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As INEC returns to ‘inconclusive’ starting point in Kogi

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Kogi State Governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello.

When Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) fixed the dates for gubernatorial elections in Kogi and Bayelsa States respectively for November 2, 2019, it was obvious that the electoral time line under the watch of Prof. Mahmood Yakubu has turned full circle.
  
It would be recalled that while INEC’s journey through flip flops and second guessing interpretation of necessary electoral stipulations began in Kogi, it was in Bayelsa State that the commission experimented with the idea of simultaneous accreditation and voting, which it applied to doubtful efficiency during the recent general election.
 
And so Nigerians are looking forward to November 2, to see how far INEC’s chairman has grown on his job by delivering a seamless and credible governorship election, first in the North Central confluence state and at the creeks of Niger Delta.
  
Having pulled through a contested presidential election and other polls between February 23 and March 9, 2019, there is no way INEC could complain about the enormity of challenges, particularly in the areas of logistics, personnel and readiness for the twin, staggered gubernatorial elections.
 
Critics have noted that the electoral commission seems comfortable whenever it is not working at cross-purposes with the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). But being shared evenly between the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) the two elections have their unique features.
 
Of the two forthcoming gubernatorial polls, only Kogi has an incumbent who would be seeking a second term in office by November 2. Even though Bayelsa promises to have a presumptive clash between two Timis, on APC and PDP platforms, Governor Yahaya Bello’s heavy-handed politics makes Kogi guber election spectacular.
  
Reports from Kogi State during the last general elections painted the picture of violence and lack of enabling environment for expression of voter preferences. Consequently, as INEC started its dubious experimentation with inconclusive verdicts and disposition to cancellation of processes on the basis of violence, a clever guess could be that INEC might be applying the margin of lead principle to cancel balloting in opposition strongholds.
  
Despite INEC’s plea in its responses to criticisms, the commission has clear six months before the Kogi governorship election to clarify its recourse to immediate cancellation of ballot even when it is clear that the so-called violence was initiated by those who in want of people’s goodwill in a particular polling area?
 
It is against the background of dubious cancellations and inconclusive declarations that Nigerians expect that INEC review its strategy of simultaneous accreditation and voting. It is being argued that if accreditation precedes voting, it would be easy to eliminate over-voting, ensuring that only those accredited to vote get access to the polling units.
  
On the other hand, having ensured that the Electoral Act amendment did not feature during his election, President Muhammadu Buhari could begin the process of healing the ruptured electoral process by signing the bill into law. If this were done, electronic transmission of results would no doubt reduce the human element in the destruction of election results as well as averting the temptation for INEC’s officials to cancel results at whim in a bid to favour any party.
 
In line with his strong public pronouncement during the presidential rally in MKO Abiola Stadium in Abeokuta that voters, particularly APC faithful, should be free to vote for the candidates of their choice, the president should show that the statement actually underpins democratic elections by signing the Electoral Act amendment bill before the Kogi and Bayelsa guber polls.      
 
Most Kogi indigenes hold the belief that that gesture would go a long way in winning back public confidence in the electoral process as well as curbing the rate of election related violence and political corruption.

Letting the people win
AT the build up to the recent general elections, President Buhari had enjoined voters to reject governors that failed to pay workers’ salaries at the polls.

The implication of the statement is that the ballot box presents the golden opportunity for the people to win. In Kogi State, the distance between the people and their governor is relative and subject to conjecture.

  
Majority of Kogites are looking forward to November 2, 2019 to see where the preponderance of opinion lies. That verdict could only be guaranteed through a free and fair election delivered through a credible and transparent process.
  
Noting that Governor Bello reserves the power of incumbency and its enormous entitlements, the people are calling for a level playing ground, especially through the guarantee of security.

A security expert, Dr. Joseph Erico Ameh, told The Guardian that what Kogi people expect from President Buhari is for him to rein in security agencies and ensure that they are not at the beck and call of the ruling APC.
 
Ameh said if security officials do their work with patriotism and in an unbiased way, politicians, especially gladiators would reckon that it is no longer business as usual, stressing that Nigerian voters have become wiser and know how to discipline selfish and arrogant leaders.
 
While recalling how, during the recent general elections in the state, violence, intimidation and use of weapons to scare voters away became the order of the day, Ameh said if as many as six persons lost their lives in Kogi East Senatorial District, it could only be imagined what would happen during the governorship.

On the likelihood that the ruling party would take recourse to violence to retain the state against the people’s aspirations, Ameh, who is also the Chief Executive Officer of Real Strike Security Services Limited, said he hopes to bring his wealth of experience to bear.
  
While expressing his determination to participate in the governorship election, the security expert said Kogi people are resolute and should not be scared of taking part in deciding who governs the state in the next four years.

 
He said: “I am calling on President Buhari to ensure that there would be no gunrunning and miltarisation during the November 2 gubernatorial election. It is everybody’s concern, but we believe that the Federal Government would not be insensitive to the issues of security in Kogi State.
 
“Some of the things that happened during the last election may not be known to the Federal Government, but if the government was in the know, it would be a great blow to the integrity, transparency and even the anti-corruption war President Buhari said he is waging.
 
“It would be clear to everybody that the Buhari government is corrupt if the Kogi governorship election is allowed to be militarised; that is, if thugs are allowed to kill and maim during the November 2 guber poll. We shall hold the Federal Government responsible to ensure that proper things are done.”
  
Ameh said despite the fact that APC came into power in 2015, it is clear to all that Kogi remains the strong hold of PDP, stressing that a free and fair election would establish the fact that the people have come to realise the mistake they made in voting APC because of Prince Abubakar Audu.
  
The security expert, who is also a chieftain of PDP, said from town hall meetings he held with the people, it was obvious that the voters were eager to punish the incumbent governor for not paying workers’ salaries, noting, however, that as far as the state has arable land, poverty should not be its lot.
  
His words: “What Kogi State needs is a man with great ideas, who can turn things around for the better, who can change desert to a very fertile land. Dubai was a desert, but today with ideas it has been turned into a city. Israel has no water bodies or rain, but today with enormous ideas the country is at the forefront of agricultural production.”
 
Ameh said if the state had a leader with ideas, there would be no need to owe salaries, assuring that whatever challenges facing the state currently are not insurmountable. “As a captain of industry that have over 9600 workforce, if I am able to pay their salaries from income generated, I don’t think payment of workers’ salaries in Kogi State should be a problem, especially with the internally generated revenues.”

Adhoc staff
ONE other area INEC should demonstrate its capacity to learn from its mistakes is in the use of ad hoc staff. Recently a former chairman of the commission, Prof. Attahiru Jega, accused politicians of using university lecturers, who served as INEC’s ad hoc staff, to rig elections.
  
It is also an open secret that INEC officials collude with politicians to swap trained ad hoc staff. Since the Kogi and Bayelsa gubernatorial elections are coming up on the same day, the commission would do its image a great disservice if it does not begin now to recruit those it intends to use as ad hoc staff.
  
The commission could borrow a leaf from Imo State Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) Prof. Chukwuemeka Ezeonu, who kept the ad hoc staff in the dark where they would be deployed for the election until D-day. That way, political jobbers would be at a loss who to influence or induce.
 
Without doubt violence is believed to be possible common feature of the Kogi and Bayelsa governorship elections.

Whatever the commission might offer as excuses for failure would make nonsense of the experience it has garnered over the years, particularly following from the 2019 elections where the commission received a lot of knocks for its sloppiness in the conduct of the exercise.


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