With a total of 5.41 million eligible voters, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is set to conduct governorship elections in Bayelsa, Imo and Kogi states, on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023.
While there are 1,056,862 registered voters in Bayelsa, Imo has 2,419,922 registered voters and 1,932,654 people are expected to vote in Kogi. Speaking on the preparation ahead of the elections, INEC chairman, Mahmood Yakubu said the commission would deploy 46,084 staff for the polls.
Despite expressing confidence in the ability of its personnel to conduct credible elections, he is concerned about the wave of insecurity and election-related violence in the three states.
Off-cycle elections are held outside the general elections schedule due to circumstances such as death, resignation, impeachment, annulment of elections by courts, and many more.
In Bayelsa, off-cycle elections began in 2007, after Ebitimi Amgbare, candidate of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) challenged the victory of Timipre Sylva of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who was declared winner of the state’s governorship election by INEC.
Though Amgbare lost at the tribunal, he proceeded to the Court of Appeal where a fresh election was ordered in 2008. Interestingly, Sylva won again and was sworn into office.
After Ibrahim Idris of the PDP won his second term election as Kogi governor in 2007, Abubakar Audu of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) petitioned the tribunal that his name was wrongfully excluded from the list of candidates that contested at the election.
The appellate court nullified the election and ordered INEC to reconduct a governorship poll in the state. Again, Idris won the election and returned to his seat as the governor of Kogi State on March 29, 2008. Since then, the state has had its off-cycle polls in 2012, 2016, and 2020.
Imo is, however, the latest state on the off-cycle election pattern. After Emeka Ihedioha of the PDP won the governorship election of the state in 2019, Hope Uzodinma of the All Progressives Congress (APC) challenged the victory at the tribunal.
To the surprise of many, the Supreme Court on Jan. 14, 2020 declared him the duly elected governor of the state, and was immediately sworn in. So, on Nov. 11, the state would participate in its first ever off-cycle election.
Ever since Nigeria gained independence, the electoral processes in the country have been marred with different forms of violence and malpractices. The recent general elections conducted in February and March respectively were characterised by various criminal activities such as arson, assassinations, ballot box snatching, forceful disruption, kidnapping, hate speech-induced crises, shooting, thuggery, and so on.
The reasons for these repeated challenges, however, include weak governance, ineffectiveness of security forces, poverty, unemployment, abuse of power, and the proliferation of arms. Already, ongoing campaigns in Bayelsa, Imo, and Kogi suggest that the off-cycle elections would be characterised by armed violence like previous elections.
This may lead to heavy militarisation, a development that shrinks Nigeria’s democratic values and undermines the military personnel’s ability to fulfill their task of protecting the nation’s borders against external forces.
Historically, armed thugs usually stoke violence at every election cycle in Nembe, Brass, Ekeremor, and Southern Ijaw areas of Bayelsa State. The activities of militants in the South-South region put the state on a prevalent security threat, especially in hotspots around the swamps.
During the last general elections, INEC moved voting in 141 polling units in the state to the following day after the voting processes were interrupted by thugs. The National Youth Service Corps members handling those polling units said they were afraid of conducting elections at the affected polling units.
As Nov. 11 governorship election draws closer, Bayelsa Traditional Rulers Council said they have gathered intelligence of planned politically orchestrated violence in different areas of the state. “We do not think that law enforcement should allow political actors to violate all the laws of the land and walk away free in the name of politics. We have seen acts of violence being meted out to Bayelsa people in other election seasons in this state and the perpetrators walked away free. We hope it does not repeat in this season,” the monarchs warned in a statement.
On Sept. 18, Timipre Sylva, candidate of the APC and incumbent governor Douye Diri of the PDP accused each other of sponsoring violence ahead of the polls. The police have also been accused of being complicit in the recent conflict that claimed lives at Bassambiri community in Bayelsa.
However, a group of women under the umbrella of Bayelsa Women Arise Organisation has promised to stop any violent moves by politicians to upturn the will of the people in the state’s governorship election.
The activities of armed men aligned to the proscribed separatist terror group, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) threatens a free campaign ahead of the governorship election in Imo. Residents who spoke with HumAngle said IPOB members are deadly and can go any length to hurt anyone who disobeys them during polls.
“The insecurity in the state shows there will not be fairness and equality in the race. There has been violence in places like Orlu, the base of the terror groups in Imo. I remember that an INEC official was killed during the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise of 2022. The situation has not changed. Imo remains deadly,” said Ralph Ebi.
On April 21, five policemen and a couple were killed at the Okpala Junction in the Ngor Okpala area. While some security operatives, who were driving in two pick-up trucks were ambushed and killed on Sept. 19, the residence of Canice-Moore Nwachukwu, the lawmaker representing the Orlu/Orsu/Oru east federal constituency of Imo, at the house of representatives was set ablaze on Sept. 28.
“It is inexplicable that Imo has become a war theatre and the epicentre of violence and bloodbath in the entire South East,” the candidate of Labour Party (LP), Athan Achonu said during the launch of his campaign. While the candidate of the PDP, Samuel Anyanwu claimed that “Imo is gradually turning into a Boko Haram state because of the level of insecurity.” Governor Uzodimma of the APC blamed the opposition for the wave of violence in the state.
In its publication titled “Nigeria’s 2023 State Elections: Mirroring Hotspot States“, Nextier Violent Conflict Database, listed Kogi as one of the states with a propensity for electoral violence based on historical evidence and the existing security situation.
After the general elections in March, 100 INEC staff and an ad hoc official were abducted on March 19 while going to the Constituency Collation Centre in Lokoja from Kupa North area of Kogi State. It took efforts of the Nigeria Police to engage the attackers who were forced to flee with varying degrees of injuries.
On June 3, Muritala Ajaka, governorship candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in Kogi State, escaped assassination by the whiskers after his convoy was attacked by gunmen. In July, the same candidate’s campaign office was attacked twice, destroying billboards showing the picture of President Bola Tinubu alongside the governorship candidate.
While Ajaka has repeatedly accused incumbent governor, Yahaya Bello of unleashing violence on him and his supporters because of his desperation to impose APC’s candidate, Ahmed Ododo on the state, Bello’s convoy was also recently attacked, with some aides of the governor reportedly injured.
Meanwhile, the death of a woman killed during a campaign violence between supporters of the APC and SDP in the Koton Karfe area of the state has continued to threaten the peace of the community, as residents told HumAngle that they doubt the result of the poll will reflect the interest of the majority.
“The violence in the state is capable of frustrating residents from voting and we may end up having apathy,” said Racheal Wilson, a resident concerned about the wave of election insecurity in the state.
The Electoral Act frowns at violence connected to elections and is punishable with up to four years imprisonment, or a fine of ₦500,000 or both. The incidents witnessed in Bayelsa, Imo and Kogi states show lack of respect for the law.
Nigeria’s electoral umpire has however expressed concern over the growing level of violence capable of scaring potential voters in the state.
“The commission is concerned about the spate of insecurity and violence, including clashes among supporters of political parties and candidates in the forthcoming elections. INEC earnestly appeals to all political parties and candidates to avoid utterances and acts that may heat up the polity.
“The commission will continue to closely monitor the situation and sustain its engagement with security agencies and stakeholders to ensure peaceful conduct of elections in the three states,” said Sam Olumekun, INEC National Commissioner and Chairman of its Information and Voter Education Committee.
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