By Buchi James
In every democracy, elections are usually veritable tools that could be deployed to rate the extent of progress of the polity. A free, fair and credible election is often regarded as a testimony to the progressive growth of the polity, while an election bridled with all manner of irregularities reflects the level of retrogression in the growth of such a polity.
The re-run of the Kogi West Senatorial District election on November 30 has come and gone, producing a winner and a loser. However, the election more than anything raised a lot of dust that is yet to settle.
For example, a lot of questions are being asked with respect to the credibility and fairness of the election. There have also been questions concerning the role the various security agencies that were supposed to keep the peace played during the election, with allegations of partisanship being mentioned in some quarters.
From the above, the major crust of this piece shall be to review the Kogi West Senatorial re-run with specific emphasis on the extent of fairness of the election, the level of credibility as well as the role the security agencies played during the election.
Due to lack of a clear winner in the re-run of November 16, the INEC declared the senatorial re-run inconclusive. The margin of victory was less than the total number of cancelled votes. Consequently, a supplementary poll was scheduled for those areas where voting was marred by violence and other hitches.
According to the INEC, the affected include 46, 767 registered voters spread across 20 Registration areas and 53 polling units in the seven local government area of the senatorial district.
Going into the November 30 supplementary polls, the INEC Returning Officer for the November 16 election, Prof. Olayide Lawal had announced that the candidates of the APC, Smart Adeyemi polled 80, 118 votes while Dino Melaye of the PDP polled 59, 548 votes, with 46, 127 votes as cancelled votes in the penultimate election.
From the foregoing background, the November 30 supplementary poll was supposed to be a contest mainly between Dino Melaye of the PDP and Smart Adeyemi of the APC, notwithstanding the participation of other political parties.
The role the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) played in the Kogi West supplementary election of November 30, like in the several others before it, was laced with mixed reactions. While some observers rate the performance in the re-run high, others believe the electoral umpire performed poorly.
To be sure, owing to the small size of the areas where the supplementary poll was conducted, the INEC had little challenges getting both sensitive and non-sensitive electoral materials to the various polling units. For example, a voter by name Musa Wahab, said he was surprised to find out that accreditation started before 10am in his polling unit owing to the prompt arrival of materials and personnel of the INEC.
One of the accredited observers of the election also stated that the INEC deserved commendation for the way it handled the November 30 supplementary polls in Kogi West. He further stated that in his area of assignment, materials and personnel arrived in good time and the entire process proceeded without hitches.
From the foregoing, therefore, it appears the INEC got its acts well enough to have delivered the kind of performance in the November 30 Kogi West re – run and which has attracted commendations from several quarters.
However, despite the foregoing commendations, there are reports and observations in some quarters indicating that the INEC did not do that well in the re-run election.
Senator Dino Melaye, the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the supplementary poll took to his verified Twitter handle @dino_melaye to state emphatically that the outcome of the poll was hijacked by the INEC officials who allegedly were working for the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Senator Dino also went ahead to post a video allegedly showing a scene in one of the polling units where a man he recognized as Santos was directing voters to vote for the APC without anything being done by the INEEC officials on ground.
From the two sides of the story above, it is quite clear that mixed reaction trailed the performance of the INEC in the November 30 supplementary election in Kogi West Senatorial District.
One question that begs for answer is, for how long must we continue to have the INEC as umpire in elections and continue to have divergent reactions? Isn’t it possible to have the INEC deliver a free, fair and credible election?
One of the major reasons why the November 16 re—run was declared inconclusive by the INEC was mainly due to widespread cases of violence and other forms of security breaches during the election which eventually led to the cancellation of the elections in the affected areas.
In the November 30 supplementary polls, this unfortunate situation reared its ugly head again. There were reports in several quarters that some fake policemen stormed various poling units in Ganaja and forced the electorate to vote for a particular candidate, thereby disrupting the process of voting in various polling units.
There were also reports of security agents and the police in particular turning blind eyes to several cases of electoral malpractices like vote buying and ballot box stuffing.
It is important to note that in as much as the Nigeria police and sister security agencies that were entrusted with the duty of maintaining the peace have continuously denied this allegation, video footages that have been making the rounds speak to the contrary.
From the above ,therefore, there is need to sound a clarion call to the Nigeria police and other security agencies that are often charged with the duty of maintaining the peace during elections to understand the fact that they are crucial stakeholders in the success of any election in the country.
To wind this piece, it is pertinent to state that although the Kogi re-run has come and gone, it has left some scars on Nigeria’s nascent democracy. On the strength of the foregoing, therefore, there is a serious need for all stakeholders in election matters in Nigeria to stay above board henceforth.
Nigeria’s fledgling democracy cannot afford to continue absorbing the heavy blows and severe scars constantly inflicted on it by the actions and inactions of these stakeholders. If we must get it right, now is the time to start!