Those who expected that politicians would act differently from their own odd, old ways of devising means to circumvent the process during last Saturday’s off-cycle elections must have been terribly disappointed. They did not change a bit. In fact, they became more brazen as they engaged in unwholesome practices of snatching ballot boxes, vote buying, thuggery, intimidation, kidnapping electoral personnel and name it.
In fact, there was nothing spectacular about the just concluded off-cycle elections in Bayelsa, Imo and Kogi States that suggested any lesson was learnt by politicians from the general election fallout earlier in the year.
Of course, there was massive deployment of security forces. For example, in Imo State alone, 15 Commissioners of Police, 29 Deputy Commissioners and 40 Assistant Commissioners were deployed for the election. Thirty-six units of mobile policemen were deployed from Abuja for the purpose of the election.
According to Henry Okoye, spokesperson for the Imo State Police Command: “Thirty-six units of mobile policemen have also been deployed from Abuja to Imo State for the purpose of this election. They will be assisting our own mobile policemen here in maintaining peace and order. A Deputy Inspector General of Police will be in charge of this election and will be assisted by an Assistant Inspector General of Police. The 40 Assistant Commissioners of Police will man each division in the state. The Current Divisional Officers will not be in charge of their divisions. The Assistant Commissioners of Police will be in charge. We are doing this to maintain the highest sense of neutrality. We must help to deepen our democracy. It is our constitutional responsibility. We want the votes of the Imo people to count. We will not allow anybody to hijack the electoral process. We are ready for this election.”
Ditto for Bayelsa and Kogi States. All flashpoints and violent prone areas got heavy deployment of security forces in all the three states.
Just as police had heavy presence, so also was it for the Department of State Services, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, Nigerian Army, Federal Road Safety Corps and and other sister forces. All was to one end: Just to make sure that election went on smoothly.
But what did we see? Despite all this, some accursed sons of the devil were not deterred in carrying out their nefarious activities. They snatched ballot boxes, carried out shootings and killings, and kidnapped electoral officers.
The off-season governorship elections revealed that politicians have perfected illegal acts of voters’ inducement to sabotage the will of the people. Gone were the days when voters could collect money and still go ahead to vote their conscience. Now, party agents would see the thumb printed papers before “paying” for the vote in what is now known as “see and buy”. Even to exchange votes for food stuff and drinks, party agents had their ways of ascertaining that their candidates were voted for.
Both the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission sent their agents to the field to curtail vote buying, but trust election riggers, they coded their operation to escape the eagle eyed security officers.
In a statement after Saturday’s vote, the EFCC revealed that its operatives arrested 14 suspected vote buyers in Otueke, Adawari playgrounds in Bayelsa State and at various polling units in Imo and Kogi States. Spokesperson for the anti-graft agency, Dele Oyewale, said the suspects were arrested after what he described as “intelligence-driven operations that commenced several days before the governorship elections in the three states”. Oyewale also said a total sum of N11,040,000 was intercepted from suspected vote buyers and sellers in Bayelsa State and N1,730,000 intercepted from electoral fraud suspects across Imo State.
Similarly, the ICPC said it apprehended an official of the Independent National Electoral Commission in Imo State in possession of a substantial amount of money. The INEC staff, whose name was not disclosed, was apprehended at Polling Unit 005, Township Primary School, Ikenegbu 1 in the Owerri Municipal Local Council.
Reports by different observer groups also indicated substantial cases of vote buying during the governorship elections. The Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, which deployed 220 observers across 56 local government areas in the three states, said it observed widespread vote buying across the states. The organisation revealed that some of the specific instances include sale of votes for amounts ranging from as low as N1,000 to N30,000 at various locations. In Bayelsa State, for instance, voters were seen showing their thumb-printed ballot papers in exchange for rice, drinks and money in PU 015, RA11, Southern Ijaw Local Council.
The situation was not different in Kogi State. There were reports of vote buying in PUs 004, 038 and 039 in Ward A of Lokoja Local Council, where party agents allegedly shared out money to voters upon confirmation that they voted for their party candidates.
Political thugs in Kogi State shot and killed a man. According to the All Progressives Congress, the man that was killed was one of them. They accused the “thugs” of their counterparts in the Social Democratic Party of shooting him. Also in Kogi State, there were reports of election result sheets, already filled, flying about everywhere even before the first ballot was cast.
The electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission, was praised for some measure of improvement in their operations in terms of logistics and deployment of technology in the electoral process. Elections started early in most of the places. Some INEC staff were kidnapped in Bayelsa State and nearly drowned when the boat carrying them capsized. But in all, their performance was judged above average.
Despite this, some politicians vilified the electoral body for their loss during the poll. Its men were accused of colluding with their opponents to do them in after being allegedly induced.
Well, nobody is absolving anyone of malfeasance but one of the beauties of the game is that aggrieved candidates are free to approach the law court. We have people like the Peoples Democratic Party candidate in Kogi State, Dino Melaye, who alleged that INEC in connivance with security forces rigged him out, thus denying him of victory. There is also the Labour Party candidate in Bayelsa State, Udengs Eradiri, who described the election as the “most monetised in Nigerian history”. Curiously, he polled just 940 votes. There are also candidates in Imo and Kogi States shouting blue murder.
That is not enough. They should approach the court with concrete evidence unlike our recent experience when the courts complained about frivolous filings thus wasting precious time.
But after all said and done, any litigant that approaches the court with frivolous filings or with shallow evidence of electoral fraud should be heavily fined. Apart from that, their lawyers who always aid them to go ahead with such frivolity should be reported to their association, the Nigerian Bar Association, for appropriate sanction.
Way forward: All those arrested for one offence or the other should be prosecuted to serve as a deterrent to any other would-be offender in future elections. This is the way to go in developing and advancing our democracy.