By Omoshola Deji– First Osun. Then Kano. Now Kogi and Bayelsa states. The spate of violence during election brings doubt on Nigeria’s ability to get it right. Unlike other nations, Nigeria seems to have no magic formula; no means of solving a problem without creating another. Democracy initially seemed an opportunity to annihilate tyranny, but has instead increased it. Rule of law, freedom of speech and other democratic ethics are consistently being violated by the ruling elites and “converted democrat”. Nigeria is fast becoming the worst country for democracy as franchise have become an object of attack. This piece appraises the flaws of Nigerian elections, particularly the Kogi and Bayelsa governorship poll, and the pundit’s verdict.
The people of Kogi and Bayelsa trooped out on November 16 to elect their choice for the state’s top job. The exercise which should ordinarily be civil and peaceful was marred by unprecedented violence and electoral fraud. Gun-wielding thugs, aided by the security agencies, disrupted the electoral process from which Nigeria’s democracy is supposed to grow.
Perhaps those in positions of authority misconstrued duty as favor. In a democracy, individuals are morally responsible to vote their conscience, and government is duty-bound to provide the enabling environment, ensuring the wish of the majority prevails. Once the environment is not enabling, the outcome of an important exercise such as election cannot be taken as the wish of the majority. Factoring this in, although Yahaya Bello of Kogi state and David Lyon of Bayelsa were return elected, they did not win the election. This by no means underestimate their ability to win in a credible contest.
Repression of opposition candidates, their supporters and polling agents made the elections a democratic deficit. In Kogi state, incumbent Governor Yahaya Bello of the All Progressives Congress (APC) commanded violence on his contenders. Stalwarts of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Social Democratic Party (SDP) were routinely harassed, injured and killed. Thugs invaded their homes, vandalized them, and set some ablaze. Several cars and valuables were destroyed, forcing the targets to go into hiding. This destabilized PDP and SDP from making last minutes canvassing to woo undecided voters; giving APC an unfair advantage. The attack surprisingly continued even after APC ‘won’. Thugs set the home of a PDP women leader ablaze and callously watch her burn to ashes.
Suppression of voters is also one of the unholy strategies APC employed. The party carefully studied the voting pattern of both states, ignite violence in opposition strongholds, but protected hers. In Kogi, election proceeded smoothly in the Central district where Bello hails from, while the East and West were confronted with extreme violence. In Bayelsa, people were restrained from voting in Southern Ijaw where PDP is likely to garner majority vote. The party was also stifled in Nembe. The outturn of both election suggests APC has devised different illicit strategies for winning elections. Repression and suppression are autocratic tenets, a breach of the fundamental principle of fairness that must be adhered to in a democracy.
Disenfranchisement made the elections a democratic deficit. Violence and intimidation denied eligible voters the opportunity to cast their ballot. Fear kept people indoor while majority of those who turned up scampered for safety as thugs attack opposition strongholds in Kogi. Many lost their votes via ballot-box snatching. In Bayelsa, the Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement, popularly called YIAGA Africa reports that INEC announced falsified results and election did not hold in 24 percent of the state’s polling units. Disenfranchising such a significant percentage of the population utterly discredits the outcome of the election. How do we pacify the 24 percent whose preferred candidates lost because they were denied the opportunity to vote? Such inequity makes the election a democratic deficit.
Monetary inducement of voters and electoral officers made the elections a democratic deficit. Agents of the dominant parties, particularly the APC and PDP always offer cash for votes, and did so in Kogi and Bayelsa states. They shared between N500 to N3000, although APC outspend the PDP, being the ruling party at the federal level.
Two categories of persons should be criticized for vote-buying, but Nigerians mostly condemn one; they blame the buyers (politicians) and absolve the sellers (voters). Vote-buying has become so prevalent that majority of the electorate expect to be tipped for voting. But then, should we blame the poor voters for demanding a continuation of what the parties started? Nonetheless, Nigerians need to be enlightened that politicians are descendants of the devil; they have no free gift. Vote-buying is a business and politicians who invest in the trade must recoup their money and make extraordinary profits, hence the prevalence of under-performing governments.
Electoral fraud and INEC’s partisanship made the elections a democratic deficit. An electoral umpire must be impartial to all contending parties, but INEC fell short. In Bayelsa, election materials stolen by APC thugs surfaced during collation and INEC allegedly record the votes. The umpire announced bogus results in favor of APC in Sagbama, Ogbia, Nembe, and Southern Ijaw. It’s baffling how these troubled spots returned high votes; the Borno 2015 template was apparently revived. How could the result of Nembe – a troubled spot where people would naturally abstain from voting – reflect over 80 percent turnout, while the result of a peaceful area such as Yenagoa, the state capital reflects less than 40 percent turnout? Such result is a clear indication of electoral fraud.
Electoral fraud was rife, but INEC lacks the courage to wield the big stick, especially against APC. In Kogi state, armed thugs, aided by the security agencies, manipulated the poll in favor of APC. Ballot boxes were either carted away, destroyed, or changed with already thumb-printed ones. To Nigerians dismay, INEC counted the false votes rather than cancel the results of the affected polling units. To top it all off, bogus figures were awarded in favor of APC in crisis-ridden areas and spaces PDP has fair support. For instance, INEC claimed APC scored 112,764 votes, while PDP only garnered 139 votes in Okene local government of Kogi State. This cannot be true.
A party with structure and spread like the PDP can’t garner such a paltry vote at a time Kogites were determined to sack Bello’s failed government. The bizarre result is a reflection of the extreme rigging perpetrated in almost every area of the state. In a credible contest, even SDP’s Akpoti would garner more than 139 votes in Okene. It is perturbing PDP didn’t score such a paltry vote during the Lagos 2019 governorship election. Please bear in mind that although the revenue generated in Lagos state is incommensurable with its rate of development, Akinwunmi Ambode’s administration performed much better than that of Bello in Kogi. Yet the godfather denied him return ticket, but supported Bello.
Unprofessional and partisan conduct of the security agencies made the elections a democratic deficit. Over 60,000 police officers and crime fighting equipment were deployed for the Bayelsa and Kogi governorship elections. Yet violence prevailed. The military compromised the election in Bayelsa, while police jeopardized the exercise in Kogi. Policemen accosted gun-wielding thugs to polling units across Kogi West and East district to snatch or stuff ballot boxes, attack opposition figures, and distribute money to APC agents. The thugs moved freely with vehicles despite restriction of movement, manipulating and destabilizing the election.
APC agents operated under massive protection while that of PDP and other opposition parties were left in the cold. Recall that prior to the election, candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Natasha Akpoti’s campaign office was looted and destroyed by alleged APC thugs, but the perpetrators weren’t arrested. Take a breather to imagine how the security agencies, the state government and the presidency would have reacted if such happens to any APC secretariat.
At the venue of the Peace Accord signing meeting, Akpoti and her aides were molested, her campaign vehicles were destroyed by APC thugs, while the police looked on. The raging thugs disrupted the meeting, which had several dignitaries present, including Mohammed Adamu, the Inspector General of Police (IGP). Yet none has been prosecuted. Take another breather to imagine how the IGP would have reacted if the thugs had no state’s backing.
The military’s massacre of Shiite members who obstructed the Chief of Army Staff’s convey should give you a clear sense of how the IGP would have probably reacted, if the thugs were not operating under the authority of the powers that be. However, subjecting the personality of the IGP to ridicule in a bid to win elections is a bad precedence with devastating consequences. Politicians need to desist from sacrificing the image and efficiency of national institutions on the altar of politics.
IGP Adamu stated that the policemen that colluded with thugs to disrupt the Kogi and Bayelsa elections were fake policemen. Nigerians are wondering how fake policemen, if any, overpowered the over 60,000 trained policemen deployed for the elections. Does it imply that fake policemen have better strategy and weapon than the real police? Assuming, but not conceding that fake policemen committed the anomalies, was the police helicopter that dropped canisters and opened fire on voters in PDP strongholds piloted by fake policemen? The IGP should come up with a better excuse or apologize for failing Nigerians.
Police announced making eleven arrests, but none were paraded. Many wonder why the same police that’s always eager to parade criminal suspects is reluctant to parade the electoral offenders. Besides, was it just the eleven persons arrested that perpetrated the extreme violence reported across the 21 local governments in Kogi state? It is most disheartening that the same police that couldn’t provide adequate security in just two states reigned terror on non-violent IPOB members, Shiite devotees and Revolution Now protesters.
INEC and the security agencies failed in every respect. Their inefficiencies significantly makes Nigerian elections a democratic deficit. In Kogi and Bayelsa, electoral fraud prevailed despite INEC’s promise of a free, fair and credible election. Violence prevailed despite the deployment of over 60,000 police officers and crime fighting equipment such as armored tanks and surveillance helicopters.
Vote-buying prevailed despite the deployment of officers of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Both agencies made no arrest, despite extensive video evidences showing the face of vote buyers and sellers. Clandestine moves to disrupt the electoral process went undetected, and were freely perpetrated, despite the deployment of officers from the Department of State Security (DSS).
Election in Nigeria is one of the most expensive in the world, but far from being the most credible. No less than nine persons met their death during the Kogi and Bayelsa polls. A police officer, a youth corps member, Senator Dino Melaye’s nephew, and Kogi PDP women leader were among those unfortunate. APC needs to caution its members has the opposition parties lack federal might, a major instrument needed to perpetrate violence and electoral fraud.
Elections can’t be credible without the political will to make it happen. Nigerian government must put measures in place to forestall the use of illegal approaches to win elections. Such measures could include reducing the premium on political offices, signing the amended electoral bill into law, revamping the security architecture, and establishing an independent electoral offences commission.
Appraising the Pundit’s Verdict
It is habitual for the writer, hereafter titled Pundit, to foretell the outcome of elections. Notable among his several accurate predictions is foretelling ex-President Jonathan’s defeat in 2015. The Pundit foretold President Buhari’s reelection in 2019, against the prediction of reputable global institutions such as Williams and Associates, and The Economist. He also accurately foretold the outcome of the 2019 governorship election in 23 out of 29 states.
Despite his serial accurate predictions, the pundit’s prognosis of the elections in focus was not a totally good outing. Foreseen, but unprecedented violence and electoral fraud mainly forbid some of his predictions from coming to pass. In a piece titled “Kogi and Bayelsa 2019 Governorship Election: Foretelling the Outcome”, the Pundit predicted Duoye Diri’s (PDP) win in Bayelsa, but he lose. PDP’s Dino Melaye also failed to win the Kogi West senatorial rerun on the first vote as predicted. The election ended inconclusive. However, APC’s Yahaya Bello ‘won’ the Kogi governorship election as predicted, although not by rerun.
In truth, the pundit barely saw APC’s win in Bayelsa coming. His prediction was mainly flawed by ex-president Jonathan’s secret endorsement of APC candidate, David Lyon. Although there were words on the street, the pundit believed Jonathan won’t work against his lifelong party, the PDP. This made him assert that “politics is an interest driven game, hence it is not impossible, but most unlikely that Jonathan would support APC. This is premised on the manner the party has disparaged him since he lost power in 2015.”
The pundit was wrong on Jonathan. He assumed the ex-president won’t support APC despite the dispute between him and Governor Seriake Dickson, his estranged godson. Jonathan acted like his erstwhile godfather, ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo. Despite unilaterally bringing Jonathan to power under the PDP, Obasanjo facilitated his defeat in 2015 by backing the APC. The party (APC) praised Obasanjo to high heavens, but abandoned him shortly after forming government. Jonathan’s romance with APC may also not end well. He may also get the Obasanjo treatment.
Another factor the pundit failed to consider during prediction is the (ex)militants endorsement of Lyon. Bayelsa is the den of dreaded militants who have the power to influence the outcome of elections. But then again, PDP has been governing Bayelsa since 1999, hence it is not amiss to think, in structure and strength, “PDP is in Bayelsa, what APC is in Lagos”. Moreover, the judicial invalidation of APC’s candidacy before the election naturally made winning an unattainable height, but the party pulled off a surprise.
INEC declared the Kogi West senatorial poll inconclusive with Smart Adeyemi (APC) leading Dino Melaye (PDP) with over 20,000 votes. As earlier discussed, the Kogi senatorial and governorship poll is a daylight robbery and fiery of public sovereignty. The pundit strongly stands by his prediction analysis and assertion that Melaye (PDP) would defeat Adeyemi (APC) in a free, fair and credible contest.
The pundit foretold Bello’s emergence as governor-elect in Kogi state based on his disposition to violence and electoral fraud. In the prediction piece, the pundit explicitly stated that “In a free, fair and credible contest, PDP’s Musa Wada would defeat APC’s Yahaya Bello. But the election is not going to be free; not going to be fair; and not going to be credible. Thugs would disperse voters and smash ballot boxes in Wada’s stronghold. The security agencies won’t arrest disruptors, and would be grossly partisan.” The lines came to pass exactly as foretold.
Nigerians never assumed Bello could bizarrely unleash violence on those he aspired to govern. The poor performing governor ingeniously took violence from the realm of creating inconclusive elections to straight win. His conduct ratifies the pundit’s argument that “he’s not deserving of governorship or any other position.” Bello’s insatiable thirst for power made him throw caution to the wind. He eventually got the power, but earned negative fame. The 44 year old ruined his presidential prospect and wrote his name in the wrong page of history. Blessed is the one who defines Nigerian election as a process where thugs decide, police support, INEC declares, and the court affirm.
*Omoshola Deji is a political and public affairs analyst. He wrote in via firstname.lastname@example.org