent governor who has exhibited criminal tendencies. Yahaya Bello should resign immediately. We are not only going to start civil mass action but we are going to mobilise Kogi State House of Assembly for his impeachment. He should resign. It is a fraud.”

Also reacting, the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Kogi State chapter, in a press statement said the recent disclosure by INEC that Bello had registered for PVC before is to PDP, “a drama of the absurd.”

The Kogi State PDP Publicity Secretary, Prince Bode Ogunmola, in a press statement, noted that while “We see the development as a vindication of our party’s earlier stance on the voter’s registration status of Yahaya Bello. We wish to make it clear that the present APC-led government in Kogi was foisted on the people of the state. It is not untrue that Yahaya Bello was not legally qualified and had no moral standing to run for election in Kogi State, in the first place, since he has never been a registered voter in the state.

“It was not for nothing that some of his party members were not happy and openly disagreed with the way the national body of the APC imposed his gubernatorial candidature on them. The state is presently groaning under a leadership that has no place in moral justice.

“Our party is taken aback by the revelation that Bello registered as a voter for the second time on Tuesday, May 23, 2017 in the Government House, Lokoja. This, to us, smacks of double standard on the part of the electoral body.

“The questions INEC needs to ask itself are: Did the officer(s) of the commission that registered Bello for the second time not know that he had claimed to be a registered voter? Does it mean that INEC has no record of voters in its data bank, thus allowing double registration? No doubt, somebody is not ready to stand by the truth somewhere.”

He stressed that his party and the members were expectant that the clear violation of electoral law would not be swept under the carpet as the Electoral Act adequately prescribed the appropriate penalty for anyone that violated the law.

“It is, therefore, not enough to cancel the second registration without ensuring that the necessary penalty is meted out. Bello did not only register twice, but also had the audacity to carry the electoral officers and their equipment to Government House, Lokoja, which is not one of the designated centres for the exercise.

“The people of Kogi have, with this development, seen the hollowness in the agenda of the APC-led government. Therefore, our party will continue to be on the side of the people as we pursue the restoration of their dignity through the ballot box in 2019.” he concluded

The Director-General, Media and Strategy to Governor Bello, Mr. Kingsley Fanwo defended his boss. According to him, Bello never lied about his INEC registration status.

He said: “While some were positively worried, some others see it as another window of opportunity to get at the governor. We thank both groups.

“From the first day, the governor didn’t say he registered in Kogi State. It even came up at the tribunals. He registered in Abuja. He never voted in Kogi State. Nothing in the law makes it mandatory for you to vote for yourself before you can win a political position. We have had people who won elections from detention in the past. They wouldn’t have voted for themselves from detention.

“As a star witness during the tribunals, the Chief of Staff to the governor, Hon. Edward David Onoja told the panel of judges that the governor was a registered voter, but not in Kogi State. The governor’s efforts to transfer the card from Abuja to Kogi State has not been successful, hence the need to seize this golden opportunity to get registered in Kogi State. There was nothing wrong with registering in the governor’s office because it belongs to all Kogites. Government House is People’s House,” Fanwo argued.

What is however obvious is that the last is yet to be heard about the trending story. While the state government would continue to mount its defence to justify the governor’s action and try to suppress the scandal, those who want to settle political scores with him will continue to escalate the issues.

In fact, a group, Kogi foe Change, is already making plans to take legal action against the governor. A statement by its chairman, Omeiza Yakubu, a copy of which was made available to newsmen, said it would take legal action in view of the illegality of Bello’s action.

“The impunity that unleashed the governor on the state is at work again and we are not going to take it lightly. As a matter of fact we have decided as a group to take the matter to court. It is a criminal offence to engage in double registration,” the group said.

The question, however, is, what actions are available in view of section 308 of the constitution which clothed the governor with immunity?

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What is however obvious is that the last is yet to be heard about the trending story. While the state government would continue to mount its defence to justify the governor’s action and try to suppress the scandal, those who want to settle political scores with him will continue to escalate the issues.