It is neither coincidence nor conspiracy that negative reviews have trailed the just concluded governorship elections in Bayelsa and Kogi States. It is also no fluke that election observers like YIAGA Africa, Situation Room, and Centre for Democratic Development (CDD) are speaking in one voice, condemning the complicity in the conduct of the governorship election in the states, especially in Kogi.
The Bayelsa and Kogi governorship elections are expected to provide an opportunity for all election stakeholders especially the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Nigeria Police and political parties to improve on the conduct of the February general elections. Unfortunately, the process was blighted by several complicities which undermined its standard in virtually all ramifications. It is even more sad that all election stakeholders, especially INEC and the police, saw this coming as there were available warning signals of voter inducement and electoral violence. Few weeks before the governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa, an article, ‘Underscoring early warning signals of violence and voter inducement’ was published along with myriad of other concerns raised by election stakeholders. The concerns were either met with assurances or neglected.
It can be recalled vividly when YIAGA Africa released its pre-election observation report raising concerns of distribution of gift items and purchase of permanent voter card (PVC) for as low as N500. Reacting to this, the head of voter education and publicity in Bayelsa, Wilfred Ifogah, said the commission doesn’t monitor salt and rice sharing.
Similarly, the report on recruitment of thugs and stockpiling of arms was widespread all over communication platforms and it’s almost impossible to imagine the security agencies didn’t take heed of these critical warning signals before it escalated. It is even more ominous that despite the setting ablaze of a political party office and the attack on a female candidate contesting in the election during the stakeholder meeting in Kogi, at the full glare of police chiefs, security apparatus didn’t prepare to curtail the impending violence in the state.According to him, even before the vote-buying syndrome, they used to give out commodities such as salt, rice and other things during campaign. Maybe, that is what they are doing right now that YIAGA Africa is calling voter inducement. While the electoral law is clear about vote- buying and selling on election day within certain meters of the polling units, INEC and other security agencies did not take any proactive measure to curb what ended up becoming a rampant transaction on election day.
Just two days to the governorship election in both states, YIAGA Africa hosted both the public relations officers of both Police and Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSDCDC) on its weekly program to discuss election security ahead of the polls. As we expected, security agencies gave all the assurances, saying at least 35,000 Police officers had been deployed to Kogi State with over 10,000 NSCDC personnel to support. Security officials appeared on various fora and meetings ahead of the election to continue boosting electoral officials’ confidence on the safety of personnel and materials while also assuring citizens safety of their lives and properties. One of such meetings was the early warning scan organized by Search for Common Ground; another Civil Society Organization who observed early warning signals before the elections. At the meeting, stakeholders including journalists raised major security concerns which were met by assurance by the police chief at the event, saying the police force is embarking on visibility policing to track any unwanted person that may want to disrupt the process. Assurances upon assurances was what the citizens got from security agencies before elections but it’s so unfortunate that the police service commission claim the force was overstretched to manage just two state elections.
In the words of board chair, Dr Hussaini Abdu, “the unacceptable vote procurement (vote buying) and violence perpetrated by the systematically recruited and prepared party officials and thugs were carried out under the full glare of the almost nonchalant security officials. They acted helplessly as if they were under instruction not to respond to the situation, if not already prepared to support the brigandage.”
The challenges in Kogi State 2019 gubernatorial elections squally lie on the role and failures of security agencies, the police in particular, political parties, the major candidates and their state and non-state accomplices. These stakeholders deliberately worked to undermine the election. They appeared to be more concerned about electoral victory than the credibility and legitimacy of the process.
Until the law and those that implement it have the guts to shame and prosecute culprits of electoral complicity, Nigeria may just begin to give up on its electoral democracy. While waiting for stakeholders charged with the responsibility of conducting free, fair, credible and peaceful elections to take responsibility, there is further need for the executive and legislative to expedite necessary actions on electoral reforms.
––Moshood Isah, Media Officer, YIAGA Africa