By Tonnie Iredia
Governorship elections in Bayelsa and Kogi states fixed for November 16, 2019 are less than two weeks away. On the same day, voting will also take place to elect a senator to represent Kogi West Senatorial District in the National Assembly. Bearing in mind the popular categorization of both Bayelsa and Kogi as violence-prone states, some Nigerians are justifiably scared of political ferocity during the polls. History would stop us from blaming those who are apprehensive. For instance, at the height of political tension during the last Presidential and National Assembly elections earlier this year, the Nigerian Army in Yenagoa claimed to have arrested 15 armed thugs. operating at Ikebiri 1 in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa.
It is also obvious that Kogi state is similarly a location for electoral apprehension. Only two weeks ago, INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu openly lamented the growing resort to hate speech by political actors in the state. Yakubu, who spoke at a stakeholders meeting in Lokoja, harped on what he called the unfortunate image of the state as a violence-prone entity – an atmosphere under which an election can hardly be conducted. There is doubt however if politicians in Kogi and Bayelsa States are worse than their counterparts in any part of Nigeria. All over the nation, the posture of the average politician makes the conduct of an election an ordeal- a trend that has always been provoked by the lucrative nature of the country’s winner-takes-all political system.
READ ALSO:Religious leaders sue for peaceful governorship poll in Bayelsa(Opens in a new browser tab)
Considering that election is based on rules, one would have thought that the electoral umpire would endeavour to ensure adherence to the established rules thereby putting a halt to unwholesome electoral behaviour. Unfortunately, successive Electoral Commissions since 1999 when democracy was restored to the nation have not appropriately handled the problem. As former American President, Jimmy Carter, who led international election monitors to the 1999 election observed, there is always “disparity between the number of voters observed at the polling stations and the final result.” We have also continued to have cases of election results for polling centres were voting did not take place. The impunity of using whatever means to overwhelm an opponent and daring him to go and waste his energy at the election tribunals has remained in vogue.
READ ALSO:Electoral Violence: Kogi, Bayelsa showing early warning signs, INEC cries out(Opens in a new browser tab)
Whereas our politicians have always been the principal culprits, our electoral umpire spent ample time enumerating the ills of the players of the game until the appointment of Professor Attahiru Jega as the Chairman of the Electoral Commission in 2010. It was a turning point in the history of elections in Nigeria which saw to the introduction, for the first time, of a database voter registration system that relatively improved the system of eligibility to vote. Since then, the politicians have evolved new tactics to frustrate the attainment of free and fair elections without a corresponding official design to negate such tactics. Yet, we all know that if a referee does not promptly arrest rough tackles in a football match, the game, could easily end up in fracas. Today we virtually there.
To start with, INEC has not been able to take full control of the country’s elections. In September 2016, the governorship election in Edo state was postponed without her knowledge. Two months later, she was wrongly compelled to replace a candidate with the name of another whose primary election she did not monitor during the Ondo governorship poll. In 2018, vote buying was publicly televised during the Ekiti governorship election just as Senator Ayo Arise, one of APC’s leaders in the state said on national television that his party had to also buy votes when the opponent was seen doing so undisturbed. All that INEC did was to, in a communique after the election, condemn the act. Unlike her tough stance in the primaries in Rivers and Zamfara states during the 2019 general elections, no one knows which primary election the commission actually monitored and approved of in Lagos, Ogun and Imo states.
Although the law clearly puts her in charge of elections, security agencies have never given her a breathing space. They have indeed, institutionalized a parallel security arrangement for elections resulting in cases of hostage taking, hijacking of electoral materials and even coercing officials to announce inchoate results. Yet, the Electoral Act clearly stipulates that the deployment of armed personnel can only be done at the instance of INEC and that such armed operatives are restricted to securing the distribution and delivery of election materials and the protection of election personnel. So, who deployed the armed men that were seen in election locations during the last general elections? Who deployed the armed operatives that harassed journalists and election observers during the contrived rerun governorship election in Osun state?
Our expectation was that INEC would have since the last elections gone back to the drawing board to design strategies to sanitize our election process especially for off-season events. That does not appear to have happened. Instead, the Commission is holding on to the old weak link of raising alarms. When Ishaq Oloyede, was mandated to deal with the unending cases of admission malpractices in our higher institutions, he evolved a template that has since put JAMB well above examination malpractices. Faced with incessant passport racketeering in Nigeria, our Immigration service developed a design that virtually reduced to the barest minimum, the production of fake passports. When the federal government found ghost workers as a major headache, she developed the Integrated Payroll system. Although the system has its challenges, government did not succumb to them; rather efforts are continually being made to modernize the system and save several millions of naira for the nation.
It is clear that our electoral system as presently configured is not helpful. Instead of raising alarms, INEC must take its destiny in its own hands and design measures that can remove other bodies that are presently complicating her approved processes. She must also put a halt to insider abuses that negate election processes. How come it is only in matters concerning elections that we hear of arguments that Nigeria is not ripe enough to follow current global realities? Why is she ripe enough for same reforms in other spheres of Nigerian life? As for law, INEC is yet to do anything about the glaring anomalies. For example, whereas section 52 of the electoral act gives her the discretion to determine the procedure to adopt in any election, another section of the same law directs her to transmit results manually. When shall we see INEC’s discretion and initiative at play?
A better framework for election would have made it impossible for Kogi Governor, Yahaya Bello, to be involved in the wrong of double registration. To say as INEC did last week, that he could not be sanctioned because he has immunity would merely encourage others with immunity to get away with electoral malpractices. That would probably increase INEC’s alarms