By Omeiza Ajayi
On April 9, 2019, the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC had fixed governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states for November 2, 2019. However, following complaints by the Bayelsa state Government that the date coincided with its ‘Thanksgiving Day’, the electoral umpire then shifted the polls to November 16, 2019 in both states.
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For INEC to have fixed a date for the two elections, several months earlier, presupposes that the electoral commission was ready for the exercise. Between then and few days to the polls, INEC had constantly engaged various stakeholders including the media, signed Memorandum of Understanding MoU with the Air force and transport unions to take charge of logistics; then with anti-graft agencies to reduce the influence of vote buying and or inducement. It met with the Inter agency Consultative Committee on Election Security ICCES and severally met with politicians either directly or through their political parties.
The commission also engaged the electorate and ad hoc staff. Unfortunately, most of the lapses experienced came from some of the stakeholders. Electoral materials, both sensitive and non-sensitive materials were deployed on time in both states ahead of the election. However, transporting some of them to the Polling Units on election day was an issue in some places where members of the transport unions engaged for that purpose failed to show up on time.
On security, the Police alone deployed about 66, 241 officers and men in both states. Other security, intelligence and defence agencies also made thousands of deployments. So, it was with great embarrassment that the world witnessed the outing or conduct of security personnel, especially the police which is the lead agency for internal and election security. If their conduct was embarrassingly shocking, what was even more appalling was the excuse given by the Inspector General of Police, IGP Mohammed Adamu that fake policemen were used to disrupt the elections! Even if true, were those fake policemen also deployed in their thousands that the “original” policemen and other armed security forces could not match them?
With a landmass of 29, 833km² and 21 local government areas, Kogi is Nigeria’s 13th largest state while Bayelsa with a landmass of 10, 773km² is 27th with eight local government areas. The 2006 census also puts the population of Kogi state at Three Million, Three Hundred and Fourteen Thousand and Forty Three (3, 314, 043), while Bayelsa was put at One Million, Seven Hundred and Four Thousand, Five Hundred and Fifteen (1,704,515). The Police said it conducted its threat assessment and when deploying, it sent 35, 200 to Kogi and 31, 041 to Bayelsa!
Even if it felt there would be the likelihood of having more arms in Bayelsa as a result of the many years of militancy in the region, the deployment of personnel in Kogi should still have been more than what it was, except ofcourse what the Police hierarchy deployed were just figures on paper and not boots on ground! This is more so as many observers and journalists reported the near absence of policemen in certain areas during the elections.
Unfortunately, what they could not achieve by shooting thugs or preventing them from disrupting the polls, the police achieved by turning away some duly accredited and unarmed journalists from accessing the collation centre in both states. That is one irony in Nigeria’s security management – while miscreants and terrorists are sometimes pampered and negotiated with, law abiding citizens are most times dealt with even when there were no infractions on the part of the citizens!
INEC: A Post Mortem
The electoral umpire had begun making preparations for the two off-season elections while preparing for the last general elections, but unfortunately, the elections still turned out in a manner repugnant to the democratic norms.
What the nation witnessed was essentially a failure of other stakeholders, not the electoral umpire itself which had played its own part to the extent of even issuing appointment letters to its ad hoc staff, detailing their rights and privileges including their remunerations. This was done to guard against the last minute substitution of trained ad hoc staff for people brought from outside to come and claim the INEC stipends or do the bidding of politicians. It was also to avoid attempts by any Electoral Officer to shortchange the ad hoc staff in terms of payment.
It is absurd to hear politicians lampoon INEC for electoral violence. It is even more disheartening that the electorate would blame the electoral umpire for electoral violence. If anyone is to blame, it is the politicians, the electorate and the security agencies, listed in order of precedence.
The politicians who give peanuts to people to engage in violent acts; the electorate whose sons, brothers or other relations accept those peanuts from politicians; then, the security agencies whose duty it is to do conflict mapping, threat assessment and prevent violence or rein in the “bad boys” before, during and after the elections.
As it stands, Nigeria has a long way to go, seeing how security operatives who should enforce the laws were inactive during the two elections. There had been cases where they aided rigging.
However, all hope is not lost. President Muhammadu Buhari would do well to ensure that, under his administration, the votes of the people count. One way of doing that is to create an Electoral Offences Commission. For now, INEC has no capacity to successfully ensure the prosecution of all electoral offenders. In every election in Nigeria, the electoral umpire has never succeeded in prosecuting up to five percent of offenders!
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Then, there is the Electoral Act Amendment Bill which the president refused assent severally in the last dispensation. The bill has been reintroduced in the 9th Senate and only on Wednesday passed Second Reading.
One important aspect of the Bill is that in Section 52 (2), it provides for electronic voting. “The commission may adopt electronic voting or any other method of voting in any election it conducts as it may deem fit”, the Bill states.
It also makes it mandatory for INEC to have an electronic database wherein all the results of an election would be transmitted. Aside this, the data of all accredited voters must also be transmitted, using the smart card readers, to the central database upon the conclusion of accreditation. These data are expected to be kept by INEC until all electoral disputes are concluded by the Judiciary.
If the president had assented to the Bill as was presented to him by the 8th Assembly, perhaps the nation would not have witnessed the series of electoral malfeasance associated with the general elections and the just-concluded governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states. The president may wish to, this time write his name in gold and assent to the Bill when forwarded to him. A lot can be achieved in sanitizing the electoral space before the conduct of Edo and Ondo governorship elections, next year.
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This is one sure way of changing the narrative from “To Gun be the Glory”, to, “To God be the Glory”. Or, from “In Gun we Trust”, to, “In God we Trust”. The era of seizing power through the barrel of the gun is long gone. The President and the political class must be reminded that Nigerians did not suffer in vain to replace military rule with jackboot democracy. Let democracy reign, not guns, not violence and rigging which have hallmarked our system as shown in the 2019 gensral elections a d the recent ones in Kogi and Bayelsa.
Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of Vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.