Bayelsa and Kogi Elections:Triumph or tragedy for Nigerian democracy?
By Buchi James
The Bayelsa and Kogi elections have come and gone, leaving varying reactions among Nigerians, depending on political affiliations. While the INEC returning officer in Kogi State declared the incumbent Yahaya Bello of the APC the winner, his counterpart in Bayelsa State did same for David Lyon also of the APC as victorious in the November 16 gubernatorial elections. For the two states, though the election has come and gone but the dust it generated is yet to settle. For Bayelsa, for instance, many believe the outcome of the election may change the political landscape of Bayelsa for either the good or the worse. For President Muhammadu Buhari, in his congratulatory message to the winners who are also his party men, their victory at the polls is a reflection of the people’s will to part ways with the old ways of the PDP especially in Bayelsa state. But the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the major contender in the election, in a swift reaction via a press release rejected the outcome of the elections in both states, stating that the conduct and outcome of the November 16 Kogi and Bayelsa State Governorship election ‘has destroyed the hope Nigerians had in democratic practice’. Where do we go from here? And where have the election results left Nigerian democracy? First, it needs to be stated without any mincing words that a free, fair and credible election is not just essential, but indeed critical to any democracy, especially Nigeria’s. Indeed, without free, fair and credible elections, there
is no democracy and Nigeria cannot boast of practising one. Leaders that emerge through a highly flawed electoral process or election are bereaved of the requisite legitimacy to rule. Hence the need to abide by true democratic processes that guide free, fair and credible elections. This is one way of promoting democratic tenets that are essential to the sustenance of any democracy. On the strength of the foregoing, therefore, how can we measure the outcome of the elections in Bayelsa and Kogi states? How do we place these outcomes? Are they a victory for Nigeria’s democracy or a tragedy? BAYELSA The November 16, governorship elections in Bayelsa state introduced a novelty in the political landscape of the state. Since, the return of democracy in 1999, the state had remained a stronghold of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) which had won all previous gubernatorial elections in the state. However, David Lyon of the APC in what can best be described as a shock polled 352, 552 votes as against the 143, 172 votes that Douye Diri of the PDP polled thereby emerging the winner of the gubernatorial elections. According to the results announced by the INEC returning officer of the election, Professor Faraday Orumwese, the APC won in six of the eight local government areas in the state and these were Southern Ijaw where the APC candidate is from and Nembe where his running mate is from. Other local government areas won by the APC candidate include, Ekeremor, Brass, Ogbia and Yenagoa the state capital. The PDP could only muster victory in Kolokuma/Opokuma and Sagbama local govern
ment areas where respectively the PDP flag bearer and the incumbent governor Seriake Dickson come from. APC’s victory in Bayelsa state was heralded by a mixed reaction from Bayelsans. While some hailed it as a triumph of democracy and particularly a victory for the will of the people, others see it as another show of electoral malpractice and a thwarting of the will of the people. It is important however to state that the outcome of the Bayelsa state elections cannot be considered just from an angle. On the contrary, any analogy of the election’s outcome must of necessity evaluate the issue from a balanced point of view devoid of any sentiment. In the build up to the elections, Orient Weekend did an analogy of how the outcome of the election could be affected by the candidates, their parties and indeed the electorate themselves. Few days to the elections, the various contestants in the election signed a Peace Accord, pledging to abstain from anything that is capable of threatening the peace, during and after the elections. This, it must be stated yielded a positive impact as violence during and after the elections were not pronounced. According to SING Nigeria, one of the accredited domestic observers for the 2019 Baylesa gubernatorial elections, in its Preliminary Election Report, the November 16 election in Bayelsa recorded 40% decrease in the level of electoral violence both during and after the elections, and this is one of the positives that can be taken home from the Bayelsa polls. Another obvious positive which is a victory for Nigeria’s democracy is the fact that reports from both domestic and international observers of the elections thumb up the INEC.
Particularly, the INEC has been commended for the way it handled its logistics during the November 16 elections in Bayelsa state. Despite the flooding that had ravaged most of the local government areas in the state, the INEC was able to deliver both electoral materials and personnel to various RACs and units in good time. There are some reports in some quarters indicating that David Lyon’s victory is a reflection of the will of the people of Bayelsa to free them from the PDP which under the incumbent governor Seriake Dickson and his Restoration Team had been accused of gross mal-administration. Dickson’s alleged nonperformance especially in the last four years of his eight years term, demonstrated by the hike in the tuition fees of the state-owned Niger-Delta University, as well the nonpayment of salaries and pensions of civil servants and the civil service reforms, which received heavy backlash from most Bayelsans, no doubt, appear weighty enough reasons why the people of Bayelsa were willing the experiment with another option. If this be the case, then democracy surely recorded a victory in Bayelsa state on November 16. Improvement in security was also another obvious positive that could be taken from the November 16 elections in Bayelsa state. Reports have it that before, during and even after the elections, the various security agents were on top of their games and this would have been responsible for the reduction in electoral violence in the state during the polls. The foregoing obvious victories recorded by democracy in Bayelsa state on November 16, apart, it is equally important to state that it was not all victory for democracy in the state during and after the gubernatorial elections in the state. The age-long bad political traditions of thuggery and vote buying reared their ugly heads during the elections in Bayelsa state. In a press release published on the page of its official Twitter handle, @inecnigeria, the INEC’s National Commisioner and Chairman Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, noted that in spite of the commission’s efforts to deliver a free, fair, credible and violent-free election, the process was in many places in the state affected by political thuggery and violence. The above, therefore, bears a testimony to the fact that it was not an all rosy outing for democracy in the state as it was actually dealt some blows by the unfortunate incidences of thuggery and violence. For example, violent clash
es between opposing political party supporters were reported in some places in Nembe Local Government Area, as well as in Agbere under Sagbama Local Government Area. Vote buying was another low point that was recorded against democracy during the Bayelsa gubernatorial elections. According to reports, agents of the two major parties in the state engaged in massive vote buying. In places like Sagbama and Kaiama, this issue was reported to have been particularly high. There were also reports of over-voting in places like Kaiama, leading to the cancelation of some units in the town. KOGI Unlike Bayelsa, the outcome of the Kogi State gubernatorial elections held on November 16 surprised many, especially those that had expected it to be a referendum on Governor Yahaya Bello. According to the result announced by the INEC returning officer in the state and the Vice Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, Professor Ibrahim Garba, Yahaya Bello of the APC polled a total of 406, 222 votes to defeat Musa Wada of the PDP who polled a total of 189,704 votes. Going into the polls on Saturday, a lot of odds seemed to be against incumbent Yahaya Bello. However, in what can best be described as a political miracle, Bello recorded a landslide victory against his closest rival Musa Wada. The candidate of the PDP, Musa Wada almost immediately after the declaration of Bello as the winner, rejected the results that were declared, and stated in a video that was twitted by his party, the PDP that he will be going to the tribunal to challenge the outcome of the elections. According to him, the people of Kogi state exercised their will by voting massively for him and his party, the PDP, but the mandate was stolen from him. It has been reported in some quarters that, the outcome of the Kogi state gubernatorial elections is not just a shame to democracy, but also a rape of the democratic process. According to the media reports, the will of the people in Kogi state was not just thwarted through various electoral malpractices, but was denied through glaring rigging to favour the incumbent Yahaya Bello. In as much as the claim above has not yet been authenticated by any tribunal or court of competent jurisdiction yet, it is a clear pointer to what transpired in Kogi state on Saturday November 16. Although, Governor Yahaya Bello in a statement had described his victory as a victory for true democracy, however, with the spate of violence and irregularities that greeted the process that granted him victory, one is left to wonder if there is no more to what he believes is the true position of things. Away from the above, it is important to acknowledge the fact that the INEC again got their acts right in Kogi state. According to reports, materials and personnel were delivered to RACs and units in good time, and this improvement on the part of the electoral umpire needs to be encouraged. It is however, the mass violence, thuggery, vote buying and over voting that laced the Kogi gubernatorial elections that has remained the major talking point of the apostles of Nigeria’s democracy. In its Press Release, the INEC clearly captured the situation of electoral violence in several parts of Kogi when it stated that it is unfortunate that despite its efforts to deliver a violent-free election to the good people of Kogi, some elements took to violence, disrupting the electoral processes in many places eventually. Following the polls on November 16, several videos have emerged online showing how massive the use of violence was in the Kogi elections. In a particular video, some thugs were seen bearing arms and disrupting the process of voting in one of the units in the state. The extent of the use of thugs to disrupt voting during the Kogi election is another defeat Nigeria’s democracy
suffered in Kogi state. According to reports, incidences of thugs’ invasion of polling units to destroy electoral materials and scare away voters were numerous. According to reports, vote buying featured prominently in the Kogi elections, and was not limited to one particular political party. In Kogi, for example, videos emerged from several polling units in the state showing politicians and their agents dolling out money for votes. There were also reports of over voting in some polling units in Kogi state during the November 16 elections. Politicians and their agents in desperate attempts to win more votes engaged in the unethical practice of stuffing the ballot boxes leading to cancellation of votes in most cases. It is clear from all the above that the Bayelsa and Kogi elections generated varying reactions amongst Nigerians. More than anything however, the elections afforded Nigerians an opportunity to underscore the impacts of the elections on Nigeria’s fledgling democracy. Depending on which of the states one wishes to use as a case study, Nigeria’s democracy was frustrated as well as boosted in the twin elections of November 16. The lesson however is this, the INEC and security agencies when in a league with the electorates can afford democracy but the authorities have to ensure the level playing ground it requires to thrive in the country.
“The extent of the use of thugs to disrupt voting during the Kogi election is another defeat Nigeria’s democracy suffered in Kogi state. According to reports, incidences of thugs’ invasion of polling units to destroy electoral materials and scare away voters were numerous”.