Electorate’s votes secured as INEC and police are present at the Kogi and Bayelsa.

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Ahead of the November 16, 2019 governorship election in Kogi and Bayelsa states, MUDIAGA AFFE writes that despite the tense atmosphere instigated by the actions and inaction of political actors and security operatives, there is a need to curb violence

Over the years, elections in Nigeria have been marred by violence that is believed to be promoted by the political actors to win the elections at all costs. Unfortunately, apart from deriding the electoral processes, many lives have been lost alongside wanton destruction of properties.

It is just one week to the conduct of the governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states. As was the case in the February/March 2019 general elections, the political atmosphere in the two states has become charged and politicians who have perfected the art of playing the blame games are at the top of it. Their sole interest is how to induce mayhem as part of their do-or-die strategies to get their parties into power at all costs.

In Bayelsa State, for instance, the All Progressives Congress has accused the state government of withdrawing a whopping N17.5bn as part of plans by the Peoples Democratic Party-led government in the state to induce voters during the election.

The party has, therefore, called on the anti-corruption agencies to freeze the account of the state over the recent alleged suspicious withdrawals by government proxies.

The state APC governorship candidate, David Lyon, alleged that the PDP was planning to use the money to rig the election through vote-buying.

The party did not end there as its Deputy National Publicity Secretary, Mr Yekini Nabena, further alleged that it had uncovered fake Permanent Voter Cards manufactured in large numbers by the PDP ahead of Saturday’s governorship election in the state.

However, the governorship candidate of the PDP in Bayelsa, Senator Douye Diri, dismissed the allegations by the APC, claiming the rival party was not ready for peaceful polls but to deploy violence.

While that is allegedly happening in Bayelsa State, a chieftain of the PDP in charge of security in the Wada/Aro Campaign Organisation in Kogi State, Suleiman Abutu, was arrested with six others in Dekina Local Government Area of the state for illegal possession of firearms.

The development is coming on the heels of persistent fears that politicians are arming thugs ahead of the November 16 governorship election in the state.

Several instances of this nature which helped to charge the atmosphere during the just concluded 2019 general elections is again resurfacing despite several debates to avoid its reoccurrence. The unwarranted use of force by security operatives to disrupt the electoral process is also an issue of concern.

In a bid to avert vote-buying ahead of the elections on Saturday in Kogi and Bayelsa states, the Independent National Electoral Commission has promised to deploy operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission to polling centres to arrest vote buyers.

The commission’s Chairman, Prof Mahmoud Yakubu, during a quarterly meeting with the Inter-Party Advisory Council, said the EFCC and the ICPC would play active roles during the elections to try to dissuade and prevent vote-buying.

Yakubu said, “We are going to deepen our collaboration with the EFCC and the ICPC in this respect. They will keep an eye on the movement of cash during campaigns and election day.

“Before 2015, some suspected vote-buyers were arrested by the EFCC. Some have been charged to court. The latest update that I received indicated the EFCC has secured the first conviction in Gombe State. That is certainly a cause for celebration.”

The INEC boss said the commission would be working with all security agencies to ensure the safety of both men and sensitive materials during the elections.

However, at another event in Abuja, Yakubu raised the alarm on the likelihood of the governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states being disrupted by political thugs.

Yakubu said the outcome of the risk assessment conducted by the commission identified some flash-points in the two states.

“There are already warning signals in the two states. Both are politically volatile. Elections have been disrupted by violence in the past. Our risk assessment, which will be shared with the security agencies at this meeting, has identified some flashpoints.

“We are also concerned that thugs have been mobilised from within and outside the states with the aim of either influencing the elections or disrupting the process on behalf of partisan sponsors.”

He stated that the development called for a robust response before the elections, election day and during the process of collation and declaration of results.

“Nigerians expect that by now, we have learnt enough lessons from previous elections to ensure a swift security response to increasing desperation by political actors to disrupt elections and subvert the will of the electorate.

“If that happens, many Nigerians will blame the electoral umpire and the security agencies. We must continue to rise to this challenge,” he added.

As also expected, the Inspector-General of Police, Mr Mohammed Adamu, has pledged that the police would be professional and neutral in the conduct of the governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states.

Adamu said the police would draw from its experiences from the 2019 general elections to ensure free, fear and credible elections in the two states.

But the problem, according to pundits, is the ability of the major stakeholders to stick to the rules of the game. For instance, while the politicians have their huge blames, the ability of the electoral umpire to prosecute electoral violators and secure judgments in their favour has come under scrutiny.

The Chairperson of Transition Monitoring Group, Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, said as part of ways to ensure lasting peace, there is a need for the citizens and government to activate the section of the Electoral Act that punishes those who promote violence in elections.

“The political parties are responsible for heating the polity, we need to reduce their influence on the citizens’ ability to vote, and there is a need for citizens and government to activate the section of the electoral law that punishes those who promote violence in elections.

“The antecedents of the two states are a great concern. Steps must be taken by the police to ensure that innocent citizens are not caught up in the violence being orchestrated by political parties,” she stressed.

Akiyode-Afolabi also tasked the electoral commission to increase its relationship with the law enforcement agencies to ensure that all those found culpable were prosecuted and convicted.

“The election management body needs to also increase its engagement with police and other security agencies to prevent violation of electoral guidelines such as (voter inducement and transaction of PVC) as well as violence pointers.

“It is also important that parties, candidates and their supporters should desist from any form of physical attack or use of foul language. Voters should also ensure that they vote their conscience by refusing to transact their PVCs for peanuts or short-term gains while citizens should be ready to cooperate with INEC and security agencies by reporting any form of malpractice or act of criminality to ensure a peaceful transition of power.

“The onus is also on the security to ensure that all reported cases of criminality particularly, recruitment of thugs and storing of arms and ammunitions to prevent an outbreak of violence must be properly investigated and managed,” Akiyode-Afolabi added.

President, Voters’ Assembly, Mashood Erubami, said until electoral violators were made pay for their crime, the situation may remain the same.

He, therefore, tasked the electoral umpire, politicians and security operatives to be guided by the rules of the game.

Erubami said, “Peaceful and fair conduct of the elections have always been our desire, but this can only be achieved through the adherence of the stakeholders, namely political parties, politicians themselves and security operatives that we can have a peaceful conduct of the exercise.

“Note that before the commencement of every election in the past, there had always been assurances from all quarters that they were set to ensure peaceful conduct, whereas when the elections came, all the issues that we identified and condemned ended up being repeated.

“So, we need to get the concrete commitment of politicians before elections are conducted because they are the ones who mobilise thugs, bribe security operatives and also buy votes. Once they agree that they are not going to do anything contrary to the electoral law, then you can rest assured we would have peaceful elections.

“The electoral body has always got politicians to sign a peace accord, but when the rules are breached, what happens? The INEC alone cannot achieve peaceful conduct; they must work with all the stakeholders to achieve this desired peace. Politicians too must begin to stick to the rules of conduct that they signed to ensure peaceful exercise while the security operatives must learn to stick to the rules. They must all do it in a way that no party can perpetrate electoral offences.”

Explaining other steps that should be taken to bring about lasting peaceful conduct of elections in Nigeria, the immediate-past National President of Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, Malachi Ugwummadu, said the political class had the biggest role to play.

He also charged INEC to take the bold step of prosecuting and securing judgment on those identified to have perpetrated violence during elections.

“The debate about the peaceful electoral process had been on for as long as we have elections in Nigeria but I do think that a few variables must be taken into consideration in securing violent free elections. The first is the level of sensitisation based on voters’ education.

“On this call, INEC, which is the electoral umpire, has been making a lot of efforts, particularly through the electoral institute. However, the real voters’ education ought to be by the political parties themselves. It is the political parties that should promote and champion electoral discipline.

“The politicians should mobilise their party members on the implication of violent behaviours which is abhorred by extant laws; the Electoral Act (2010) and the existing criminal codes.

“For those who have been fingered to have conducted themselves violently in the past they should be prosecuted and conviction secured to serve as a deterrent to others in the future. In this respect, I am referring to section 150 of the Electoral Act (2011) which insists that INEC is empowered to prosecute electoral offenders.

“But what it has turned out to be is that those who perpetrate electoral offences and violence are never brought to book and in the next round of election they become emboldened to wreak more havoc to the detriment of the society.

“Beyond that, the security operatives conduct themselves in a manner that compromises the process, unfortunately, we have not had any of them that have been reprimanded or sanctioned. There are rules of engagement,” he said.

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