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Stakeholders urge free, fair guber polls in Bayelsa, Kogi states

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[FILES] Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu


• Group cautions against military involvement

With less than 10 days to the Bayelsa and Kogi States gubernatorial elections, stakeholders have continued to harp on the need for violence-free exercise in the two states. A coalition of development association in Kogi State, including Ebira Peoples Association (EPA), Igala Cultural Development Association (ICDA) and Okun Development Association (ODA), has noted the already growing tension over the November 16 gubernatorial poll and appealed to all citizens to cooperate for a peaceful election in the interest of the overall development of the state.

The coalition represented by Presidents of EPA, Dr. Abdulrahman Adeiza, ICDA, Alh Abdulrasaq Sadiq and ODA, Barr Femi Mokikan; directed all the ethnic nationalities to sheath their sword and take up the chorus of peace and unity.

This is just as the leadership of Peoples Democratic Party Youth Network (PDPYN) in Bayelsa State urged caution in the deployment of the military for the elections.PDPYN Secretary General, Comrade James Oputin, regretted that in recent past soldiers displayed bias by providing cover to some interested parties, especially during the last elections.

It would be recalled that although there are strong indications that the two elections are prone to violence, the INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmoud Yakubu, assured Nigerians during an interactive session with the Senate Committee on INEC, that concerted efforts are being put in place to check such excesses before, during and after the elections.
 
And, despite the skepticism about INEC’s capacity to conduct credible polls, especially after the 2019 general election, observers believe that the gubernatorial elections coming up in Kogi and Bayelsa, as well as, the Kogi West Senatorial poll would provide the electoral umpire and the security agents a golden opportunity to win back public confidence.Opposition parties have also expressed optimism that the Kogi and Bayelsa polls would give the security agencies the opportunity to assert its neutrality in the electoral process, particularly against fears that the perceived federal might could be deployed to muzzle them.

The pessimism could have been occasioned by what happened during the 2018 governorship elections in Osun and Ekiti States, where the processes were allegedly skewed in favour of APC against the expressed wishes of the electorate. A source confided in The Guardian that a good example was “the Osun governorship election where despite that PDP clearly won, INEC declared it inconclusive and called for rerun.”

He regretted that most of the elections that INEC conducted under Prof. Yakubu did not truly reflect the wishes of the electorate, adding that apart from the fact that INEC and security agents are key to the credibility of the elections, the desperation by the two main political parties, PDP and APC, have not helped matters.

There is no doubt that both Bayelsa and Kogi are strategic to both parties ahead of the 2023 general elections. The standardbearers of PDP in Bayelsa and Kogi States, Senator Douye Diri and Mr. Muda Wada, respectively; urged INEC and security agents to maintain neutrality in the exercise.
 
They noted that the credibility and acceptability of the elections would be determined by the extent to which INEC is ready to ensure the process is free, credible and fair, even as they enjoined the military in particular not to interfere or favour any political party.The candidates, who spoke to The Guardian in separate interviews, expressed their optimism to carry the day if INEC and the various security agents are unbiased.While contending that their party stands a better chance of reclaiming Kogi and retaining control of Bayelsa States, they prayed for a safe exercise.

Diri said the achievements of the outgoing governor, Henry Dickson in the last eight years would help him win the Bayelsa governorship for the PDP, while Wada said Kogi people are disenchanted with the last four years of APC would work in his favour. APC seems desperate to retain Kogi, despite indicators that the electorate are yearning for change based on what they perceive as Bello’s appalling performance.

The ruling party will definitely want to retain its grip on Kogi to maintain its dominance of the North Central geopolitical zone, where it boasts of five states, ahead of the 2023 general elections. However, for PDP it would be an added advantage if it takes the state back from the ruling party, having lost to APC in the 2015 gubernatorial election. Furthermore, winning Kogi would also help to increase PDP’s chances in the zone and the northern region preparatory to the next general election.

Benue State is currently the only PDP state in the North Central. In Bayelsa State, the direct opposite is obtainable. But it could be recalled that APC tried unsuccessfully to stamp its presence in the oil rich Niger Delta region through Akwa Ibom State during the March 2019 gubernatorial elections.

The incumbent Minister of Niger Delta, Senator Godswill Akpabio, was the anchorman, but the gambit failed, just as the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, won his second term mandate despite Rotimi Amaechi’s attempt to force his way through. Therefore, the Bayelsa State governorship election offers another opportunity for APC to try its luck once again to penetrate the zone. This time around though, the party may want to gain advantage from the infighting within PDP.

But, how far APC can go to convince the electorate is yet to be seen, because for PDP, Bayelsa is a must win being one of the oil rich states the party can continue to latch on for financial strength since it lost control of the Federal Government to APC in 2015.

The party currently controls five states out of the six in the zone and even though the incumbent, Seriake Henry Dickson, would not be on the ballot, he has thrown his weight fully behind Senator Diri, who is the party’s flag bearer. Another relevant factor that can possibly influence the outcome of the elections is how far the fabled federal might, could be deployed to either intimidate or induce the voters.   

 
Speaking on those factors, Diri told The Guardian that he would only be afraid if federal might means intimidation, killing, harassment of voters in Bayelsa State.His words: “If federal might means violence, writing of results where there is no election; if federal might means subverting the will of the people, then I will be afraid. But, I want to remind you that there was federal might in 2016 when Governor Dickson was re-elected.

“Dickson was the first governor to be re-elected after the APC-led Federal Government took over in 2015. The state witnessed the rawness of federal might in some areas. But, Governor Dickson eventually prevailed because it was the will the people.“Let me also remind you that before the 2019 general election, PDP had only about 11 states or so. But, at the end of that election, PDP now has about 16 states or thereabout. There was federal might and PDP still won even in the North, where the President hails from.”
 
However, Diri noted that if federal might is used to ensure that the process is free and fair, “I will not be afraid if federal might will be used to deliver credible election in Bayelsa State.”“Whether you like it or not, these institutions of state are not supposed to be oppressive and repressive. They are meant to further good governance.

“They are meant to further the rule of law and democratic tenets because they have all been subjected to the institution of democracy as a system of government. “So, federal might should be used to do the right thing but not for violence, killings, destruction, intimidation of voters and all those things that are antithetical to the democratic process,” he added.
 
On his part, speaking during an interactive session with journalists in Lagos recently, Wada warned INEC not to allow what happened in Osun and Ekiti to repeat itself in Kogi, saying that it was glaring that the ruling party and its candidate are no longer popular among the people.He noted that coming from the Senatorial district with the largest voting population gives him an edge, contending that the only way the outcome of the election will not favour PDP is if it was rigged.

Chief David Lyon of Bayelsa APC, speaking during a recent tour of different wards in Yenagoa, claimed that the PDP, having realised its slim chances of winning the poll given the general acceptance of the progressive movement in the state, had concluded plans to induce voters and compromise the process.He said PDP’s reign in the state was over and no amount of money would save it from defeat. He urged the people to collect the money, which he alleged the PDP would share to them at the poll, but to vote the ruling party out to enable the APC correct all the mistakes of the current administration.

Security concerns
Oputin recalled how soldiers of the Nigerian Army shot and killed a Government House Photographer, Mr. Reginald Dei and a PDP Ward leader In Oweikorogha, Southern Ijaw Local Government Area on Election Day on February 23, 2019.He alleged that soldiers connived with APC thugs to cart away election materials and aided the harshest rigging in Bayelsa history, which gave the party its victory in the last senatorial election, saying, soldiers who arrested the Deputy National Chairman of APC, Mr. Nabena Yekini, with arms at Odi quickly released him at the prompting of their superiors. 
 
The PDPYN scribe said that the Army authorities have not done anything to build confidence of the people since the gruesome acts of right violation and unprovoked murder of the journalist and his friend during the last election in Southern Ijaw.He said that the PDPYN and the Bayelsa people who have not forgotten the grisly incident and other acts of bias inked to the Army are indeed wary of the deployment of soldiers whose brazen activities left no one in doubt that they were on a mission to rig election for the APC. He therefore called on INEC to jettison its plan to use of soldiers to suspicious intent inimical to the credibility of the commission and the electoral process in Bayelsa.

He said the PDPYN, the umbrella body of PDP youths across the state, was aware of the desperate plans involving militants and some security agencies to attempt to wrest political control of Bayelsa.

The group therefore called on the human rights organization, such as Amnesty International, the Civil Liberty Organisation, civil society groups and the international community to stand in defence of the right of Bayelsans to elect their leaders without threat of assassination and molestation.He expressed the fear that the current Army Exercise, Operation Crocodile Smile in Bayelsa, was a surreptitious attempt to deploy soldiers to harass PDP members and rig the election.
 
Meanwhile, APC stakeholders in Kogi and Bayelsa are not relenting in their accusation that PDP is planning to foment trouble to win the elections. Speaking during a recent campaign stop in Kogi, the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo encouraged supporters of APC to vote en masse for Bello and the party, so as to continue to enjoy the good work being done in the last four years.He warned the voters that it “would amount to an error if PDP, a party that plunged the nation into its present economic predicament is allowed to take over Kogi on November 16.”


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