Despite assurances by the electoral commission and state security agencies, the November 16 governorship and senatorial elections in Kogi and Bayelsa have been described as one of the worst in the country’s history.
- In Kogi State, the APC’s Yahaya Bello won the governorship election and returns to the position.
- In Bayelsa, the APC’s David Lyon won the governorship elections after 20 years of PDP rule.
In Kogi, arsonists torched the home of the PDP’s Women Leader Salome Abuh, burning her alive. At least six others have reportedly been killed, but the death toll continues to rise. The PDP’s Dino Melaye’s nephew was shot in the Ayetoro ward 01 unit. Reports say he died on Sunday morning after arriving at hospital.
In Bayelsa, there were numerous reports of armed thugs, and men dressed in military uniforms, hijacking voting materials. In the Ayanma ward of Ogbia LGA, voting materials were allegedly set alight. An electoral officer was reported to have disappeared.
The violence and irregularities in the Bayelsa and Kogi elections resemble recent elections in Ekiti, Ondo, and Osun states.
- “Elections which should have enabled citizens to express their democratic preferences were violently and crudely undermined by an unrelenting band of partisan outlaws”, says Idayat Hassan, Director of Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), in a recent report. “The magnitude of the violent assault on the sanctity of the ballot was shocking. The outcome of a process that was so criminally subverted should not be allowed to stand,”
Big upswing in election violence
At least 233 people died as a result of election violence between 14 October 2018 and 20 February 2019 according to Nigerian risk consultancy SBM.
Several local journalists and observers say they were attacked and threatened while covering the Bayelsa and Kogi state elections. Security officers also allegedly denied accredited journalists entry into the collation centres.
Bayelsa has a history of post-election violence.
- “The desperation of State actors using instruments like the police and local gangs created a situation where citizens, journalists, and critical opposition were made to feel a sense of fear”, says Adewunmi Emoruwa, the Lead Strategist at the public strategy firm, Gatefield.
- “The impact of these actions typically is systemic [sic] disenfranchisement that allows a free rein for the election manipulators”
Kogi State Police Chief, Hakeem Busari says 40,000 security personnel were deployed to protect people and property during the elections.
He blamed the violence on thugs dressed in police uniform. A day before the vote, they stormed a hotel in Lokoja, attacking Oyo State Governor Seyi Makinde and other PDP leaders.
But Minister of State for Petroleum Resources Timipre Sylva praised the elections, saying they were conducted better than the polls four years ago.
During his election campaign, the APC’s Yahaya Bello assembled a star-studded cast including Kaduna State State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, the Nigerian First Lady, Aisha Buhari, the wife of the Vice President, Dolapo Osinbajo, the Chairman of the Governors’ Forum and Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi, and the APC chairman, Adams Oshiomhole.
Bello has been accused of withholding workers’ salaries for up to 30 months. During the rally, El-Rufai knelt before the crowd , begging for forgiveness over unpaid salaries:
- “Many people say Yahaya Bello is young; that he has fought many people. On his behalf, I’m kneeling down, to beg all of you to forgive Yahaya Bello if he has offended you. For every one that the governor has offended, I’m asking all of you to forgive him. He is young; he is supposed to make mistakes. When you are young, you make mistakes but you learn from them,” El-Rufai said.
Experts say Nigeria’s electoral candidates run populist campaigns based on division, not development goals.
- “What makes me uncomfortable is how desperate politicians can get and how harmful rhetoric and actions are becoming the order of the day. People shouldn’t have to lose their lives in a bid to elect their leaders,” says Emoruwa.
- “Until public office is stripped of its very juicy remuneration package and it is seen like every other job in Nigeria without the apparent job security, people will see politics as a place for easy money. There are very few politicians that have come to the job with clear ideas on what to do and how they are looking to transform their offices,” says Ugochukwu Ikeakor, a policy researcher.
PDP related to second tier status
The elections in Bayelsa and Kogi have consolidated power around the APC.
A few years ago, PDP was the dominant party in Nigeria. Today, they are effectively being relegated. After securing the PDP stronghold of Bayelsa, the APC stands a chance of winning more battles in the oil-rich Niger Delta.
- “These elections leave you with a sense that we have no other option but to reform our current political system. This goes beyond the talk about passing a new electoral act,” according to Emoruwa.
But electoral reforms will only come when there is political willpower, willpower Ikeakor believes did not exist with the PDP Federal Government and does not exist with this one.
- “There is no [incentive] to change a system that works in favour of the incumbent,” says Ikeakor.
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