By Ikechukwu Amaechi
My article last week on “As Bayelsans, Kogites go to war on November 16” elicited responses from those I call “unconscionable and angry internet interlopers” who hit people whose presentation on public discourse they cannot fathom.
Pat Onwusoro wrote: “Bayelsa and Kogi going to war? This is the type of misleading and irresponsible headline that precipitate (sic) tension and heighten fear in an electoral contest. Tomorrow they will blame government for not tackling insecurity created by their irresponsibility.”
One Ugochukwu dismissed it as a “stupid headline”. Another commenter, Vincent Duruji, replying to Ugochukwu’s comment, wrote: “Stupid indeed!”
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Did they actually read the article? I doubt because if they did, they would have realised that I only echoed the litany of fears expressed by security agents and personnel of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, who used the war allegory to describe the situation in the two states prior to the November 16 elections.
These included INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, who said 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.
“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.”
The elections are now two days away and nothing has changed positively. If anything, the predicted war has actually started in the two volatile states.
On Tuesday November 12, two policemen were killed in Otuogidi, Ogbia Council in Bayelsa State by unknown gunmen believed to be political thugs who carted away their rifles for possible deployment in the election.
The killings came on the heels of the arrival of batches of 32,000 policemen, led by 15 Commissioners of Police, three Assistant Inspectors General, AIG, of Police and a Deputy Inspector General of Police, DIG, at the headquarters of the state police command for deployment to all the nooks and crannies of the state.
On the same day, the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, warned troublemakers and those who illegally acquire arms to surrender them or be shot while trying to use them.
“If you are armed, please report it to the police and surrender the arm now before it is too late. If you are intending to use arms, be warned, if you are lucky, you will be arrested when you are sighted attempting to use it.
“If you are unlucky, you will be taken out before you succeed in using it,” Adamu warned in Lokoja during a stakeholders’ meeting where a peace accord was signed by leaders of political parties.
Most people at the meeting must have scoffed at him, albeit quietly, because while he was reading his riot act, an ironic drama was playing out right outside the Idrinana Hotels, venue of the meeting.
Thugs suspected to be loyal to one of the aspirants not only stopped the governorship candidate of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, Natasha Akpoti, from gaining entrance into the venue but pushed her to the ground in the ensuing scuffle.
Akpoti alleged that security operatives watched while the assault lasted.
And in what could best be described as poetic justice, in dispersing the thugs, security operatives fired teargas canisters some of which landed at the entrance of the event hall, which affected other participants, including Adamu, who tried to avoid the suffocating effect of the gas by covering their noses with handkerchiefs.
The SDP declined to assent to the peace accord championed by the INEC following the reported attack on its candidate.
In Bayelsa, the APC candidate, Lyon Pereworimin, also refused to sign a similar peace accord.
Meanwhile, the Federal High Court in Abuja on Tuesday disqualified Bayelsa State APC deputy governorship candidate, Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo, a senator, from participating in the election.
Justice Inyang Ekwo gave the ruling on the grounds that Degi-Eremienyo presented false information about his educational qualifications in his Form CF001 submitted to the INEC, which violates Section 31(5) and (6) of the Electoral Act.
Ekwo noted that the Form CF001 was a document validated by oath, warning that “the consequence of lying on oath is grave”.
He held that Degi-Eremienyo presented documents of academic qualifications with various variations of names – Biobarakum Degi-Eremienyo, Degi Biobaragha, Degi Biobarakuma, Adegi Biobakunmo, Degi-Eremienyo Wangagha – different from the name on his Form CF001.
The man claimed to have obtained “his First School Leaving Certificate in 1976” and presented to the INEC “a First Leaving School Certificate of one Degi Biobaragha other than the one bearing his name Biobaragha Degi-Eremieoyo as shown in his INEC Form CF001”.
He also claimed to have “obtained his West African Examinations Council General Certificate of Education in 1984” and presented to the INEC “a GCE certificate of one Adegi Bibakuo other than the one bearing his name Biobarakuma Degi-Eremieoyo as shown in his INEC Form CF001.”
The APC, without any counter-evidence to prove their candidate’s innocence, is crying foul. It has even gone on appeal.
That is what our democracy has been reduced to.
Back in Kogi, on November 9, after the courts cleared Akpoti to contest, thugs vandalised the SDP secretariat in Lokoja, a few metres away from the state police command headquarters.
If the police were alive to their responsibilities and out to create a level-playing field for all the political parties and their candidates, they would have been more proactive in discharging their duties.
But they weren’t! And the consequence of that lethargy was a more brutal attack in the form of arson on the same building two days later.
The building, which the party rented from retired Air Vice Marshall, AVM, Ndatsu Umaru, former military governor of Kwara and Kano states, was severely damaged.
In a video which has gone viral on the internet, Akpoti blamed Governor Yahaya Bello and his All Progressives Congress, APC, for the mayhem and accused the police of collusion.
These cannot be considered normal occurrences in a democracy.
Granted, contest for power is a tough game, but the people are sovereign in a democracy.
As Robert Allan Caro, an American journalist and author, once said: “In a democracy, supposedly we hold power by what we do at the ballot box, therefore the more we know about political power the better our choices should be and the better, in theory, our democracy should be.”
In Nigeria, power is not held by what people do at the ballot box. It is held at the antics of strong men.
There is nothing going on in Bayelsa and Kogi today that serves the ends of democracy.
We may end up with violence-free polls on Saturday but at what cost? If for fear of violence, parents tell their children not to vote, there would be less than 20 per cent turnout in both states. People would have been intimidated into not exercising their franchise.
In that case, elections may have been won but the leaders born out of such incestuous anti-democracy liaisons remain illegitimate. And because they know they neither owe their present offices nor hope to retain them at the pleasure of the people; they govern without any care in the world. It is a vicious circle of impunity, violence and brigandage.
Democracy gives people a choice and the freedom to make that choice. And come to think of it, is that not the whole idea?
If the only reason why there will be peace in Bayelsa on Saturday is because the Nigerian state has deployed almost its entire police armada in a state that has only eight councils, 1,704,515 population and 923,182 registered voters out of which only 889,308 collected PVCs, for a one-day, standalone election, then something is fundamentally wrong.
This charade cannot continue for long. Democracy thrives on the rule of law, not rule of strong men. Nigerians must take charge of this process as citizens of other countries are doing right now.