Editorial: The Electoral Brigandage in Bayelsa and Kogi States

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Electoral malpractices have become a recurring decimal in Nigeria and have incrementally worsened since the return to democracy in 1999. Something is fundamentally wrong. Nigeria’s renascent democracy has been threatened by blatant corruption and sundry abuses, but these absurdities which have assumed melodramatic proportions got the most devastating advertisement after last Saturday’s gubernatorial elections in Bayelsa and Kogi states; as once again, Nigeria floundered in the wilderness of do-or-die politics.. Police confirmed at least three deaths; maiming, kidnapping; several cases of ballot box snatching, voter intimidation, vote-buying, massive rigging and sundry electoral malpractice, were recorded in both states. Owing to the violence, massive fraud and irregularities that marred the November 16 poll, the election tribunal must not allow the results to stand, as it will validate impunity and set the clock of Nigerian democracy backwards. The election tribunal should cancel the elections outright and send the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) back to the drawing board, to organize free, fair and credible election. The people of Kogi and Bayelsa states deserve nothing less!

Notwithstanding the shenanigans and violence that characterized the November 16 gubernatorial and senatorial elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states, INEC went ahead to declare the candidates of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) victorious; even as the electoral umpire declared the Kogi West senatorial district election as inconclusive. It stands logic on its head for INEC to declare part of the election in Kogi as “inconclusive” but still declare the incumbent APC governor, Yahaya Bello as winner of the same election. It is regrettable, indeed unfortunate, that even as the election tribunal is yet to rule on the disgraceful conduct of the elections, President Muhammadu Buhari has been quick to meet and congratulate the purported governor-elect of Bayelsa state, David Lyon, for winning a rigged election. Conferring the seal of authority and presidential legitimacy on a flawed electoral process is a travesty and an insult to democracy.

In the build up to the election, the actions and inaction of some stakeholders, forced many, including observer groups to express fears that bedlam may reign. It did, as reflected in the nadir of the violence in Kogi State, where Umoru Shuaib and Faruk Suleiman were killed, at Barracks Polling Unit in Abocho Community, in Dekina Local Council. Three persons, who were shot in Bayelsa, have their stars to thank for still being alive, while another youth identified as Prince Odede, allegedly had his hand chopped off by political thugs at Ward 5, Opolo, in the Bayelsa state capital of Yenagoa.

In Kogi, which lived up to its reputation as a hotbed of political violence, an unidentified INEC official was kidnapped at the Subeb Polling Unit in Lokoja. The abduction allegedly occurred after gunmen shot sporadically into the air while voting was going on. As voters scampered for safety, the gunmen went away with the official. This happened not long after thugs reportedly attacked the polling unit where Senator Dino Melaye voted. The hoodlums vandalized one ballot box, carted away the other, and shot severally into the air as they departed in a black Hilux van. The gunmen killed the duo in Abocho, while they were about casting their votes, according to eyewitnesses.

As the last hope of the common man, the judiciary must teach Nigerian politicians the lesson that, the wishes of the people as expressed through the ballot box must be respected. Quite predictably, the PDP governorship candidate in Kogi, Musa Wada and the PDP candidate in the Kogi West Senatorial District rerun election; Dino Melaye both rejected the election results; and are heading to the election tribunal. It is obvious there is great disenchantment in Kogi because of the dismal performance of the incumbent governor Bello; rated as the worst governor in Nigeria, on account of his performance. Taking away the right of Kogi people to remove their under-performing governor imposes such a huge moral and political baggage as give little cause for cheer.

Against a disquieting and upsetting legal fracas with the courts disqualifying both APC gubernatorial candidates in Bayelsa, the election was never a process that promised to end peacefully. The countdown was ominous and replete with forebodings to the extent that APC chieftains are asking Bayelsa people to move on, now that winners and losers have emerged. It doesn’t matter that there were massive fraud and poll disruptions in several polling stations while ballot papers were burnt. Even if innocent Nigerian lives were lost due to electoral thuggery, what is more important is that the elections held and culminated in another electoral turnover, giving the ruling APC, another foothold in the South-south in Bayelsa which has been controlled by the PDP since 1999. The imperfections of the process would be dealt with by relevant state institutions, after the PDP candidates asked their irate supporters to remain peaceful, as they would challenge the result in court, instead of recourse to self-help in seeking redress. The people of Kogi and Bayelsa states ought to be congratulated for their political maturity in the face of massive electoral heist. This is how a truly democratic election should record its denouement.

Obviously, the ridiculous assertion that the elections have been decided and the nation should move on, is on its face laughable and should attract no further comment. This kind of thinking smacks of complacency and is unhelpful. All Nigerians must know that the November 17 elections were not just about who becomes governor in Kogi and Bayelsa states. The fate of Nigerian democracy and the future of the citizens of this badly run nation are at stake. Over the years, Nigerians have been saddled with leaders who are bereft of any new offerings on the national agenda and who have made Nigeria a laughing stock in the comity of nations. Between Saturday Nov. 16 till the proclamation of the results in the wee hours of Monday, Nov 18, Nigerians saw videos and pictures of electoral violence, massive rigging, voter suppression and illegal militarization of states that went viral on social media. The manifest and premeditated malpractices to inflate votes in areas that favored APC candidates, while suppressing or disrupting voting in opposition strongholds were so apparent and amateurish, as to negate the final results announced by INEC. 

The political parties, especially the ruling APC, whose candidates were declared victorious by INEC, was seen to be preparing for war and not a game of persuading voters to cast their ballots. The instruments of state, including the police were abusively deployed by the federal government to subvert the will of the people. The militarization of the electoral process is a disservice to our democracy and a throwback to the jackboot era of military dictatorship. The electoral umpire INEC was supposed to be above board and avoid creating room for despair and a resort to self-help. INEC was not only supposed to be independent, it had to be seen as being independent.

Through errors of omission and commission, INEC called its own impartiality into questioned, raising a palpable crisis of confidence that undermined the credibility of the process. The issue leaves no room for equivocation: if Nigerians cannot at their own free will and volition, change their leaders through the ballot box; then there is a bigger problem than the country thinks it has. What this means is that any president or governor can abuse his office and power and exhibit dictatorial tendencies and when it is time for elections, deploy the security apparatus and political thugs to intimidate citizens and confiscate power. For how long will the nation continue to reward this kind of bad behavior?

A situation where the total number of votes cast was more than the number of accredited voters by INEC’s own reckoning is more than just electoral malpractice. It is a debasement of the sensibilities and an irreverent infringement on the collective psyche of Nigerians. Also, the shoddy manner in which valid votes cast were cancelled by INEC in areas deemed to be pro-opposition not only belittled Nigerians and Nigeria before the international community, more importantly, it advertised to the whole world a certain peculiar Nigerian definition of democracy that diminishes the ideal and mocks the primacy of the people in the process. There was no excuse for INEC whatsoever, to have delivered such a poor performance in Kogi and Bayelsa, other than gross incompetence, partiality, corruption and mischief.

Allowing the Nov 16 election results declared by INEC to stand will not only subvert Nigerian democracy; it will probably entrench and validate impunity and electoral malpractices which seems to be the new normal under the Buhari administration. The integrity of the judiciary is now at stake, no doubt. Nigerians, however, expect the election tribunal to rise to the occasion and acquit itself creditably. By acting with a modicum of patriotism at this critical period of Nigeria’s political history, the dramatis personae can write their own names in gold and save the country the odium of failure. Should they choose to do otherwise, history will also be there to judge.