November 7, 2019

As Bayelsans, Kogites go to war on November 16

Electoral Bill

By Ikechukwu Amaechi

VOTERS in Bayelsa and Kogi will step out on Saturday, November 16, to perform their civic duty: electing governors who will superintend the affairs of their states in the next four years. In a democracy, that ought to be an easy task. But not quite so in Nigeria.

Here, elections have morphed into a declaration of war, literally in the past 20 years. Thanks to former President Olusegun Obasanjo who bequeathed us “do-or-die affair” elections, and the politicians after him who also do not take prisoners.

They kill on the premise that politics is not for the faint-hearted. So, as the electorate in the two battleground states go the polls, drumbeats of war are renting the air. It is ominous and scary. The augury is too stark to be ignored.

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Pundits predict the elections will be violent and bloody, and everyone – politicians, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, security agencies and the people – are preparing for war. In Nigeria, political parties prepare for war, not elections. INEC knows this. It claims to be preparing for peaceful polls, but it is, in fact, prepping its personnel for battle.

Part of the orientation to its staff – permanent and adhoc – is how to dodge bullets, what to do when confronted by violent thugs and tactic maneuverings when faced with danger.

Of course, this is important because even before the D-day, there have been violent clashes between supporters of the leading political parties – the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and the All Progressives Congress, APC. Highly incendiary speeches have been made at campaign rallies.

Alarmed, Bayelsa State Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC, Monday Tom, moaned on Tuesday November 5 that INEC only declared governorship election and not war. He appealed to political gladiators to rein in their supporters and promised that the umpire was fully prepared to conduct a credible election acceptable to Bayelsans. Not many hearkened to his admonition. And therein lies the problem. Many have lost confidence in the ability of INEC to deliver on its promise of free and fair ballots and cannot, therefore, put their electoral eggs in its leaky basket.

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So, rather than wait for INEC and the security agencies to do their worst and tell aggrieved parties to go to court (where there is not likely to be justice) as was the case in the last Osun State governorship poll, political actors resort to self-help. INEC claims it is on a redemption mission in Bayelsa and Kogi, assuring there will be neither an inconclusive nor a rerun poll. Voters are not convinced. Rather than applaud, they are hissing at the umpire.

Tom did not say anything new. On October 25, INEC National Commissioner, Information and Voter Education, Festus Okoye, said what many Nigerians already know. “As of today, most of the political parties pay lip service to the issue of peaceful elections. For them election is war … The signs we are seeing in both Bayelsa and Kogi states are not good signs. We are really worried as an election management body … the political parties are not preparing for elections. They are preparing for something different,” Okoye said. Two days later, INEC National Commissioner for Edo, Rivers and Bayelsa states, May Agbamuche-Mbu, decried electoral violence in Nigeria, which she said is akin only to war.

Using what happened in Rivers State during the last general elections as a peg to hang her submission, Agbamuche-Mbu said: “Elections in Nigeria is just like going to war. In Port Harcourt during the last elections, I saw it all. I was there.

“INEC staff and sensitive electoral materials were being transported in armoured vehicles, yet people threw dynamites at the moving armoured vehicles. Is this not war? What can better be described as war than this?” Solomon Soyebi, another INEC National Commissioner, said the commission foresees intense vote-buying, predicting that “money will flow like river.”

But most scary is the picture painted on November 5 by the Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement, YIAGA Africa. The nonprofit – engaged in youth engagement, promotion of democratic governance, human rights, anti-corruption, advocacy and policy research – expressed concern in its second pre-election observation report and warned of impending violence. It alerted that politicians were recruiting thugs and stockpiling arms, and alleged they were violating electoral laws and guidelines, and also trading in permanent voter cards, PVCs.

The report claimed campaigns were based on inducement of voters rather than on issues. “Pre-election observation shows early warning signals of violence,” YIAGA Africa said, and asked security agencies to “investigate and manage the report of recruitment of thugs and stockpiling of arms, to avoid an outbreak of violence in the coming election.”

INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, weighed in on November 1 at a meeting of the inter-agency consultative committee on election security in Abuja. “There are already warning signals in the two states. Both are politically volatile. Elections have been disrupted by violence in the past,” Yakubu lamented.

“We are also concerned that thugs have been mobilised from within and outside the states with the aim of either influencing the elections or disrupting the process on behalf of partisan sponsors.”

To reassure the fretting INEC boss, the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, disclosed that 66,241 police personnel would be deployed to the two states.

“In Bayelsa, we are deploying 31,041 personnel to cover the election; in Kogi, we are deploying 35,200 personnel. This personnel is to cover every terrain in both states, no tout will be allowed to disrupt the election, all those areas will be manned,” he pledged.

It is hard to say whether that assuaged Yakubu’s anxiety. But one thing is clear. Considering that the police have a staff strength of about 371,800 officers and men, this is huge deployment.

But that is not all. INEC is deploying three national commissioners and seven more RECs to join Kogi REC, James Apam. The same number of national commissioners is also being sent to Bayelsa. All these measures, on face value, seem commendable. But, in reality, they only expose Nigeria’s decrepit democracy. To be sure, these are off-season, stand-alone elections and there shouldn’t have been issues.

Bayelsa with eight councils and a population of 1,704,515, according to the 2006 census, is the smallest state in Nigeria. It has 923,182 registered voters but only 889,308 collected PVCs.

Kogi with 21 councils and 3,314,043 population has 1,646,350 registered voters, out of which 1,485,828 collected PVCs. With the trend in recent elections, less than one million people will cast ballots in both states in 2,548 polling units and 3,508 voting points. INEC said it is deploying 2,548 presiding officers, 12,804 assistant presiding officers, 12,132 ad-hoc staff, including 255 senior presiding officers, 26 collection officers and 240 registration supervisors; and of course, billions of naira to boot.

The two states will be shut down for at least two days and neighbouring states will suffer vicarious liability. If Kogi – a gateway state – is shut down, road travellers to the North passing through Lokoja will be marooned for as long as the elections last. The cost to the economy will be colossal. Despite all these, the most important element in the democracy value chain – the voter – will, on November 16, be alienated, cynical and disconnected from the process. Ours is a democracy where the people factor is grossly missing. They neither matter in primary nor general elections.

If the long-suffering people of Kogi State were left to decide, it will be one of the political wonders of the millennium for the incumbent, Governor Yahaya Bello, to be given a return ticket by the APC. But if the political party was not perspicacious enough as to correctly read the mood of the people by handing him a return ticket, then it would have been a bonus to the opposition candidates. But here we are, talking about another possible four years as a reward for Bello’s alleged failure in his first term in office.

The only reason why Senator Douye Diri is the PDP candidate in the November 16 poll in Bayelsa is because Governor Seriake Dickson wanted him. The election will not be a test of Diri’s popularity or acceptance of his political manifesto by the electorate. No. It is an ego trip by the outgoing governor who must install his successor willy-nilly, whether the people agree or not.

Worse still, the outcome of both elections will surely be determined by a panel of five or seven justices of the Supreme Court who will take less than 30 minutes to determine and declare who the next governors of Bayelsa and Kogi will be. Surely, there are better ways of running a democracy.