Kogi, Bayelsa, Polls: INEC Under Intense Pressure
POLITICS DIGEST – Voters in Kogi and Bayelsa states will on Saturday, November 16, 2019 file out to exercise their franchise in governorship elections. In Bayelsa, the two terms of incumbent Governor Seriake Dickson will end soon. A new occupant is expected to resume at Creek Haven, the government house, after the election on November 16. For Kogi State, voters, especially those in Kogi West Senatorial District, have dual voting assignments same day. While they will join voters from all other parts of the state to elect a governor that will paddle the ship of the state for the next four years, they will also be voting in a fresh election to determine who will represent their zone in the senate following the annulment of the election of incumbent Senator Dino Melaye by the Appeal Court.
Going by reports and feelers emanating from the two states, the people and the contestants are ready to play their roles towards ensuring the success of the elections. And as the day draws nearer, all eyes are on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the electoral umpire saddled with organising elections in Nigeria. To many, the successes and or failures of the said electoral contests depend largely on INEC’s readiness to allow for free, fair and credible polls in the affected states. “November 16 is another litmus test for INEC. No matter what we all do or say, the bulk of what is needed to make successes out of the elections rely on INEC. That is why we must call on the commission to be prepared to pass this test and win the confidence of Nigerians once and for all,” Comrade Rabiu Abubakre of the Centre for Democracy and Justice (CDJ) said.
Like in most elections in Nigeria, there are fears that the elections may be marred by irregularities and violence. This fear has been heightened following reports of clashes between the supporters of some of the political parties and candidates in the elections. Unending media wars between candidates and political parties in the two states are also not helping to allay fears about the upcoming polls. Complaints and ongoing litigations arising from the various primary elections that produced candidates for the elections are also sources of worry. “That is how it has always been whenever we look forward to an election in Nigeria. And that is why I say INEC has a lot to do as the day approaches,” Abubakre added.
As part of its moves towards ensuring hitch-free and acceptable elections, INEC recently announced what it called the final lists of political parties and candidates that will participate in the governorship election in the two states. The commission said while 45 political parties would contest the governorship election in Bayelsa State, 23 parties would partake in the exercise in Kogi State. According to a statement on the matter by its National Commissioner and Chairman of its Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, “INEC monitored the primaries conducted by political parties for nomination of candidates for the November 16, 2019 Governorship elections in Bayelsa and Kogi states. On September 12, 2019, the commission informed the public that 64 political parties conducted primaries in Bayelsa State and 59 in Kogi State.
“Out of these, 52 political parties for Bayelsa State and 49 for Kogi State respectively, submitted the list and personal particulars of their candidates at the close of nomination at 6pm on Monday, September 9, 2019. The commission also informed the public that from its preliminary review of the list and personal particulars submitted by the parties at the close of nomination, some of the governorship and deputy governorship candidates were below the minimum age prescribed by the constitution and that the commission was considering further action. By a letter dated September 13, 2019, the commission notified the concerned political parties of the invalidity of their nominations. In Bayelsa State, six of the nominated governorship and/or deputy governorship candidates were affected, while in Kogi State there were eight such nominees.
“Some of the affected parties have written the commission admitting their error and requesting to submit new nominees to replace the underaged ones. However, this was after the deadline for submission of nominations on September 9, 2019. As such the commission could not accept any fresh nominations. In like manner, since the parties did not submit valid nominations before the deadline, they cannot substitute the candidates on the grounds of death or voluntary withdrawal, in accordance with the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), which assumes the prior existence of valid nominations. Accordingly, the commission has informed the affected parties that their names and logos will not appear on the ballots for the Bayelsa and Kogi governorship elections due to the invalidity of their nominations.”
Similarly, INEC said 24 candidates will contest in the Kogi West Senatorial District re-run election slated for the same day. According to the commission, 24 political parties had filed in 24 Senatorial Candidates which consists of 21 male candidates, three female candidates for the election.
INEC as the whipping horse
Aside the fear of violence and litigations, there are accusations and counter accusations by the two major political parties in contention in both states; the PDP and the APC. Both political parties have accused INEC of allegedly conniving with their opponents to rig the election in favour of the other. National Conscience Party (NCP) has cautioned INEC) against allowing any form of rigging or manipulation of the scheduled November 16 elections in Bayelsa and Kogi states. The party Chairman, Dr. Yunusa Tanko, said INEC should learn from its past mistakes, including those of the 2019 elections in order to deliver free, fair, conclusive and credible polls in the two states.
“We observed with dismay the way the 2019 election was conducted with a lot of manipulation and heavy use of money to buy votes against the genuine interest of the people. “The elections were full of inconsistencies, use of thugs to intimidate voters, etc. This is totally unacceptable and condemnable. “It is our sincere hope that the upcoming Kogi and Bayelsa states governorship elections will show remarkable improvement over the last general elections. “This will help to reduce or eliminate the use of money, encourage participation and party ideology will reign supreme,” Dr Tanko said.
This was just as the Bayelsa state chapter of the PDP alleged that the federal government plans to use Operation Crocodile Smile 4 to rig the November 16 governorship election in the state. State party Chairman, Moses Cleopas, said INEC and some other concerned agencies are part of the plot. “It is to enable the GOC 6 Division to carry out ‘Operation Crocodile Smile 4′ during the election so as to use the military to rig the election in favour of the APC. The Nigerian Army has no business conducting Operation Crocodile Smile when elections are being held in the state,” the PDP chairman argued.
Reacting, the APC accused the PDP in Bayelsa of trying to foster panic in the state to prepare the grounds for a state government-sponsored violence ahead of the election. The party’s Publicity Secretary and Secretary, Doifie Buokoribo, accused Gov. Seriake Dickson and his party of engaging in “a dress rehearsal for their own usual electoral violence and polls robbery”. “Ahead of Nov. 16, PDP in the state is engaged in another full-scale practice before the launch of their terror assault on our electoral democracy. The party seems even more desperate this time. Hit by a wave of defections and imminent consequence of its poor performance, PDP in Bayelsa is nervous. And it has entered a persecution complex mode,” he said.
In Kogi, the Director-General of the Bello/Onoja Campaign Organisation, Senator Smart Adeyemi, said PDP was planning havoc on Election Day, as the opposition party is neither campaigning nor ready for the November 16 poll. “There is no evidence that the PDP is ready for a free and fair poll, hence its passive electioneering. The silence can either mean that they are planning mayhem, or that they don’t have anything to tell the people. INEC and other stakeholders must pay attention to the PDP. We strongly suspect they have other plans aside peaceful elections,’ he said.
But the governorship candidate of the Allied Peoples Movement (APM), Yusuf Dantalle, accused INEC of working with the ruling APC to rig for incumbent Governor Yahaya Bello. “The election is now being rigged before the Election Day itself. Political parties are already coming together to kick against the present REC in Kogi State because there is no confidence. The opposition will reject all plans to mortgage the destiny of Kogi people by denying them the right to choose their leaders. INEC has no constitutional powers to disqualify candidates,” Dantalle said while urging the people of the state to be observant as the election approaches.
Speaking on the gale of allegations and counter allegations, Charles Daniyan, state Chairman of Coalition for Free Polls (CFFP) said INEC has the task of proving critics wrong by ensuring credible elections in the two states. “As it is, many people are expecting INEC to conduct credible elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states. All these complaints are challenges for the commission ahead of the elections. Even where it is obvious that it is the politicians that mar the election with their conducts, Nigerians will still blame INEC. So, the test is for INEC and anybody else,” he said.
A confession and a promise
Buttressing some of the fears being allayed over the forthcoming elections, the INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, recently confessed that Bayelsa and Kogi “are not easy states” when it comes to conducting governorship elections. Speaking during a meeting with the Bayelsa State Traditional Rulers Council in Yenegoa, the state capital, he said the attitude of the political class in both states have remained a challenge. “Today, it is exactly 31 days to the kick-off of the offseason election in both Bayelsa and Kogi. The eyes of the entire country and the world would focus on both elections for a number of reasons. This coming election would be the first major elections since the conduct of the general elections that would help us to improve on forthcoming elections.
“Secondly, and to be very candid with you my royal fathers, Bayelsa and Kogi are not easy states when it comes to conducting major elections, particularly governorship elections. The challenges are not only geographical in terms of the terrain and, therefore, it has an impact on electoral logistics, but another big challenge is the attitude of particularly the political class which has been a major concern to the commission. We are all witnesses what happened in the party primaries for the nomination of candidates,” he said.
However, during the week, the commission promised credible polls, saying the two elections would correct the mistakes in the 2019 general election and set a new standard for future elections. The Chairman of the Board of INEC’s Electoral Institute, who is also a National Commissioner, Prince Solomon Soyebi, said: “The election will provide the commission with yet another opportunity to test-run its policies, processes and new initiatives. Since the conduct and outcome of the 2019 general election, the commission has done a lot to re-organise and strengthen its processes, procedures and systems for better performance. Although the conduct of the 2019 general election and the commission’s performance had some challenges, we can use the 2019 general election as a barometer for comparison with subsequent elections, including the Bayelsa governorship election. Clearly, the commission is not under any illusion about the many issues and challenges posed by the electoral process,” he said.