Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Ojo Maduekwe write that the progress made by Nigeria during the 2015 national elections has been erased with the chaotic conduct of the 2019 national elections
Far from the free, fair and credible election promised Nigerians by President Muhammadu Buhari, the March 9, 2019 gubernatorial and state assembly elections was a free-for-all, characterised by massive rigging, violence, ballot box snatching, vote buying and killings; the same malaise that have characterised Nigerian elections in the past.
With many Nigerians feeling short-changed during the presidential and national assembly elections a fortnight ago, there was voter apathy across the country, with some observers predicting that it might be worse than that witnessed two weeks ago on February 23. However in many polling units in Akwa Ibom State, the voters presence was very impressive.
In different parts of the country, election was said to have started at a slow pace, with no presence of INEC staff or voting materials way past 10am. As at that time, some news report said there were no voters nor police personnel at some polling units that were visited.
Also, graduates observing the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) and contracted by INEC as adhoc staff, on the morning of the gubernatorial and state assembly elections, protested the non-payment of their allowance for the presidential and national elections.
Now, let us rephrase some of the gruelling news that made headline before and during the elections, so as to put the introductory paragraph in context. Notable among the states where violence was witnessed are Oyo, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Katsina, Delta and Benue.
A member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Temitope Olatoye was reportedly killed by suspected political thugs of a rival politician in Ibadan, the Oyo state capital. Also, in the same Ibadan, a PDP supporter was killed by a police officer while celebrating his party’s victory.
In President Buhari’s home state it was chaos. Gunmen numbering 50 were said to have stormed polling units in Danmusa and “carted away many residents.” Twenty INEC staff were said to have been kidnapped as well, with 10 later regaining freedom. A Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) officer was killed during the attack.
THISDAY reported the upland areas of Delta as largely peaceful, but in the riverine communities in Bomadi, Burutu and Warri South West local government areas of the state, there were pockets of violence.
From report, it would appear most of the violence occurred in Akwa Ibom and Rivers. For better context as to why there were more violence in these states, local politicians from Akwa Ibom and Rivers, belonging to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) are said to be interested in them because of their status as oil-producing states.
In summarising the situation, while APC thugs were said to have set INEC office ablaze in Akwa Ibom, officers of the Nigerian army literally turned Rivers into an occupied territory, commandeering everyone and dictating to officials of INEC on how to conduct the election.
At Ikono Ward 10, Unit 9 in Ikono local government area of Akwa Ibom state, armed APC thugs were said to shot four people while attempting to hijack electoral materials. While trying to escape, one of the thugs was captured by some voters at the scene and set ablaze.
In Adanta Isiokpo, polling unit 003 in Kelga Ward 1, Ikwerre local government area of Rivers state, soldiers and police officers were seen carting away the ballot boxes and result sheets. When voters stood up to them, the security agents shot at them with real bullets.
In Rivers state, officials of the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) were said to have shot and killed the immediate past chairman of the Kenule Wiwa polytechnic chapter of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnic (ASUP), Dr. Ferry Gberegbe, in front of the INEC office in Bori, Khana. In retaliation, youths gunned down two soldiers.
Having seen the chaos the enveloped the elections, there are questions regarding the 2019 national elections, particularly on whether INEC has built on the progress made during the 2015 elections. For many, rather than making progress, elections in Nigeria has retrogressed.
As Nigerians would say, “The party that rigged the most won the election”. This is an assertion that applies across board, among the contesting political parties, except in this case, it was obvious that members of the APC at the state level, had the backing of the APC federal government controlled security agencies.
In Ijumu local government area of Kogi state, the local government administrator, a certain Alhaji Taofeeq, was said to have led security officers attached to his office to snatch ballot boxes and arrest PDP agents. He was said to have done these unhindered, and, in the full glare of a deputy police commissioner deployed to the state.
Across the country and before the elections, security agents went about arresting members of the opposition PDP. In Akwa Ibom, a police superintendent, Idorenyin Akpabio, was said to have led hoodlums to invade some polling units in Essien Udim area of the state, carting away voting materials. No less than seven members of the PDP who attempted to stop them were allegedly arrested by Akpabio.
The use of security agents by APC members to intimidate voters and the opposition PDP was allegedly evident in Kogi state as well. There were reports of arbitrary arrests, with members of the PDP abandoning their homes before the election “for fear of being killed”.
Violence in Benue was such that INEC had to reschedule the election in Gwer, Gboko and Tarka local government areas of the state, with no fixed date as to when the next election would hold.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported that “electoral materials meant for Mbalom council ward were razed by suspected hoodlums in the early hours of Saturday, while in Tarka there were reports of violence in most polling units.”
Just like it did for the presidential and national assembly elections, INEC would want to grade itself as having delivered a credible state assembly and governorship election. But, judging by the chaos that marred the electoral process, the 2019 elections can be said to be one of the worst outing by the electoral umpire since 1999.
It appears Nigeria has gone back to the days when elections were marred by massive rigging, violence, ballot box snatching, vote buying and killings. For the many observers who were hopeful that INEC would build on the achievements made in 2015, the chaotic nature of the just concluded 2019 election, would leave them doubtful.