Friday, 1st December 2023

How abuse of state power, money, ethnicity determined Kogi State gubernatorial race

By Adamu Abuh (who was in Lokoja)
19 November 2019   |   3:33 am
As the controversy over the re-election of incumbent Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State continues to rage, the outcry over the role of security operatives would linger for some time to come.

As the controversy over the re-election of incumbent Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State continues to rage, the outcry over the role of security operatives would linger for some time to come.

No fewer than 16,000 security personnel, including military officers, were deployed to lock down the state shortly before, during and immediately after the poll with far-reaching consequences for the rights of the electorate in the three senatorial zones of the state.

A few days prior to the election, the opposition party had a foretaste of what was to come as hooded security operatives made a futile attempt on the lives Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State and the candidate of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mr. Musa Wada in their Lokoja lodge. Strongholds of PDP and those of the irrepressible Natasha Akpoti of Social Democratic Party (SDP) were targeted by hooded security operatives keen on suppressing their supporters to favour the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC).

Security operatives, apparently working in cahoots with the APC-led administration in the state, failed to curtail vote-rigging, ballot snatching, and violence unleashed on voters by state-sponsored thugs and brazen falsification of results superintended by the Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu-led officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

The Professor Adele Jinadu-led Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Election Analysis Centre (EAC) observers reported coordinated disruption of voting across many polling centres with hired thugs invading polling units, shooting sporadically to scare away voters, and in several cases carting away voting materials.

In Polling Unit 001 in Ward 4, Dekina LGA, CDD observers reported sporadic gunfire. Violent disturbances caused by rival party thugs who battled each other over control of the polling environment were reported in Felele and Ganaja areas of Lokoja LGA, especially in Registration Area 08, Oworo, Felele Area, PU 004, also in Ankpa 1 Polling Unit (PU) with number 2203-04-0 in Ankpa Local Government.

CDD observers reported an incident in which operatives of Federal Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS) stormed the location of a polling unit and arrested PDP’s party agent. This move disrupted voting, as thugs responded by throwing stones and demanding the release of the party agent. There were also several reports of ballot box snatching. An example was at PU 004 Ayingba (PMML Primary School, GRA), which thugs attacked alleged by the ruling party’s supporters in spite of the heavy presence of security personnel who did nothing to deter troublemakers bent on using violence to subvert the process.

Observers and journalists, including those of The Guardian were all similarly harassed and attacked in the heart of Ayingba where four persons in police uniforms were nabbed with AK-47 riffles. Voters in the area, which falls under Dekina LGA where Wada hails from, were also intimidated, followed into the voting cubicles and forcefully coerced, to vote for candidates against their wishes.

A CDD observer was injured in Ayingba Ward 004 while a journalist with an online news platform was harassed and his phone seized for trying to take the picture of the ruling party’s senatorial candidate giving money to two old women who stood near his convoy. Vote buying was fully on display in Kogi State, which received a whooping N10 billion refund from the APC-controlled Federal Government on the eve of the election.

In spite of INEC enlisting the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corruption Practices and Other Related Crimes Commission (ICPC) to assist in curtailing vote-buying, the practice was rampant across the state. It was observed that party agents in several polling units engaged in the financial inducement of voters to influence them to vote for the parties. The cost of a vote ranges between N500 to N3,000 while top-ranking security personnel and INEC staffers got as high as $1000 to $10,000.

The resort to whipping of ethnic sentiments was also at play with both Bello and Wada camps guilty of the act, as their supporters exploited the ethnic divide among the citizenry in the state to score political goals. A section of Bello’s supporters who is Igbira, the dominant ethnic group from Kogi Central Senatorial zone, had been playing up the ethnic sentiments among his people in a bid to score political points.

Indeed, a chieftain of APC (names withheld), in a video that went viral, was quoted at a rally in the zone urging his Igbira kinsmen to ensure that they cut off the hands of anybody who refuses to vote for Bello on the day of polling. The common refrain among diehard supporters of Wada, who is of the majority Igala ethnic group, to elicit for votes is uja-ache, literally meaning, ‘Igala sons and daughters must not give room for any form of disgrace and humiliation’ at the poll.

A breakdown of registered voters’ distribution indicates that the Kogi East Senatorial District has the highest number of voters with 804,715. Kogi West is second with 432,515 voters, while Kogi Central is third with 409,120 voters while the age by the age distribution of voters shows that youths between 18 and 35 years of age constitute the bulk of voters with 893,087 or 54.25 percent

When contacted, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in charge of Niger, Kogi and Nasarawa States, Mr. Mohammed Haruna, said INEC is helpless about the ugly developments.

Said he, “You should be asking politicians about it. We are just umpires and they are the ones who are supposed to be talking about issues. There is nothing INEC can do about the issue. Ours is to ensure that the laws and electoral guidelines are obeyed.”

CDD’s Director, Idayat Hassan, expressed concerns over the development, saying that it negates the tenets of democracy, adding: “It is what has been institutionalised in this election in order to buy sentiment of people to gather votes. It is a negative trend and it doesn’t augur well for democracy. It is really unfortunate that this is actually happening.

“The key issue is that there is no evidence on the delivery of dividends of democracy. Nobody is campaigning based on what can I do as everybody is relying on ethnic sentiments in order to sway voters. And it’s quite unfortunate as it shouldn’t be happening.”

Jinadu, who spoke at the election analysis centre in Abuja, decried the abuse of the power of incumbency in the Kogi State poll, adding that it was unfortunate that state agents (security agents) who are supposed to defend the mandate of the citizenry are at the beck and call of the executive arm.

Calling for a review of the Electoral Act (as amended) to achieve the goal, he said it was incumbent on the civil society organisations (CSOs) to liaise with international bodies like ECOWAS and the International Criminal Court (ICC) to bring perpetrators of electoral fraud in the polity to book.

Dr. Jibrin Ibrahim, who also monitored the poll, decried the rapid decline in the integrity of elections in the country, adding that there was glaring evidence that security agents were complicit in not only organising the disruption of the poll but for producing an outcome not in conformity with the wishes of the electorate. While recalling the circumstances that led to the truncation of democracy in 1964 and 1983 polls, he warned that the sustenance of democratic governance is being threatened to go by the conduct of politicians in the country.

A human rights activist and legal mind, Mr Femi Falana, who admitted that vote rigging is a recurring decimal, charged CSOs who fought for the return of democratic governance to work in concert to bring those behind the subversion of democracy to book. Falana doubted that President Muhammadu Buhari, who had already congratulated Bello and David Lyon of Bayelsa amidst protestations over the conduct of the polls, would heed to the call to wade into the worsening level of decay in the electoral system in the country.

Idayat, therefore, called on Buhari to urgently provide the leadership needed to rescue the electoral process, and by extension, the entire democratic system from imminent collapse. She argued that the call has become imperative because as Buhari was only able to ascend to the presidency through the historic 2015 elections because the electoral process allowed the votes to count.

She noted: “At the moment, Nigeria’s electoral process requires similarly bold and courageous leadership to chart a way forward and resolve the lingering challenges threatening to derail it. President Buhari owes this duty to all Nigerians; he cannot stand by and allow the continuous degeneration of our electoral system.

“It is a serious indictment on our national capacity that two decades after the advent of the current democratic dispensation, we still cannot deal with the threats to the right of citizens to make their democratic preferences in an atmosphere devoid of fear and insecurity.

“It is equally pertinent to remind that in an electoral process, what is at stake is not only the political offices the partisan actors are angling to occupy. The crux for the citizen remains the basic right to have a say in determining who governs him or her. This right is well enshrined in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended. Section 14(2a) makes it expressly clear that sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom the government derives all its powers and authority. In 14 (2c) the constitution goes on to direct that the “participation by the people in their government shall be ensured.”

“Therefore, there can be no controversy about the fact that the recurring violations of the electoral process amount to an assault on the constitution of our country. If constitutionally-sanctioned opportunities presented by the electoral process to enable citizens to elect their leaders continue to be violently upended by desperate political actors, the consequences would better be imagined.

“Importantly, the level of violence and coordinated disruption of the electoral process as seen in Kogi and Bayelsa point to the need for a fundamental re-organisation of election security. In Kogi and Bayelsa, the large deployments did not translate to a better, secured electoral space.

“Security has to also grapple with the threat posed by political actors. It is very clear that the political parties are the major culprits undermining the peaceful and orderly conduct of elections. The Constitution, in Section 227, already warns that no association shall organise groups for the purpose of enabling them to be ‘employed for the use or display of physical force or coercion in promoting any political objective.’

“In defiance of this constitutional directive, the parties and their candidates have been the exclusive sources of the tension, bad values, and utmost desperation, which have become synonymous with the deterioration in the quality of our elections.

“The more tragic fallout of these elections is the fact that there was no effective response from the security agencies. Once again, the ordinary citizen was let down by the failure of security to rise to the occasion. In many instances, officers of some of the security agencies were complicit in aiding and abetting the electoral heists.

“Many eligible voters who were disenfranchised as a result of the volatile character of the polling environment would surely be wondering what the use of the deployment of thousands of officers is when they cannot protect voters and the polling areas from violent attacks by armed thugs.”