CSO’S Damning Reports on Governorship Poll: Kogi Governor Impugns Integrity of Observers

A civil society group, Centre for Transparency Advocacy tackles Yahaya Bello, Kogi State governor, and challenges him to name election observers who approached him for logistics support for election monitoring.

For discrediting the process of the election that gave him a second term in office and calling for its entire cancellation, incumbent governor of Kogi State and candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, Yahaya Bello, has launched verbal attack on civil society organizations that gave damning verdicts on the November 16 poll, impugning their integrity.  In their separate assessment of the election, the Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room and YIAGA Africa said the election was marred with violence, votes buying, voters’ inducement, intimidation, and harassment. The Situation Room, a coalition of over 40 civic groups, described the Kogi election as “a major dent to Nigeria’s democracy”.

Yahaya Bello Photo
Yahaya Bello

At a press conference in Abuja onSunday, Clement Nwankwo, convener of the Situation Room was worried that ifthis election was allowed to stand, next year’s election in Ondo State, and the2023 general elections, would be a bloodbath. Nwankwo said the “Situation Roomis disappointed with the procedure of the two governorship elections that heldin Kogi and Bayelsa States, and worries that the elections fall below thestandards expected for a free, fair and credible elections…Election day turnoutwas however marred by violence and activities of political parties and securityagents leading to disruptions of polls in several areas”.

Indicting the security agencies deployed on election duties, Nwankwwo lamented that they watched incidents of ballot box snatching, violence and abuse of the electoral process, adding that “the claimed overwhelming numbers of deployments by security officials should ordinarily provide enough security for the elections”. The Situation Room regretted that the commercialisation of Nigeria’s elections in the form of vote-trading appeared to have reached unprecedented height. It noted that “political parties and their agents operated openly and with impunity distributing money in purchase of votes and it appeared that there were no efforts to stop them. Sums paid at the polling units ranged from N500 to N6,000”. Nwankwo also accused politicians of open exploitation of persons with disabilities (PWDs) who cashed-in on their level of poverty to buy their votes.

Returning a similar verdict, YIAGAAfrica, tasked INEC to conduct a thorough investigation of the conduct of theKogi governorship and senatorial elections and to conduct new elections thatwould give voters a genuine opportunity to exercise their right to vote,positing that violence and malpractices challenged the proper conduct of theelections. Hussaini Abdu, the Board Chair, YIAGA AFRICA, said the groupreceived a total of 69 incident reports of election infraction, snatching andstuffing of ballot boxes and papers, as well as reports of voter suppressionmanifesting in the form of denying voters access to polling units by politicalthugs. He blamed the challenges in the Kogi elections on failure of security,particularly the activities of the police, political parties, the majorcandidates, and the state and non-state accomplices.

 Abdu stated pointedly that “the stakeholdersdeliberately worked to undermine the election; they appeared to be moreconcerned about electoral victory than the credibility and legitimacy of theprocess”. Consequently, YIAGA Africa said “we are deeply worried and concernedabout this emerging trend in electoral manipulation and the deepening cultureof impunity. Failure to institutionally and decisively act could undermine ourdemocracy”.

The verdict the Centre for Democracy and Development, CDD, was even moredamning. The advocacy group said it recorded the killings of at least 10 peopleand over 129 cases of electoral malpractice during the governorship electionsin both Kogi and Bayelsa States and prayed the MuhammaduBuhari-led administration to “redeem the sanctity of the ballot”. At a pressconference in the aftermath of the two elections, CDD lamented to journaliststhat “on November 16 in Kogi and Bayelsa States, the very foundation of our20-year-old democratic order came under a grievous assault. Enthusiasticcitizens trooped out to vote for candidates of their choice, but they wereabsolutely disappointed”. Idayat Hassan, director of CDD, regretted that “manyvoters were disenfranchised as a result of a constant threat to life and limbthroughout the process”. Hassan who said in Kogi alone, her organization deployedover 300 observers to areas with a higher number of registered voters and whereirregularities were expected, described as shocking beyond description, “thesheer magnitude of the violent assault on the sanctity of the ballot” assertingthat “the outcome of such a process that was so criminally subverted should notactually be allowed to stand”. She said “at the last count, our observers inKogi State have recorded the death of 10 people in various shooting incidentsand attacks across the state”. According to her, over 79 incidents ofmalpractice were recorded in Kogi, ranging from hijack of electoral materialsto kidnap of ad-hoc staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC), vote-buying, attack on observers and journalists, and so on. Corroboratingthe position of Situation Room and YIAGA Africa on the complicity by securityagencies, Hassan submitted that the large deployment of security agents for theelections did not translate to the improvement of security in Kogi, saying that“In some places, they actually turned their faces while the onslaught was goingon, while in some, they were completely overpowered”.

Hassan concluded agonizingly that in both Kogi and Bayelsa States, what the CDD saw on the field “defies reasonable logic,” especially coming after the 2019 general elections, opining that the conduct of the polls was “indicative of an electoral process that is fast deteriorating”. Miffed at the figures of turnout of voters declared by INEC in some local governments, Hassan described them as “suspicious” when compared with figures from previous elections from 1999. She gave an example of Okene in Kogi State where she said as many as 87 percent (114,001) of the total registered voters were accredited, “an incredible increase of around 69.1 percent” compared to 2015 figures. CDD, therefore, called for a robust, multi-stakeholder response in rescuing Nigeria’s electoral process, declaring that “we dare not choose the convenient path of silence”.

Like thecivil society groups, the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA was also not satisfiedwith the conduct of the Bayelsa and Kogi elections. The NBA in its review of theexercises on Sunday said they fell below the minimum standard of a credibleelection. In a 20-page report by its Election Working Group headed by itschairman, Afam Osigwe, the body of lawyers said “the credibility of the entireprocess was put in issue by the overwhelming incidents of harassment andintimidation of voters and electoral officials, destruction of electoralmaterials, snatching of ballot boxes and votes and the killing of persons”.

In itsconclusion, the NBA stated that “In the light of the large-scale acts ofviolence, disruptions of the electoral process, snatching of electoralmaterials by armed persons, some of whom were dressed in police uniform,coupled with sporadic gunshots that scared voters away from voting centres, asobserved by the NBA EWG, the elections in Kogi State failed to meet the minimumstandards of a credible election”.

But in spite of the unanimity of opinion by CSOs and other election monitors adjudging the election a charade and significantly flawed, Governor Yahaya Bello insisted that the election that returned him for another term in office was free, fair and credible. Speaking on Channels Television breakfast programme, Sunrise Daily, the governor said “the conduct of the election was quite very, very credible. A level playing field was provided. And it was free and fair”. He, however, admitted that there were issues but was quick to add that these pockets of issues could not really be used to judge the general conduct of the election. Taking umbrage at the pronouncements of the CSOs, Bello insinuated that he was a victim of blackmail because he refused to play ball when some of them approached him.

 Questioning the integrity of some of the election observers and monitors, the governor said “… the only advice I have for the civil society organizations and umpire which is the INEC  is that when next they are selecting people who are supposed to observe, monitor this kind of very all-important exercise, I think they should look into the credibility of some of those people and their antecedents and background because in a situation where you send someone to go and monitor or observe an election of this nature and they go around meeting those they are even supposed to monitor or observe, asking for one form of logistics or the other, when you decide to decline or what have you, they decide to take it out on you. It is most unfortunate. You know, some of them, we know where their loyalty stands”.

 Arguing that they were entitled to their ownopinions, the governor demanded to know “the parameters which they are judgingthis particular election. How many polling units did they visit out of over2,548 polling units, 239 wards, and 21 local governments all across thedifficult terrains of this particular state? So, how many people have they reached out to? And there are over 600,000votes cast; have they interviewed all the electorate? So, what is theyardstick? So, they are entitled to their opinion”.

But Nwankwo, convener of the Situation Room, refused to react to the allegation by the governor when reached by the magazine Wednesday. His brusque response was “I have no comment please”. Faith Nwadishi of the Centre for Transparency Advocacy, however, challenged Bello to name those who approached him for logistics rather than tar all monitors and observers with the same brush. According to her, her organization did not ask anybody for logistics “and if there were people who came to meet him to ask for logistics, he should call the names of the people so that they will be called out and people will know the observer groups that came to ask for logistics”. Speaking further, she said, “you know when things happen like that politicians will always look for people to blame”.  She insisted that “the CSOs and monitors reported what they saw and can defend them. Some of them have evidence; people experienced some of those things themselves. So, all those things he’s saying, they know what they did at that election”.

She, however, pointed out that it was not only politicians who were culpable. “We also have security agents who didn’t do what they were expected to do”, adding that most of the issues that happened during the elections wouldn’t have been if the security personnel had done what they were supposed to do. “For instance, if you know Kogi very well, I drove from Lokoja to Okehi, to Okene to Ajaokuta. Do you know that the whole length and breadth of that road, no single police check-point, no Road Safety check-point, no Civil Defence, not even Army check-point on an election day? So, there was free movement for the thugs. From Lokoja to Ajaokuta – no checkpoint! This is the first time I am going to observe elections and I would travel for three hours and I didn’t see one check-point. And this is the same state where people reported that there would be violence. Whatever he (Bello) is saying is just to justify whatever they did. We have called for the cancellation of that election. Unfortunately, the law does not empower INEC to cancel an election and that is why we are calling for election reforms so that we can find ways on how we can empower the INEC to be truly independent and call a spade a spade when they need to”.

Jibrin Ibrahim, aprofessor of political science and senior fellow at the CDD, agreed withNwadishi. He noted that security agencies, despite their responsibility toprotect citizens and the rule of law, were complicit in disrupting theelections and allowing attacks at polling units. “Specifically, we areconcerned about the direct contradiction we saw of massive police deployment,over 50,000 for both Kogi and Bayelsa states; but on the ground, that massivedeployment was not visible to the eyes”. Like Nwadishi, Ibrahim said “we wentthrough a lot of the key roads leading out of Lokoja and there were nocheckpoints. And precisely because the police was not there to check, those whowere moving around were armed thugs in Hilux vans, carrying weapons, and movingsystematically from polling unit to polling unit. This is a direct indicationthat there was state complicity in what happened”. Aligning with Nwadishi’ssuggestion, he urged Buhari to set up a panel to probe into why state agenciesfailed to act appropriately during the elections, stressing that democracy wasgravely endangered by current happenings in the country.

“CDD calls onPresident Muhammadu Buhari to urgently provide the leadership needed to rescuethe electoral process, and by extension, the entire democratic system fromimminent collapse”, Ibrahim said. He explained that “this call becomesimperative because Buhari was only able to ascend the presidency through thehistoric 2015 elections because the electoral process allowed the votes tocount. That watershed was a culmination of the electoral reform initiated bylate President Umaru-Musa Yar’adua and former president Goodluck Jonathan. Atthe moment, Nigeria’s electoral process requires similarly bold and courageousleadership to chart a way forward and resolve the lingering challengesthreatening to derail it. President Buhari owes this duty to all Nigerians. Hecannot stand by and allow the continuous degeneration of our electoral system”.

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