No Swings, No Surprises in Nationwide By-elections

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Writing a critical appraisal of the outcome of the December 5 by-elections, Seriki Adinoyi observes that the parties that earlier lost the seats to circumstances that created the vacuum were the same that filled the space in the by-elections

Election outcomes are perhaps usually interesting when they are ‘marred’ with swings and surprises as seen in the 2015 elections that saw many oppositions including President Mohammadu Buhari clinching prominent elective posts.

But that is usually seen where election process is allowed to take a fair course without undue interference by the powers that control the territory of the elections.

That was not the case in the last Saturday senatorial by-election contests for six senatorial seats across the country. Political observers would agree that there were no surprises in the results that were declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) which followed the usual pattern and trend of the ruling party in the state delivering victory almost on a platter of gold to its candidates.

The six senatorial seats contested were Bayelsa Central, Bayelsa West, Cross River North, Imo North, Lagos East and Plateau South senatorial districts.

Four of the six senatorial by-elections were to fill legislative seats that became vacant following death of their former occupants from Cross River North, Imo North, Lagos East and Plateau South, while the remaining two were to fill seats for Bayelsa Central and Bayelsa West, which became vacant following the emergence of Senator Douye Diri and Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, as governor and deputy governor of the state respectively.

It must be quickly observed at this point that the parties that earlier lost the seats to circumstances that created the vacuum were the same that filled the space in the by-elections.

Taking a critical look at the winners, the parties they represent, the party in power in such states, how the candidates emerged winners and the margin of defeat, will reveal that it followed the usual trend of elections in Nigeria.

The candidate of the All Progressives Party (APC) in Plateau State, Professor Nora Dadu’ut, for instance, was believed to have been picked by incumbent Governor Simon Lalong who political observers believe has particular interest in the senatorial seat because he would want to take it over after completion of his tenure as the Governor of the state. He was believed to have carefully selected Dadu’ut, a university lecturer who has little experience in politics.

Though this has been denied many times by interested parties, her emergence in the APC primaries that saw many experienced party contestants stepping down for her, speaks volumes.

Lalong was said to have been weary of fielding experienced party stalwarts for fear that they may sit tight and refuse to relinquish the seat when he will need it.
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But Dadu’ut, a simple, amiable, and easy going woman, whose career has been largely in the university may not ĺprove difficult for Lalong. So, her contest was seen as the Governor’s project, and he gave it all the attention it deserved.

The contest was seen as one between the Governor and Rt. Hon George Edward Daika of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), an astute politician who had served as a Speaker of the state House of Assembly and as a member of the House of Representatives. Without the power of the state, Dadu’ut would not have been a match for Daika.

But Lalong and the party practically came out with all their might to subdue Daika, and to ensure Dadu’ut’s emergence. High level lobbying, power of incumbency, and money were deplored to get the victory for the APC.

The INEC Returning Officer, Prof. Idris Amale, while announcing the results said Dadu’ut polled a total of 83,15104 votes, to beat her closest PDP rival, Daika, who polled 70,838 votes.

Dadu’ut defeated Daika in four local government areas in the senatorial zone, namely Shendam
, Wase, Quan’pan and Mikang, while the PDP candidate won in two local government areas of Langtang North and Langtang South. It was an expected result; no surprises. Even the Governor, described her victory as “not surprising, as the APC is well rooted in the state.” Indeed, Dadu’ut’s victory
was largely because APC is in power in the state.

However, her victory excited everyone, especially the Plateau woman as she has made history as the first female senator-elect in the state.

In the Lagos East senatorial by-election contest, Mr. Tokunbo Abiru became the winner. The results, announced by INEC, showed that Abiru polled 89,204 votes to beat PDP’s Mr. Babatunde Gbadamosi, who secured 11,257 votes.

Abiru, a banker, defeated Gbadamosi, who is an experienced politician and a serial contestant of governorship position in the state by a wide margin in all the five local government areas in the senatorial district.

But how is Abiru’s victory supposed to be a surprise when APC is absolutely in charge in Lagos? What would have been a wild swing is if Gbadamosi from the opposition party had pulled a strange string.
Chief Press Secretary of the Governor, Mr. Gboyega Akosile had described the APC’s victory with wide margin in the by-elections as a testament to the confidence the people of Lagos State have in the party. The victory may as well be seen as a show of power of incumbency on every side. So considering the trend in Nigeria elections, Abiru’s victory could not be seen as any surprise.

In Cross River, the PDP’s Dr. Stephen Odey was declared the winner of the by-election for Cross River North senatorial district.

The INEC Returning Officer, Prof. Ameh Akor, said the PDP candidate polled 129, 207 votes to defeat eight other contestants, among them, his closest rival in the election, Mr. Joseph Agi (SAN) of the APC, who polled 19,165 votes.

Just consider the margin, one would want to wonder if Agi went out to campaign at all. The truth is that the state is under PDP and Agi was swimming against the tide, and could not do much, no matter how good he is. If Agi were in PDP, he would have defeated Odey, and with a wide margin too. So, Agi probably didn’t lose because he is a bad candidate as such but because he belongs to the ‘wrong party’ in Cross River. That has become the pattern of elections in Nigeria. Again, no surprise.

In Bayelsa, the immediate past state Governor, Hon. Seriake Dickson clinched the Bayelsa West senatorial district seat.

The Returning Officer, Prof. Ekechukwe Okeke, returned Dickson as the senator-elect, having polled 115,257 votes to defeat his closest opponent, Hon. Peremobowei Ebebi of the APC who polled 17,541. What a margin! Did Ebebi campaign at all?

If David Lyon were the sitting Governor, would Dickson win with such a wide margin? If he would have won at all, it would have been with slight margin. Lyon would have given all the necessary support including money and support of the federal might to ensure that Ebebi puts up a formidable contest. But that was not seen.

It was even more ridiculous with Bayelsa Central, the senatorial district of Lyon, the APC Governor-elect that never got sworn-in. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared Moses Cleopas of the PDP as winner of the by-election.

INEC Returning Officer, Emmanuel Akpan, of the Federal University Otuoke, announced that Cleopas polled 110,019 votes to defeat Abel Efemowei of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who scored 18,947 votes. If Lyon had been the Governor, would he have watched the APC Efemowei defeated so miserably in his home senatorial district?

In Imo State, the pre-election crisis in APC was not sufficient to rob the party of its victory. So, Imo North senatorial was won without a specific candidate yet to fill the seat.

Announcing the result, the Returning Officer, Mr. Hakeem Adikum said APC scored 36,811 votes while Mr. Emmanuel Okewulonu of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) came second with 31,903 votes. He said, “I hereby return the All Progressives Congress as the winner of the by-election held in Imo North on Saturday, December 5.”

According to Adikum, APC won in five out of the six local government areas in the senatorial district while PDP won in one.

The question is if Rt. Hon Emeka Ihedioha were still on seat as the Governor of the state would APC, with its barrage of pre-election crisis have won that seat? The answer is No.

This has become the trend in Nigeria and tends to have reduced the fairness and credibility of elections in the eyes of observers. It is believed that the party in power does everything, and sometimes unconstitutional things to ensure that elections are skewed in favour of the ruling party in the state. This has become a new normal in local government elections across all the states where the ruling party in the state sweeps all the chairmanship and councillorship positions, and even in state houses of assembly.

The same is now gradually seen in higher positions like the House of Representatives and Senate seats.

If this continues, one could easily predict what pattern the 2023 general elections will take, except of course a Tsunami occurs like what was witnessed in 2015 when the opposition APC swooped on the ruling PDP and caused a dramatic change that has left the PDP gasping for breath since then.

The dire consequence of this, is that elections are no longer seen to be credible, and therefore credible candidates that would have delivered dividends of democracy, but have no money to square up with the candidates that are supported by the ruling party, will not come up to contest elective positions as they fear that they will be muscled out to submission by the state.

To get out of this election misfortune, INEC and political parties and indeed electorate must rise up to the challenge by discouraging excessive use of money to prosecute election victories.

INEC must set limit of amount of money beyond which candidates and political parties must not go in elections, with serious sanctions for defaulters. Vote buying that has become rampant must be seriously discouraged.

Parties must take responsibility to presenting credible candidates that can win elections without undue use of money to buy votes.

Electorates on their part must be ready to resist the temptations of yielding to vote buying, and be ready to stand with credible candidates. They must understand the implication of selling their conscience and their power for a penny. Only then will our elections start to witness surprises as seen in the developed world.

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The six senatorial seats contested were Bayelsa Central, Bayelsa West, Cross River North, Imo North, Lagos East and Plateau South senatorial districts. Four of the six senatorial by-elections were to fill legislative seats that became vacant following death of their former occupants from Cross River North, Imo North, Lagos East and Plateau South, while the remaining two were to fill seats for Bayelsa Central and Bayelsa West, which became vacant following the emergence of Senator Douye Diri and Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, as governor and deputy governor of the state respectively. It must be quickly observed at this point that the parties that earlier lost the seats to circumstances that created the vacuum were the same that filled the space in the by-elections