THE Bayelsa gubernatorial election has come with memories – good and bad – that could linger for a long while. Being the second to be conducted in the Muhammadu Buhari-led federal government, the outcome equally provides a basis to compare democratic tenets as upheld by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) particularly in the Nigerian context.
This is in view of the use of armed forces in safeguarding lives and property, as well as the alleged abuse of the same in some instances. It is worth highlighting the alleged role of the military in the June 21, 2014 Ekiti governorship election which sparked a debate over the legality, desirability or otherwise of deploying troops to keep peace during general elections in Nigeria.
This further brings to mind the Court of Appeal’s decision on the Ekiti election petition, which ruled that it is illegal to deploy soldiers for election duties, thereby validating the decision of a Sokoto High Court that the military should play no direct role during elections. Obviously, this was not the experience in the recent Bayelsa gubernatorial election that has led to a quagmire.
Described as the most keenly contested election since 1999, the Bayelsa gubernatorial election was conducted amidst uncertainties as the outcome was believed to have gone either way between the ruling PDP in the state and the major challenger – the APC.
Equally adjudged the freest and fairest in the state’s history, Yenagoa, Kolokuma/Opokuma, Ogbia, Nembe, Sagbama, Ekeremor and Brass Local Governments witnessed fairly peaceful elections with large turnout of voters. Sadly, however, the experience in Southern Ijaw Local Government was different and has led to the quagmire that the election has been characterized.
Here, snatching of ballot boxes, late release of sensitive materials, and the use of firearms by ex-agitators marred the election process that could have returned a winner by now. Consequently, the streets of Yenagoa, the State capital witnessed protests by women groups and others over alleged connivance of desperate political gladiators with military officials to change the electoral trend.
In a live radio programme, the State Deputy Governor – Rear Admiral Gboribiogha John Jonah (rtd) – confirmed several incidences of the military conniving with political gladiators in taking actions that were not only inimical to the conduct of a free and fair election but totally unethical of military officers.
Unique as states and geopolitical zones could be, the expectation that the Bayelsa gubernatorial election will be an improvement over the Kogi experience was not much to be desired.
This is why the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) must remain truly independent in the conduct of the rerun election in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area by truly heeding to the dictates of the electorates.
INEC must also be cognisant of the Bayelsa terrain in putting in place proper and appropriately-applicable modalities for the transportation of sensitive materials, INEC officials and adhoc staff to intended destinations.
It is equally imperative that movement of electoral materials must be done devoid of interference by political thugs and ex-agitators as was the experience that culminated in the cancellation of election in the area.
Early deployment of security agencies is a must-do as it will avail operatives the opportunity to, at least, familiarise themselves with the terrain before Election Day just as they ‘must’ live above board in the discharge of their professional duties.
Like the recent “stay away from politics” directive of Zimbabwean President – Robert Mugabe – to his military, the Southern Ijaw Local Government Chairman insists that activities of the military in the rerun election in the area be limited to the protection of lives and property, and nothing more.
Delay in distribution of materials to polling units, especially with the experience in Amassoma that almost ignited violence as it was interpreted to mean distortion of the people’s will, should not be allowed to repeat itself.
Similar to the 2015 presidential election in Nigeria, it is noteworthy that a peace pact was ratified by political parties prior to the election. This was with a view to checking excesses of party faithfuls before, during and after the election. Political gladiators must recall this well-intended initiative and be guided accordingly. The rerun election in Southern Ijaw must therefore be devoid of desperation, thuggery, abuse of the military, and rigging in all its forms.
While commending the State Governor for setting up the Judicial Commission of Enquiry to examine the alleged violence and thuggery during the 2015 governorship election in Bayelsa State, the general public must be willing to provide useful information, clips of video recording, and photographs to support members of the committee in order to guarantee the success it seeks to record.
Arguably, the eruption of civil disorder resulting from the gubernatorial election in Bayelsa State, just as in any Niger Delta State is akin an inferno in a market place. Hence, the needful must be done to forestall likely breach of the peace.
This way, the 2016 Valentine’s Day gift to Bayelsa will be that which the people have chosen and nothing else – their mandate!
*Dr. Godfrey Pondei a commentator on national issues, wrote from Yenagoa, Bayelsa State.