As voters in Kogi, Imo and Bayelsa states choose governors that will lead them in the next four years, MUHAMMED LAWAL x-rays the prevalence of violence and vote-buying in past elections in the three states and the way forward
Today, a total of 5.41 million eligible voters in Bayelsa, Imo, and Kogi states will be at the polls to decide the fate of the contenders for the governorship positions in the three states. These elections will determine the economy, infrastructural development, job opportunities, and the progress of each of the states for another four years. In this wise, it is within the capacity of the electorate to either make the right choices or smother their destiny based on the choices they make.
Amidst the outing to cast their votes for their preferred candidates comes the pressure from megalomaniacs, who will not stand with a judicious election process, but try to trample on the franchise of the electorate by making the exercise a mere selection process. This undesirable act unleashes pandemonium and turns the polling units into a place where violence can erupt without any prior notice.
The three states embarking on the governorship elections have a history of election violence and vote-buying, as the politicians in the Kogi, Bayelsa, and Imo states cannot say that they are not mindful of the destruction these states have suffered as a result of electoral violence. To most of them, another election will mean travelling a familiar road where electoral violence is a commonplace event. It will be a pleasant surprise if the three governorship elections hold without any incident of ballot box snatching or fighting with cudgels and cutlasses.
It has been noted that Nigeria has a long history of electoral violence since its independence in 1960 and there have been concerns as to why Nigerian elections have continued to follow the trend of violence, vote-buying, and a plethora of other vices. The 2023 general elections have been criticised because of the level of violence that marred the exercise in some areas.
While political thugs engaged in intimidation, vicious attacks, and ballot snatching, unscrupulous politicians were deep into vote-buying. All these discouraged potential voters from coming out to vote. Apart from the 2023 general election, the situation in the past is not different from the present.
Vote-buying is another menace that makes general elections in Nigeria chaotic, and in the end, a deluge of litigation will trail the outcome of what the electorate and observers will tag a shambolic exercise.
There is no doubting the fact that vote trading is a stigma that castrates the free flow of Nigeria’s electoral democracy. Despite the idea of a cashless economy by the Central Bank of Nigeria in October 2022, a move considered by many to deter politicians who had stockpiled cash for vote-buying, most of the politicians were able to have their way.
The National Human Rights Commission reported that the 2023 elections recorded vote-buying from 42 locations across the country which includes Lagos, Imo, Sokoto, Jigawa, Edo, Nasarawa, Jigawa, and Kogi states. Voters were said to have been offered money or other incentives to influence their choices.
Similarly, the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, an autonomous agency set up by the government in 2000, arrested nine persons for vote-buying in Osun, Ondo, Borno, Akwa Ibom, and Sokoto states during the presidential and National Assembly elections in February 2023.
In connection with these elections, the electorates in Kogi, Imo, and Bayelsa states and other concerned citizens have been echoing into the ears of the government and other relevant stakeholders to ensure that today’s off-cycle elections are devoid of vote-buying, ballot snatching, and other electoral vices.
Deaths and violence in election
The PUNCH reports that 24 deaths and 238 cases of violence were recorded during the 2023 polls. The INEC National Commissioner and Chairman of the Outreach and Partnership Committee, Prof. Kunle Ajayi, said the revelation that 238 cases of violence were recorded was an improvement when compared to previous polls, adding the election was generally and relatively peaceful, even more peaceful than the 2019 general elections.
In an opposing view, the Resident Programme Director and International Electoral Observation Mission Director, Santiago Stocker, disagreed with INEC’s submission, adding that election violence in the build-up to and during the 2023 elections was worse than the scenario in 2019. He stated that the number of incidents and the number of states affected was far higher than in 2019. Stocker maintained that there were 30 reported assassinations or attempted assassinations of candidates or party officials and more than two dozen attacks on INEC facilities.
In this same vein, the INEC said it lost no fewer than 9,836 smart card readers in over 42 attacks on its offices and staff in three years. It was also stated that not more than 1,149 persons, including INEC employees and security officers, were killed in the three elections held in 2011, 2015, and 2019. Ballot papers, cubicles, and other materials were destroyed in the same manner.
INEC had announced the cleared governorship candidates to run for today’s election in Kogi, which prides itself as the Confluence state. The candidates include Senator Dino Melaye of the Peoples Democratic Party; All Progressives Congress candidate, Ododo Usman; Muritala Ajaka of Social Democratic Party; Leke Abejide, African Democratic Congress; Olayinka Braimoh, Action Alliance; and Okeme Adejoh of the Labour Party.
But violence continued to rear its ugly head in the state with accusations and counter-accusations, a development that had caused anxiety among the populace ahead of today’s polls.
Before the declaration of these candidates, that is, during the primaries and campaigns, there had been disturbances in the state; attacks were surfacing, and these continued to disrupt the plans by political parties or supporters to engage in democratic activities in the state.
Nextier, a platform known for creating databases on violent conflict, said in its publication titled, ‘Nigeria’s 2023 state elections: mirroring hotspot states’, that Kogi State made the list of states with the potential for electoral violence as cases of thugs operating in some parts of the state were recorded during the February 2023 presidential and National Assembly elections. Places such as Anyigba and Dekina experienced violence which resulted in the eventual cancellation of the polls by the electoral umpire.
Recall that in November 2019, when the result of the governorship poll was declared, a PDP woman leader of the Wada/Aro campaign council, Ochadamu Ward, Acheju Abuh, was burnt alive in her home by some suspected political thugs. Since then, nothing has been said about the issue, and no one has been brought to book. The November 2019 governorship election in Kogi State was an exercise that many discerning persons would wish to forget quickly due to the preponderance of violence before and on election day.
On June 3, 2023, it was reported that the motorcade of the SDP governorship candidate, Muritala Ajaka, was attacked by gunmen, and many believed that the incident was not unconnected with today’s governorship election. A month later, arsonists burnt down the state SDP campaign office in Lokoja, the state capital.
It was reported that the convoy of the state Governor, Yahaya Bello, was attacked, allegedly by the supporters of the SDP, even as some aides of the governor were said to have been injured. A member of the Senate, Natasha Akpoti-Uduaghan, when she was a candidate for the SDP, had raised the alarm over violent attacks aimed at her and her supporters. Similarly, when she contested on the platform of the PDP in the 2023 general election for a senatorial seat in her constituency, she decried the prevalence of violence.
Like every other state in Nigeria, Imo State has its own share of electoral violence. However, the security challenges instilled more fear in the populace ahead of today’s election in the state that prides itself as the Eastern Heartland, as attacks on policemen and other security agents became the order of the day.
On Monday 28, 2023, the state Chairman of the LP, Callistus Ihejiagwa, cried out that the state secretariat of the party was attacked by police and thugs allegedly on the directives of the state government. For instance, on September 23, 2023, the LP condemned the killing of security agents in Imo State by gunmen and the subsequent burning of houses and businesses in Ehime Mbano Local Government Area by soldiers.
Similarly, it was reported that there was tension over the killing of 14 youths reportedly returning from a wedding to their community in the Otulu community, Oru East Local Council of the state, from Awo-Omamma in the neighbouring Oru West council area by members of Ebube Agu security operatives, who opened fire on them on July 18, 2022.
On April 21, 2023, gunmen killed five policemen at the Okpala Junction in the Ngor Okpala Local Government Area of Imo State. Also killed were a couple identified as Mr and Mrs Chinaka Nwagu, from the Amankwo Okpala community.
On November 7, 2023, the Organised Labour comprising the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress ordered a shutdown of electricity and fuel supplies in Imo State following the brutalisation of the NLC National President, Joe Ajaero, allegedly by operatives of the Nigeria Police Force.
Many believe that the latest display of violence in the state could mar today’s election in the state if urgent attention is not paid to it.
Nembe, Brass, Ekeremor, and Southern Ijaw areas of Bayelsa State are known to be volatile. During the 2023 election, INEC moved voting in 141 polling units in Bayelsa State to Sunday. According to the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, the voting process was interrupted by thugs. He added that National Youth Service Corps members handling the polling units in some of the areas were afraid, a development that led to the postponement of the exercise.
On August 15, 2023, thugs invaded, killed, and maimed innocent citizens in Bayelsa State communities, particularly Opu-Nembe in Nembe Local Government Area. On September 18, 2023, the governorship candidate of the APC in the state, Timipre Sylva, and incumbent Governor Douye Diri of the Peoples Democratic Party engaged in a war of words over allegations of spying and violence ahead of today’s polls.
The former Minister of Communication, Dr Adebayo Shittu, said that the security forces should not take the issue of election violence lightly.
“All the political parties in Kogi, Bayelsa, and Imo states are very desperate, especially the prominent ones. They want to win by all means, deploying all weapons available to them to ensure that they overwhelm their opponents. Killings have taken place in Kogi State, and Imo State has been a long-time insecurity quagmire and in Bayelsa State, we heard about the importation of arms and ammunition.
“Nigerians must abide by the rules very strongly, and not presume that any of the stakeholders will be peaceful and do things normally. The security forces should be neutral in their enforcement of the law against every participant. As Goodluck Jonathan said, ‘the vote of anybody doesn’t deserve the life of anybody’. As someone who wants the best for Nigeria, I will advise that the police should be very effective and unbiased in their enforcement of the law until and after the elections are over.
Lending his voice to the issue of election violence, vote-buying, and other electoral vices, the Chairman of the South-South United Action for Democracy, and the Rivers State Civil Society Organisations, Enefaa Georgwill, said the government of the day usually planted their men in INEC so that they could serve their interest, adding that there was no way a man would serve two masters.
“For us in the civil society space, we have always accused INEC of being the chief agent provocateur in election crisis and we have said this because, over time, INEC has displayed partisan positions that have been the bedrock for the crisis. We have equally seen that persons of interest like known members of political parties have been nominated as INEC commissioners for INEC officials, and when these things happen, they have a way of instigating crisis from, most times, the opposition parties.
“For our political parties, this is like an examination, so everybody should be prepared if your candidate has a history, if your political party has a history of standing with the people, naturally, people will vote for you, and mind you, what you require in a democracy is to get the majority vote.
“For the people, again, we have always said that for all those who are involved in the off-season elections like Kogi, Imo, and Bayelsa states, we have said that you have no other state than the one you have now; you have no other country than the one you have now. Do not allow politicians to manipulate you into doing their bidding. On that day, go out, vote for a candidate of your choice and of your interest, and do not allow anybody to manipulate you,” he said.
Speaking on the matter, the National Deputy Youth Leader and member of Imo State Campaign Council, Timothy Osadolor, said from being once the biggest and ruling party in Nigeria and Africa to becoming the biggest and strongest opposition party in Nigeria, it would be irresponsible and arrogant to dismiss the PDP.
“The only worry of the PDP and Nigerians is the current style and shape that elections now take in Nigeria. The 2019 elections in Kogi were a movie where choppers were raining down bullets like rain on voters. Or is it in Imo State where the Supreme Court first performed one of its most ignominious miracles of technicalities to make Number four become Number one,” Osadolor stated.
The Coordinator of the LP in the 2023 presidential election in Ekiti State, Moses Jolayemi, noted that the government had the responsibility to ensure adequate security for all the impending off-season elections.
In his words, “I think it’s going to be a lot easier to handle that, and our security agencies have no excuses; they can claim to be overwhelmed because they have more than enough personnel to do the job. The thugs and armed groups should be reminded that the security agents deployed are not for photo shoots.
“Therefore, there is no sense in placing their lives on the line for the ambition of one man whose children are probably living a life of luxury and comfort abroad. On vote-buying, if there are no buyers, you can’t have sellers. The voters themselves should know by now that selling their votes is the greatest injustice they can do to themselves.
“Those who buy votes certainly have no allegiance to the vote sellers. So, it would be foolhardy to expect those who bought their votes not to recoup their investments by looking after themselves instead of those who sold their votes to put them in power. It’s so simple and logical. When you sell your vote, you sell your future. The political parties must strengthen our democracy by staying faithful to the rules.
“The developed countries are where they are today because their leaders put their countries first, not themselves, as is the case here. Whatever they make of this country is what it will be for them and their offspring in years to come.”