Home Politics Tension rises in Kogi, Imo, Bayelsa ahead of guber elections

Tension rises in Kogi, Imo, Bayelsa ahead of guber elections

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By fabulous reporter

With only seven weeks to the governorship elections in Kogi, Imo and Bayelsa states, slated for November 11, there is palpable political tension in the states as thugs inflict terror on parties and supporters, especially those in the opposition in the states ABDULRAHMAN ZAKARIYAU writes on the need to nip this in the bud for free, fair, credible and acceptable elections, reports Saturday PUNCH.

Governorship elections in Kogi, Imo and Bayelsa have in recent years been marred by several unsettling events. This has led to avoidable loss of lives and property.

The political atmosphere in these states is already tense ahead of the governorship elections slated for November 11, 2023 by the Independent National Electoral Commission. Already, thugs are unleashing terror, while the opposition is accusing governing parties of suppression, intimidation and harassment.

This time round, Governor Hope Uzodimma of Imo State is seeking re-election, likewise his counterpart in Bayelsa State, Douye Diri, while Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State is rounding off his second term and is supporting the All Progressives Congress candidate, Usman Ododo, whom he anointed among the aspirants to win the primary.

In Kogi State, the 2019 governorship election was marred with violence, voter intimidation and harassment. A Peoples Democratic Party’s Women Leader of Wada Aro Campaign Council, Ochadamu Ward in Ofu Local Government, Mrs Acheju Abuh, was burnt to death in her home by political thugs, while four others were killed and many others sustained varying degrees of injury.

Tension is rising in the confluence state already, as pockets of violence, attacks and destruction of some parties’ campaign posters were recorded.

For example, the candidates of the African Democratic Congress, Leke Abedije; Social Democratic Party, Murtala Ajaka; and Peoples Democratic Party, Senator Dino Melaye, have accused the Yahaya Bello government of intimidation and harassment of their supporters, an allegation the Bello government denied.

Similarly, the 2019 governorship election in Imo State was also characterised by violence. In spite of the heinous activities of gunmen and Eastern Security Network, the militia arm of the Indigenous People of Biafra, which claimed over 400 lives, political actors and their thugs compounded the security situation ahead of the election.

Recently, gunmen murdered eight security personnel in Umualumaku, Ehime Mbank Local Government Area of the state. The secretariat of the Labour Party in the state, situated on Wethedral Road, was reduced to rubbles, and thugs also wreaked havoc on PDP leaders, supporters and the party’s property.

While the PDP and LP accused the candidate of All Progressives Congress and governor of the state, Hope Uzodimma, of harassment and intimidation, the state government restated its commitment to a violence-free governorship election.

The situation is the same in Bayelsa State. In 2019, violence and protest marred the election across the eight local government areas. Thugs took advantage of the security lapses and unleashed mayhem on voters, party agents and INEC officials.

A few weeks ago, suspected political thugs murdered three in Opu Nembe, Nembe Local Government Area. At Bassambiri, another community in the local government, policemen engaged in a gun duel with some armed youths, which resulted in a stampede and left scores injured.

While the residents of these states continue to live in fear, political thugs, sponsored by high-ranking and wealthy politicians in the three states seem determined to unleash mayhem on their political rivals.

This has elicited commentaries from election experts, political analysts and other Nigerians, many of whom agree that the activities of the hoodlums would negatively impact the November 11 governorship elections.

Election observer group blames politicians

The convener, Partners for Electoral Reform, an election observer group, Ezenwa Nwagwu, and the President, Nigerian Political Science Association, Prof Hassan Saliu, blamed politicians, especially governors for the tension raging in the states ahead of the election.

They noted that the desperation by politicians to win at all costs had contributed to the pre-election tension.

Saliu, in an interview with our correspondent, said the tension in the three showed the nature of politics in Nigeria.

He stated, “When you look around, you will discover the only viable sector of the political economy that is kicking is politics. This has brought about a higher level of desperation among the political class.

“One is not surprised, because anytime an election is around the corner you will see politicians jostling, engaging in verbal and physical attacks, and displaying a lot of desperation. In other words, what is happening in these states is a typical Nigerian situation whenever an election is approaching.

“What I expect stakeholders to do to forestall this is the ritual. The police command in all these states will call the politicians and the peace committee will call them and ask them to commit themselves to the peace accord. These are the rituals, but what is the level of commitment the politicians attach to these peace moves.”

However, Nwagwu revealed that politicians deliberately create a tense atmosphere to gain dubious advantage over their opponents, even as he cautioned that any election won in an atmosphere of violence would have clear legitimacy questions.

He explained, “My main challenge has always been the fact that we try to improve different institutions every election year. We carry out oversight of INEC and the security agencies, we call them out, but we seem to pamper the political class and their political parties.

“Every conversation that you see before, during, and after election centres on INEC and security agents. But all of these activities that you are talking about lead to the election in these three states. And the characters who have unleashed this violence are known.

“The interest of the politicians is to have a dubious advantage, create fear and ensure that the people don’t come out to vote. They also want to see whether it is possible to manipulate the process. But we have time to run a strong campaign against them. Every time an election is coming the political class likes to pollute the environment.”

According to him, politicians come up with violence, harassment and intimidation to create fear in the minds of voters who simply want to exercise their franchise and return home.

He added, “Those who think they will create violence for dubious advantage will have legitimacy issues. If you win an election in an atmosphere of violence, of course, you will clearly have a legitimacy question.

“So, whether you are being used or you are the one using people, always understand that it’s about the people, governing these people and if at the end of the day you create Afghanistan in your environment, everyone will share in the conflict. And then you will not be able to govern with the respect and honour that leadership deserves.”

He said labeling pure criminal acts as political crimes downplays the problem, adding that Nigerians would need to rise up against political violence in all its forms. This he said would necessitate reforms and bring about a fair, free, credible election.

He added, “Put the legs of the security agencies on fire and ensure they do not treat criminal elements masquerading under any guise with kid gloves. This is important because what has happened is that people are arrested, noise is made and then you don’t hear anything about it again; some big men somewhere get them out.”

IPAC cautions politicians

Also, the Chairman of a unified body representing all registered political parties in Nigeria, Inter-Party Advisory Council, Yabagi Sani, cautioned politicians and political parties against violence, describing it as alien to democracy.

He stated, “Violence, intimidation and harassment is alien to democracy because democracy is supposed to be a peaceful exercise where people go out to express their wishes, vote for those they want to run their affairs as a governor or any other position.

“We have written to security agencies, governorship candidates, chairmen of political parties and others to maintain peace and order, because democracy must survive. And all undemocratic action must stop.

“We wrote the governors of these states, informing them that we are aware that opposition political parties in the states are facing undue constraints and hindrances in their efforts to carry out their campaigns effectively. Such actions, we believe, undermine the democratic process and deny the citizens of these states their constitutional right to diverse political choices.”

Sani noted that there were allegations of government’s complicity in the “unacceptable undemocratic behaviours, including the use of state organs to issue regulatory restrictions orchestrated to discourage opposition political parties’ campaigns.”

For example, in Kogi State, opposition parties have rejected the imposition of campaign materials/signage fees on political parties ahead of the election.

They lamented the imposition of general payment of N5m for outdoor campaign materials, N2m per billboard, N1m for every banner and N50m as a deposit for caution by every party.

Already, some of the political parties have rejected it.

Sani added that in some instances, there had been cases of thuggery and destruction of opposition’s campaign materials, such as billboards, posters, and attacks on party offices.

He added, “IPAC stands firmly for political tolerance, inclusivity and non-violent campaigns by all political parties, irrespective of their affiliations. We believe these principles are essential for maintaining a healthy and thriving democracy.”

The IPAC chairman charged governors to ensure that the forthcoming election in their states is conducted in a manner that upholds the principles of fairness, transparency and inclusiveness.

He stated, “Security agencies are doing their best. Where you have state actors instigating violence, it becomes difficult for security agencies to tackle. People who have the responsibility of protecting the lives and property of Nigerians must be mindful of this responsibility.”

Need for security agents to do better

A security expert and former Commissioner of Police, Lawrence Alobi, said police, politicians and other stakeholders must work in synergy for peace to reign.

Alobi in an interview with our correspondent described security as a driver of development and democracy, adding that without security, there would be no good governance or development.

Alobi, a former Federal Capital Territory police commissioner, emphasised the need for elections to be conducted in a peaceful and friendly manner for them to be accepted as credible.

He stated, “Peace is very key and credible election is central to peace. Therefore, for peace to reign before, during and after the election, all stakeholders should play the game by the rules. When the security agencies are working hard to ensure peace reigns, the political party leaders must also do the needful.

“The government agencies should be fully equipped and combat-ready to deter these hoodlums. Security personnel should be deployed to all trouble spots and all parts of these states to restore peace and guarantee peaceful elections.”

He charged the police to be proactive, saying there were already warning signals that indicate that there might be more problems during the election.

“So the police should work in synergy with INEC,” he stated. “With the elections just a few weeks away, police should roll out measures, mobilise more manpower from other states and train them.

“I will also advise that the police invite all leaders of political parties to discuss and warn them to play by the rules of engagement and the code of conduct, make sure they sign a peace agreement and any party that breaks the agreement should be held liable.”

Police warn against violence

The Nigeria Police Force says it will deploy more personnel in Kogi, Imo and Bayelsa states ahead of the November 11 governorship elections.

In an interview with our correspondent, the Force Public Relations Officer, Assistant Commissioner of Police Olumuyiwa Adejobi, warned that any politician that encourages violence and harassment of any form would be dealt with.

He said since the election was off-cycle, the police had leverage for heavy deployment, adding, “We have grown our operational order, which will take care of so many things. Our job is to engage all these political gladiators and to play the game according to the rules of the game. We are going to have a stakeholders forum in all these states.”

He said the Acting Inspector-General of Police, Olukayode Egbetokun, had also mandated the commissioners of police in the states to engage with the stakeholders before he and the INEC chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, would go to the states.

He added, “In a time like this, there is no way you won’t have a pocket of incidents. During campaigns, people tend to attack one another, passing uncomplimentary statements and the likes. Despite the fact it’s even against the provision of the Electoral Act. People still do it, but it is not proper.

“We have done deployment and we are still going to do more. We have asked command centres to tell us where they want the Force Headquarters to come in. We are also going to review our strategy because of the activities of these non-state actors.

“So, we are working hard to make sure the atmosphere is peaceful for free, fair and credible elections. There is no cause for alarm. Nigerians living in these states should not be intimidated by anybody. We are trying to make police personnel and security personnel from other agencies man every spot. We have our plans mapped out and we are going to implement it.”

The Force PRO, who hinted that the police would embark on a show of force soon in the three states, added that “the show of force and deployment is to protect the people, so they should not be intimidated by our deployment. Also, politicians should warn their supporters and they should stay away from violence

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