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Untold story of Kogi Bye-election

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Can INEC get it right in 2019?

Kogi bye election into the lokoja-koton-karfe federal constituency has been laced with controversies, ranging from large scale vote buying, thuggery, alleged harassment by security operatives of voters of opposition parties and many more untoward electoral practices as observed by Labaran Tijani

The recent Lokoja-Kogi bye-election in kogi state has raised pyramidal dust. It has brought out the ugly past associated with the election which some leaders in the state strove to stem into dustbin of history. In any way, one interprets the variables thrown up by the happenings in the Federal constituency bye-election, as a bad omen for future elections in the state.
At the heels of the recent botched recall process of Senator Dino Melaye, representing Kogi West senatorial district of the state at the red chamber, which the present administration got its hands burnt, the All Progressive Congress, APC, led government saw the bye-election in the lokoja-Kogi Federal constituency as a new ground to redeem its image from that mishap. Against this backdrop, the government put every of its cards on the table for the party to secure victory at the said polls which held last Saturday August 11. And by the time the chips were down, the APC achieved a Pyrrhic victory, as its candidate, Isah Haruna was declared winner by the officiating election manager , the Independent National Electoral commission (INEC).

In the same vein, the opposition was basking on the euphoria of the failed Senator’s recall process in which they had the last laugh, it was not the same on the long run. They got it wrong! They were knocked off by the application of a modified, but outlawed old tactics of the game which left them devastated, gnashing their teeth at the canvass by the time the umpire, INEC, announced the winner of the contest, the following day, which was a Sunday.

In a Press statement by INEC on July 20, 2018, following the notification of vacancy by the National Assembly in respect of Lokoja/Koton-Karfe federal constituency of Kogi State and the death of Hon. Buba Jubril, the occupant of that position in the green chamber; INEC has scheduled bye-election to fill this vacancy on Saturday August 11, 2018. Since that announcement was made, participating political parties commenced their various activities, ranging from party primaries, and various campaign processes to secure the coveted position. Subsequently the election was held, as scheduled, in all the 170 polling units in the federal constituency.

According to INEC, nine political parties participated in the bye-election ; they includes, Accord party(AP), African Democratic Congress(ADC), All Progressive Congress(APC), Democratic Alternative(DA), Labour Party(LP), Mega Party of Nigeria(MPN), National Conscience Party(NCP), People Democratic Party(PDP) and Social Democratic Party.(SDP)

Professor James Apam, the Kogi Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC, did not leave any stone unturned in his attempt to ensure a credible, free and fair bye- election.

At the last stakeholders’ meeting on Wednesday August 8, the REC assured all that the necessary arrangement to ensure a free and fair August 11bye-election has been concluded to that effect.

Professor Apam allayed fears of any form of electoral malpractices during the exercise, adding that, anyone caught contravening the law will be severely death with, no matter his status in the society.

Equally, the state police commissioner CP Ali Janga, who was represented by one of his operational managers assured the stakeholders of adequate protection of lives and properties during the period of the election.

Responding to allegation of reports of vote buying making the rounds then, CP Janga, assured that the law will arrest anyone or group of people who would indulge in such act, especially as it’s against the electoral law.

“We will arrest the takers and the givers”, he assured, warning the politicians to advise their supporters to desist from such act, for the command will deal ruthlessly with perpetrators of such crime that day.

However on the D-day, Polling Units were opened early for business of the day as the INEC Officials arrived with election materials as at 7:30am on Election Day. Also, four INEC Officials, Security Personnel comprising the Police, DSS, The Nigerian Security and Civil defence Corps, Prison Officials, Immigration, domestic Observers, were on hands to ease out things.

The Election materials were sealed and secured as provided for in the Electoral Act in all the Polling units, and the ballot boxes were displayed to the electorate before the voting commenced.

The polling units were well fortified with security personnel and they arrived on time. But few hours into the voting exercise of the D-day, it occurred to the enlightened minds and curious observers that the police and INEC have made good the popular saying that, ‘it’s easier said that done’.

The election which started peacefully at the early hours of the day in some polling units in Lokoja, later ran into hitches towards noon, as people wearing police and military uniforms and others in mufti, wearing white caps, invaded most of the polling stations and disrupted the on-going election in the capital city and its suburbs, as electoral materials, like ballot papers, boxes and voting cubicles were destroyed.

As this was happening simultaneously in various poling units in the capital city, some electoral officers that “proved stubborn” and some party agents of a particular political party were “arrested” at the polling unit by the invading “forces”, and taken to unknown destination in the presence of security operatives at various polling units. That early morning “raids” that set tongues wagging lasted for hours, disrupting proceedings at various polling units in Lokoja metropolis and its suburbs.

When the dust raised by the early morning “invasion” settled, and voting commenced later in the day, the voters were ambushed by a particular members of a political party and were given between #2,000 to #5,000 to vote a particular candidate in the said bye-election.

Emergency shops for buying and selling of votes were created few metres to the voting unit to this effect, and both the security operatives and INEC officials closed their eyes to the happenings.

Shortly after voting, hoodlums, suspected to be thugs started going round polling units, snatching ballot boxes to the surprise of all. It was gathered that about 26 boxes were snatched from lokoja metropolis alone, though INEC confirmed that about 17 ballot boxes were destroyed during an ensued violence in some polling units.

However, luck ran out of two of such ballot box snatchers, as they met their untimely death in the hands of irate youths in the process.

It was also gathered from the insiders of the federal constituency that the situation was the same, even worse in some places as checks revealed that in some villages and settlements in the country side of the constituency, many voters were accredited and asked to go, without voting ,and card readers were abandoned, with thump printing of ballot papers done by party agents. Hard hit were towns and villages in kogi local government and part of Oworo areas in Lokoja council.

Corroborating the incident of ballot boxes snatching and other vices in the said bye-election, Idris Miliki Abdul, the Executive Director , Centre for Human Rights and Conflict Resolution who observed the election with his colleagues from other human right groups, said in his report that, “in Lokoja Local Government ballot snatching, destructions of voting materials were recorded which led to the cancellation of results in the affected polling units. In all 17 polling units result were cancelled particularly in Lokoja Local Government as a result of violence that characterized the voting process on Election Day”.

The lokoja based Human Rights activist added that, “though there were heavy presence of the Security Agents, in most of the polling unit, the environments were tensed and in some cases the conduct and response of the security agents were worrisome.

“We wonder why security personnel accompanying some party officials and politician that may not be entitle to such on the Election Day. However, as the situation degenerated which led to the alleged death of two (2) persons in Lokoja metropolis, the security agents intervened and put the situation under control”.

Speaking further on the conduct of the election, Comrade Miliki positioned that the distance between the voting cubicle and the ballot box was a bit far which encouraged display of ballot papers, after voting to politicians to see before casting it into ballot boxes.

“Unrestrained armed hoodlums were noticed around the polling units and also in the entourage of party officials and most of them dressed in white head ties patrolling the streets of Lokoja and molesting people perceived not in the same plane with them.

“Cash displays were noticed around the polling units, particularly the two big political parties.Inducement voting souvenir were distributed around the polling units by government and party officials. And Untagged police officers were seen driving around with party officials and politicians from polling units to polling stations”, he stressed.

The Kogi state police command also confirmed that two hoodlums were killed in the lokoja metropolis for invading polling units and snatching of ballot boxes, even as unconfirmed report posited that two more were killed in the army barrack flank of the city and a serving corper lying at specialist hospital in Lokoja, as she got her leg blown off by hoodlums for allegedly “refusing to cooperate with them to rig the said election”.

One of two deceased ballot box snatchers is said to have accompanied a local government admnistrator from the east flank of the state to monitor the election, while the other one, Yahaya Isah was a graduate and a son of a House of Assembly aspirant in Lokoja local government.

It was also gathered that the Chief of Staff to the Government, Chief Edward Onoja and Senator Smart Adeyemi, allegedly had a raw deal in the hands of some voters in the lokoja metropolis, as one was pushed and fell by an aggrieved, and the other had his cap removed, and almost lynched by irate youths, while they were going round, monitoring the conduct of the by-election election.

According to the returning officer, for the bye-election, Professor Rotimi Ajayi of Federal University of Lokoja, the final result are : number of Registered voters, 153, 470 ; Accredited voters, 51,669.

Valid votes, 48,165; Votes cast, 50,036; Rejected, 1,871 and total votes cancelled as a result of violence, 19,960. He added that Accord, 149; ADC, 2,984; APC,26, 860; DA, 159; LP, 90; MPN, 50; PDP, 14,845; SDP, 2, 916.

The returning officer, Professor Ajayi therefore, declared the APC candidate, Haruna Isah as the winner of the bye-election for having scored the highest votes, besides satisfying other requirements of the electoral laws.

However, political pundits believe that the said election results was declared in error because of the cancelled votes which the argued are more than the different votes between the acclaimed winner and the first run up in the election.

They opined that in such a circumstance, INEC should have declared the election inconclusive according to the electoral law, and conduct election in the affected 17 polling units which violence disrupted in order to determine the clear winner.

Meanwhile, the Coalition of all Political Parties that contested lokoja-Kogi bye -election in Kogi State have rejected the conduct and the result of the August 11 Federal Constituency election, saying that it was “characterised by government induced harrassment, intimidation and disruption of voting process in many polling units”.

In a statement signed by Bode Ogumola, Comrade Ade Usman, Publicity Secretary of the People Democratic Party (PDP) African Democratic Congress (ADC), respectfully and Ochedi Udale Shaibu of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), the parties noted that besides the violence that characterised the said election which led to lost of lives, “the Lokoja -Kogi federal constituency bye -election lacks credibility, and met the least standard of electioneering anywhere in the world”.

The three political parties therefore, called for outright cancellation of the exercise, alleging that, “the State government officials were given cover by the Police, SARS, to protect political thugs in police uniforms to be snatching ballot boxes in virtually all the polling units in the federal constituency.

In his remarks, Governor Bello called his party’s victory ‘a well-deserved win’, commending the newly elected State Executive Council of the party led by Alhaji Abdullahi Bello for providing the much needed purposeful leadership which gave victory to Kogi APC in the last Saturday bye-election.

“We played by the finest democratic traditions. We fielded a credible candidate, we worked hard to sell our candidate, we carried everybody who was willing along, we campaigned ward by ward and from door to door. I thank the Almighty God for crowning our efforts with success. I humbly appreciate Kogites for trusting the APC and voting so overwhelmingly for our candidate”, Bello expressed.

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