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Bye-elections: From Lagos East to Imo North and Bayelsa, more curiosities

By Leo Sobechi (Assistant Politics Editor), Seye Olumide (Lagos) Sodiq Omolaoye (Abuja) and Rauf Oyewole (Bauchi)
08 December 2020   |   3:05 am
When the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced bye-elections in 11 states for Saturday, December 5, 2020, many Nigerians that witnessed the commission’s remarkable

APC leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu (left); Chairman Lagos APC, Chief Tunde Balogun; Senator-elect, Abiru and Lagos State House of Assembly Kosofe Constituency II, elect, Obafemi Saheed during the presentation of results to Tinubu…weekend.<br />

When the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced bye-elections in 11 states for Saturday, December 5, 2020, many Nigerians that witnessed the commission’s remarkable outing in the Edo State governorship poll, raised expectations for further improvement.

While Senatorial bye-elections held in Bayelsa Central, Bayelsa West, Cross River North, Imo North, Lagos East and Plateau South senatorial districts, nine State House of Assembly bye-elections were conducted in eight states, where death claimed former occupants, including Bauchi, Enugu, Kogi, Borno, Cross Rivers, Katsina, Zamfara, and Lagos states.

As it turned out, the bye-elections, which held in those 11 states, threw up a mixed bag of outcomes. One outstanding inference from the exercise is the fact of the dominance of judicial intervention in the electoral process. The idea that the wishes of the electorate are no longer final in the selection of representatives has continued to contribute to spiraling voter apathy.

Senatorial bye-elections held in Bayelsa Central, Bayelsa West, Cross River North, Imo North, Lagos East and Plateau South senatorial districts, nine State House of Assembly bye-elections were conducted in eight states, where death claimed former occupants, including Bauchi, Enugu, Kogi, Borno, Cross Rivers, Katsina, Zamfara, and Lagos states.

Next to that is the pervasive influence of vote-buying or voter-inducement, which has become the hallmark of the present dispensation. Despite multiple stakeholder engagements, vote-buying, like its forebear, violence, has continued to diminish confidence in electoral competition.

INEC’s worry
DESPITE the hiccups experienced in certain states, particularly Bayelsa and Zamfara, where security and poll officials got missing, INEC regretted that some anti-democratic and unscrupulous elements tried to disrupt the processes. 

National Commissioner and Chairman of INEC information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, while giving updates on the conduct of the fifteen bye-elections, declared: “The commission regretted that in some areas, electoral officials were assaulted and materials destroyed, while in others there was resistance to the use of the Smart Card Readers. In yet other areas, Commission staff were prevented from deploying altogether.

“In fact, in one area in Lagos State, some people demanded money from INEC staff before they would be allowed to deploy. These acts continue to reflect poorly on our country and denude the spirited efforts of the Commission to improve the electoral process under very difficult circumstances.”

He disclosed that a number of electoral staff were assaulted during the polls, adding that results of all the House of Assembly seats and four Senatorial seats were conclusively declared, except for Bakura State Constituency in Zamfara State.

Okoye explained that the commission would remobilize and conclude the elections on Wednesday, December 9, 2020. “One consequence of the lingering problem of election disruption manifested in the declaration of the bye-election for Bakura State Constituency in Zamfara State inconclusive. The Returning Officer declared the result inconclusive in line with the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) and the Commission’s Regulations and Guidelines for the Conduct of Elections. 

“The election for Bakura State Constituency became inconclusive because the 2,181-vote margin between the two leading candidates – those of the PDP (18,645 votes) and APC (16,464) – is less than the total number of registered voters in 14 Polling Units where elections were cancelled or not held, which stands at 11,429. 

“Consequently, by the “margin of lead principle”, the election could not be declared and no winner was returned. Voting in the 14 affected Polling Units was marred by over-voting, abduction of staff of the Commission, violence, assault occasioning grievous hurt against INEC officials, burning of INEC materials and snatching and carting away of sensitive electoral materials, resistance to the use of smart cards readers and obstruction of the electoral process.

“In order to ensure that the Supplementary Election is properly secured, the Commission is considering clustering the affected Polling Units to prevent the disruptions experienced on December 5, 2020.”

Imo State’s wry history
IN 2015 when Kogi State went into its archives to revive the party’s governorship primary to ensure that the first runner-up, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, inherited the earned votes of Prince Abubakar Audu, who died midway into the collation of ballots, Nigerians thought they have seen it all as it concerns electoral abracadabra.

A quick rehash: On Friday, December 4, that is 24 hours to the election, an Abuja Federal High Court in Abuja, disqualified a rival APC Senatorial candidate for Imo North Senatorial election, Frank Ibezim. Ibezim had approached the appellate court to challenge an Imo Federal High Court order, which compelled the substitution of the independently certified photocopies of the West African Examination Council (WAEC) certificate substituted to INEC.

In his ruling, Justice Ekwo also directed INEC to remove Mr. Ibezim’s name from the list of candidates for the bye-election. The court ordered INEC to replace Ibezim’s name with that of the other claimant, Senator Ifeanyi Ararume.

Back in Owerri, the Court of Appeal ruled that Ibezim and not Ararume was the authentic candidate of APC for the Imo North Senatorial bye-election. Based on the two contradictory judicial pronouncements, INEC returned ‘a headless body’ of APC as the winner of the election.

The (INEC) has declared the All Progressives Congress (APC) winner of the December 5 Okigwe senatorial by-election.

The returning officer, Hakeem Adikum, who announced the result, said APC polled 36, 811 votes to beat PDP with 31,903 votes, without returning any candidate of the party. Some people expressed the view that Ararume’s presence in the contest led to APC’s narrow defeat of PDP.

For instance, Adikum said APC won in five of the six Local Government Areas, Okigwe, Onuimo, Isiala Mbano, Ehime Mbano, and Ihitte Uboma, while PDP won only in Obowo council.

INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in Imo, Francis Ezeonu, said the commission could not return any APC candidate as the winner due to several Court orders “for and against the two major contenders, Frank Ibezim and Senator Araraume.”

Bauchi: Mohammed, Dogara test strength
FOR the two administrations that the immediate past Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, assisted to mount to the saddle, he has always ended up as opposition. Just before the end of Governor Mohammed Abubakar’s much-despised tenure, Dogara was on the opposing end. Following their estrangement, Dogara, shortly before the 2019 general elections defected to PDP and embraced Bala Mohammed.

Observers say the lawmaker contributed hugely to Mohammed’s victory of which some appointment slots were given to him after the election. 

Mohammed had publicly said that those who helped him to where he was turned back on him. This affirmation, according to some analysts who said it validates Dogara’s reasons for leaving Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

He had listed maladministration, mismanagement of funds, and failed electoral promises for deserting Mohammed. With these, some of Dogara’s die-hard supporters had also left Mohammed’s cabinet. 

However, both political gladiators renewed their rivalry during the just concluded bye-election. Dass State Constituency bye-election was held in one of the local councils of Dogara’s Constituency. The two leaders were separately at the LGA to campaign for their party candidates. The locals however benefited from the contest –monetarily and materially. 

Dogara was fighting to retain the state constituency as evidence of his continued relevance, while Mohammed was pushing for additional party product in the State House of Assembly to boost his support base in the legislature, where PDP has just a simple minority. 

A member of PDP confided in The Guardian that the just concluded bye-election was just a signal of what will eventually happen in the next general elections in the state. He stated: “Some of our aggrieved party members left because of the leadership style of His Excellency, some of them complained that they were not being carried along while only close associates, friends and family members were being given chances in the government. 

“The fact is that we know that there are problems in the Assembly, where the opposition party is in control, but we are trying to tread carefully so that nothing would trigger problems. Yes, they have been cooperating with the Executive arm.”

But, Aminu Tukur, a Dogara loyalist, believes that all their effort to support Mohammed in 2019, when they angrily left APC has come to naught. Reveling in their triumph, Tukur pointed to a future political battle between Mohammed and Dogara for the 2023 governorship, saying: “Our plan now is to work together and bring in a governor that will be fair and just to the people of Bauchi State. Honourable Yakubu Dogara will not be a party to this kind of insincere government. 

“From what happened during Saturday’s bye-election, (where APC won the race) we have shown them that our party is still the party to beat in the 2023 elections.”

But, in a rather surprising response, Governor Mohammed enjoined supporters and members of his party, PDP, to accept the defeat in good fate and in the spirit of sportsmanship, remarking that the party must learn from the defeat and re-strategise. The governor’s concessionary appeal left some of his supporters wondering whether that was a signal for his eventual defection to APC.

Lagos: Anti-climactic contest
FOR the Lagos East Senatorial and Kosofe Constituency 2 bye-elections, it was much like an anti-climax, because contrary to the pre-election postulations, APC defeated PDP. The result further confirms the concerning rise of voter apathy among the Lagos electorate.

Right from the get-go of the election on Saturday, there were indicators that the strategies adopted by the well-oiled political machinery of the two major parties, governing APC and opposition PDP, were in full and forceful display. They include vote-buying, card buying, illegal issuance and use of voter cards at polls, and inducements of agents of minor political parties.

There was conspicuous apathy across all the five local governments and unfortunately, most of the youths on the streets during the #EndSARS protests, were nowhere to be found during the exercise. Most of those that came out were either induced or propelled by the search for patronage.

SOME voters succumbed to the crumbs thrown at them by the feudal lords and party jobbers. The big parties seem to factor in the poverty induced hunger for finance and stomach infrastructure, which they took fully exploited.

Three significant lessons would also be learned from the Lagos bye-elections as preparations for the 2023 general elections gather momentum.

First, contrary to insinuation that the ruling Lagos chapter of APC, is a divided family where some loyalists of the National Leader, Bola Tinubu are alleged to have worked against the interest of the party following the frayed nerves over the way the senatorial candidate, Mr. Tokunbo Abiru was foisted, evidence after the elections showed that Lagos APC is rather more divided on the pages of newspapers than it is in reality.

A source within the party disclosed that those grumbling against the leadership style of Tinubu “would rather succumb and continue to agitate rather than allow such critical senatorial position to slip into the hands of PDP not to talk of its candidate, Babatunde Gbadamosi, whom they perceived as too independent-minded to be trusted with power.

The election further projected PDP as not too serious opposition to pose any threat to the ruling APC. As a member of the party disclosed to The Guardian, Gbadamosi practically ran his campaign unaided by the party.

The Spokesman of Babatunde Gbadamosi Senatorial Campaign Organisation, Dr. Adetokunbo Pearse, confirmed that insinuation prior to the exercise on Saturday, when he dismissed the allegation by APC that the PDP wanted to induce voters with money.

According to Pearse: “If the paucity of funds has made Gbadamosi less visible in the campaigns for the bye-election, where then would he get the funds to buy votes.”

Pearse added that even the PDP’s campaign council that was headed by Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State could not release money or reach out to Gbadamosi to enable him to raise enough funds to prosecute the election. He also said the party could not even settle most of its agents.

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