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INEC’s image crisis, violence threaten guber polls

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INEC's image crisis, violence threaten guber polls

By OBINNA EZUGWU

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had last week raised concerns about insecurity ahead of November 11 off cycle governorship elections in Bayelsa, Kogi and Imo states, but lack of trust in the commission, stemming from the shoddy conduct of the 2023 general election, could prove to be even a bigger challenge going into the polls, as many say they have lost confidence in the umpire and won’t be bothering to cast their ballots.

INEC had in a statement by it’s national commissioner and chairman of voter education, Sam Olumekun, said it was concerned about the “spate of insecurity and violence, including clashes among supporters of political parties and candidates in the forthcoming elections,” while appealing to parties to avoid utterances and acts that may heat up the polity.

Insecurity is indeed enveloping in the states. In Kogi, clashes between supporters of the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Ahmed Ododo, and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) candidate, Alhaji Murtala Ajaka, have left many dead.

In Bayelsa, where PDP’s incumbent, Gov. Douye Diri, and APC’s Timipre Sylva – who was recently disqualified by the court – are the leading contenders, violence between the supporters of the two camps, the highlight being the August 12 attack on Nembe, have put many on edge.

In Imo, while there have not been clashes between supporters of the leading candidates, namely Hope Uzodimma, the incumbent governor and candidate of APC; Athan Achonu of the Labour Party, and Sam Anyanwu of the PDP, attacks by gunmen with stated objective to disrupt the election, could serve to deter voters.

“Voter apathy is going to be a big factor in the election because of the violence that we are witnessing, especially in Kogi,” said Yusuf Mohammed, a journalist from the North Central state. “People are being assassinated every now and then in clashes between APC and SDP.

“In every election in Kogi, there is usually violence, but the build up to this one is the worst. So, definitely a lot of people will prefer to sit at home for fear of being killed.”

But while many point to insecurity as a huge concern, recent events suggest that the biggest challenge with election in the country is compromise by electoral officials, aided in instances by state actors or non state actors backed by state actors, and as the elections approach, many say they expect more voter apathy on account of loss of confidence in the system.

“INEC has lost credibility and that’s a big challenge for the electoral system. Mahmood Yakubu should have immediately stepped down after the shambolic conduct of the last election,” said Nneji Kenneth, a People’s Democratic Party (PDP) youth leader in Imo. “They raised people’s hopes with concrete assurances about uploading polling unit results in real time, but dashed those hopes in the most painful way.

“And the worst part is, when you have a situation, where all the obvious manipulations, such as was the case in Rivers, Lagos, and some other states, are overlooked by the courts, what it says is that election in Nigeria is the survival of fittest, and that further kills the morale of the people.”

The commission had, prior to the 2023 polls, created excitement among many, especially young Nigerians, with its repeated promises to deploy technology to bring an end to vote rigging.

However, while its Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) did work to ensure that cases of multiple thumbprint of ballot papers were curtailed, the commission failed in the most critical aspect; the promised real-time uploading of polling units results via its Result Viewing Portal (IReV), which many believe provided the room for what they say was the manipulation of the presidential election results.

“Today, Imo people are disenchanted,” said Martins Ori, a journalist. “They say no matter how they vote, INEC will write whatever it likes as the result, so there’s no need to waste time going to vote. This will, of course, work in favour of Uzodimma.

“The opposition parties are demoralized. What happened on February 25 and March 18 here will be of advantage to Uzodimma because many people, who would have come to vote against him are not coming to vote because of disenchantment.”

At the weekend, INEC chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, said the results of the governorship elections in the three states will be uploaded on its IReV.

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“The method is as provided by law, electronic accreditation, electronic upload of results on the IREV portal and that is why we are doing this mock,” Yakubu stated, while speaking with newsmen at Ward 009, LEA School, Ganaja Village, Ajaokuta Local Government Area, Kogi State.

“So, please disregard whatever was reported about what the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) was said to have said in Bayelsa. That’s going to be the procedure and it’s for that reason that I will advise you also for those, who are registered on the IREV portal.”

But it was the same INEC chairman, who promised real time transmission of results ahead of the February presidential election, and both the PDP and the Labour Party immediately warned the electorate to trust the commission’s chairman at their own peril, even as many took to social media to berate him, demanding his resignation from the role.

Indeed, the commission’s social media pages have become eyesores, with many users consistently expressing their disgust at it over the conduct of the 2023 polls, and despite its best efforts to rally support, it appears that it will take a long while before confidence is restored in the umpire.

How the candidates stand

As 18 parties battle for the available 5.4 million votes, comprising 1,056 862 registered voters in Bayelsa; 2,419,922 in Imo, and 1,932,654 in Kogi, making a combined total of 5,409,438 registered voters for the three states, some may be aware they are simply in the contest to make up the numbers.

Imo

In Imo, the election is widely seen as three-horse race among APC, PDP and Labour Party, but in reality, it’s shaping up to be a clean sweep for the ruling APC and its candidate, Uzodimma.

The opposition camp in the state is deeply divided. In the PDP, Sam Anyanwu had used his influence as a national official of the party to force out the more popular Emeka Ihedioha, a former governor of the state, before the party’s primary. As it stands, nearly half of the main opposition party is backing the APC.

The Labour Party before its own primary, had broken into four different factions. However, Achonu, who was produced by the camp recognized by the party’s national leadership, has held sway, amid debilitating court battles. Presently, two of the four factions have collapsed into the ruling APC.

“Unless there is a political miracle, Uzodimma is as good as having won the election,” said Martins. “People are not happy with the PDP, especially Ihedioha for pulling out. They say he should have stayed, and with their support he could have defeated Sam Daddy (Sam Anyanwu) in the primary.

“You know the factors that win elections in Nigeria, the governor has the two most critical factors, which is the security structure and INEC. And he is the person spending money. There’s no other billboard here except that of APC and Uzodimma because for you to put a billboard, you must have paid N10m advance fee and another N50m to erect it, that’s N60m.

“Currently, all the big players, especially from Ihedioha’s camp in PDP, have directly or indirectly joined him.

“The problem with Labour is that early in the day, Uzodimma planted people to destabilize the party. Before the primary, Labour had up to four factions. At the end of day, Achonu won. They continued in the court, but currently two of the factions have joined Uzodimma while one is still in court. More importantly, people believe that Achonu doesn’t have the integrity required to drive the obidient movement here. Many people don’t trust him.”.

Kogi

Things are a lot more complicated in the North Central State, as the election has turned into an all out ethnic contest, among the Igala in Kogi East, who are the clear majority; the Igbira, who dominate Kogi Central, the ethnic group of the current governor, Yahaya Bello, and the Okun, a Yoruba subgroup found in the Kogi West District.

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The Igala, who lost power following the death of Abubakar Audu in 2015, insist it’s their turn, Bello having done eight years, have rallied behind the SDP candidate, Murtala Ajaka.

The Igbira, on the other hand, insist on completing 16 years as the Igala did between 1999 and 2015 before handing it over, and are presently rallying behind Ahmed Ododo, candidate of the ruling APC, who was anointed by the incumbent governor, Bello, a fellow Igbira.

The Okun, who have not produced a governor yet, are insisting that it’s their turn and have Dino Melaye, the PDP candidate as their leading contender.

In summary, however, the battle is down primarily to SDP’s Ajaka, who has the support of his Igala constituency, the clear majority ethnic group in the state, and APC’s Ododo, who is backed by the state structure.

“The election is between SDP and APC, I mean Ajaka and Bello’s candidate. You know he’s also Bello’s cousin, who was the auditor general of the state. Both are Igbira, so what Bello is trying to do is to hand over to a fellow Igbira after eight years. That was why Ajaka defected from APC to SDP. Presently, most of the political heavyweights in Igala land have moved to SDP, even the ones that have not moved are supporting the SDP candidate,” said Mohammed.

“The thing is that if votes count, Ajaka will win, but Bello is very confident, and we know how INEC conducts elections. So, Bello may have his own plans, but my fear is that it may set the state on fire.”

Bayelsa

In Bayelsa, the incumbent governor and candidate of the PDP, Douye Diri at the moment, appears all clear to retain his seat without much stress following the disqualification of APC’s Timipre Sylva by the court.

Historically, the governorship election in the state is usually fierce and violent. The last one was actually won by the APC, but the court disqualified its candidate, and PDP won.

However, the APC has headed to Appeal Court and it’s decision will determine whether there could be a real battle for the oil rich state.

 

 

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