Editor's note: Olabisi Malik, a member of YIAGA AFRICA’s election observation mission in the just concluded Kogi state governorship election, writes on the exercise and that of Bayelsa, which he noted were replete with ballot box snatching, destruction of electoral materials, voter suppression, arson, maiming, all orchestrated by armed thugs.
The just-concluded November 16 governorship election both Kogi and Bayelsa states are expected to provide an opportunity to improve on the 2019 general elections but unfortunately, it is providing a pointer to the infamous 2007 general elections. The 2007 poll was adjudged by both domestic and international observation mission as one "that fell short of basic international and regional standards for democratic elections and cannot be regarded as credible, free and fair.” The elections were deeply flawed due to poor organization, lack of transparency, widespread procedural irregularities, significant evidence of fraud, particularly during the result collation process, voter disenfranchisement at different stages of the process and lack of equal conditions for contestants.
It is shameful that twelve years after, the same description is used by both international and domestic observers to describe the Kogi and Bayelsa 2019 governorship election. It can be recalled that about a year ago, during President Muhammadu Buhari’s 2018 Easter message to citizens, he mentioned that “the dark days of Nigeria’s elections being manipulated by violence and rigging by corrupt politicians and their agents are over. They are confined to the dustbin of history where they rightly belong. I remain committed to bequeathing a legacy of supremacy of the people’s will through the ballot box.”
In reality, the presidents’ statement seems to be words embellished with mere rhetoric – probably uttered with good intentions but are obviously without any substance of truth. We need to understand that an election is a stakeholder’s affair, it is only legitimized when the electorates are provided with mechanisms that allow them to freely choose who governs them. It is the desire of Nigerians that our election process is drenched with all the variants of integrity and fairness, however, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), security agencies and the political parties, unfortunately, did not pass the minimum quotient of integrity in the elections.
To Nigeria and her watchers, the November 2019 governorship elections presented an opportunity for INEC to redeem her image, but unfortunately, the commission fell short of the citizen's expectations. INEC is saddle with the constitutional responsibility of conducting free and fair elections in Nigeria, but there is a regression in the quality of elections held since 2015 – with the 2019 election shabbily conducted and ended with many petitions currently ongoing in courts.
Elections are a cogent part of the people’s fundamental human rights, more specifically civil and political rights, and a pillar of democratic societies. Citizens elect their leaders or representatives, and these elected officials are accountable to the citizens who elected them to that office of power. However, the show of shame displayed by political parties during the just concluded elections raises the question if the public office is to serve the people or to enrich the pockets of the ones called to serve. The polls were replete with ballot box snatching, destruction of electoral materials, voter suppression, arson, maiming, all orchestrated by armed thugs.
For instance, over six people were killed in Lokoja, Dekina, and Ayetoro, Kogi state while in Bayelsa state, armed thugs were imported from outside the state with a mission to harass, beat, and coerce innocent citizens who came out to lawfully exercise their franchise. Journalists, local and international observers were not left out of the assault. All these infractions on the fundamental rights of citizens were carried out in the full glare of the security agents.
The men of the security agencies whose duty is to protect citizens either scampered for safety or collaborated with the armed thugs and their paymasters. Several videos and reports are circulating the social spaces showing security officials carting away ballot boxes. It is crucial to point out that there is no report of a single arrest made during the chaotic elections.
The politicians have now perfected their citizen-mandate-stealing through violence and the deployment of thugs to disrupt voting processes oblivious of the fact that the process through which an elected leader emerges determines his or her legitimacy. The case where politicians muscled their way to power through illegitimate means does not uphold the tenet of true and liberal democracy. The just-concluded elections have also provided explanations for the insecurity the country has experienced over the years. The thugs armed by the politicians are often the ones who resort to armed robbery, kidnapping and other vices when there are no elections to steal.
The activities experienced and reported in the Kogi and Bayelsa election speaks’ for itself, just so aptly put by a famous Latin phrase, Res Ipsa Loquitor, “the fact speaks for itself" - these facts speak so loud and clear. INEC must do the needful as advised by different observer groups who observed the election process in both states, in other to redeem the confidence of citizens in the commission. The two dominant parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressive Congress (APC) should note that Nigerians are watching. They are on the path of truncating the most extended period of uninterrupted democracy the country has ever experienced. History will not judge them well, and Nigerians will hold them to account one day soon.
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