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How INEC and Police Flout Warning Signals Before Kogi Election Debacle

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It is neither coincidence nor conspiracy
that negative reviews have trailed the just concluded Governorship
elections in Bayelsa and Kogi states. It is also no fluke that election
observers like YIAGA AFRICA, Situation Room, and Centre for Democratic
Development (CDD) are speaking in one voice, condemning the complicity
in the conduct of the Governorship election in the states, especially in
Kogi State.

The Bayelsa and Kogi Governorship Elections is expected to provide an opportunity for all election stakeholders especially the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Nigerian Police and Political parties to improve on the conduct of the February general elections. Unfortunately, the process was blighted by several complicities, which undermined its standard in virtually all ramifications. It is even more sad that all election stakeholders, especially INEC and the Nigerian police, saw this coming as there were available warning signals of voter inducement and electoral violence.

Few weeks before the Governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states, an article underscoring early warning signals of violence and voter inducement was published along with myriad of other concerns raised by election stakeholders. The concerns were either met with assurances or neglected.

It can be recalled vividly when YIAGA AFRICA released its pre-election observation report raising concerns of distribution of gift items and purchase of Permanent Voters Card (PVC) for as low as N500. Reacting to this, the head of voter education and publicity in Bayelsa, Wilfred Ifogah said the commission doesn’t monitor salt and rice sharing. According him, even before the vote-buying syndrome, they used to give out commodities such as salt, rice and other things during campaign. Maybe, that is what they are doing right now that YIAGA AFRICA is calling voter inducement. “INEC does not track such things”.  While the electoral law is clear about vote buying and selling on election day within certain meters of the polling units, INEC and other security agencies did not take any proactive measure to curb what ended up becoming a rampant transaction on election day.

Similarly, the report on  recruitment of
thugs and stockpiling of arms was widespread all over communication
platforms and its almost impossible to imagine the security agencies
didn’t take heed to this critical warning signals before it escalated.
It is even more ominous that  despite the setting ablaze of a political
party office and attack on a female candidate contesting in the election
during the stakeholder meeting in Kogi, at the full glare of Police
Chiefs, security apparatus didn’t prepare to curtail the impending
violence in the state.

Just two days to the Governorship
election in both states, YIAGA AFRICA hosted both the Public Relations
Officers of both  Police and Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps
(NSDCDC) on its weekly program to discuss election security ahead of the
polls.  As we expected, security agencies gave all the assurances left
in this world saying at least 35,000 Police officers have been deployed
to Kogi State with over 10,000 NSCDC personnel to support. Security
officials appeared on various fora and meetings ahead of the election to
continue boosting electoral officials’ confidence on the safety of
personnel and materials while also assuring citizens safety of their
lives and properties. One of such meeting was the early warning scan
organized by Search for Common Ground; another Civil Society
Organization who observed early warning signals before the elections. At
the meeting, stakeholders including journalists raised major security
concerns, which was met by assurance by the police chief at the event
saying the police force is embarking on visibility policing to track any
unwanted that may want to disrupt the process. Assurances upon
assurances was what the citizens got from security agencies before
elections but it’s so unfortunate that the police service commission
claim the force was overstretched to manage just two state elections.

In the words of YIAGA AFRICA’s Watching
The Vote Board Chair, Dr Hussaini Abdu “the unacceptable vote
procurement (vote buying) and violence perpetrated by the systematically
recruited and prepared party officials and thugs were carried out under
the full glare of the almost nonchalant security officials. They acted
helplessly as if they were under instruction not to respond to the
situation, if not already prepared to support the brigandage.”

The challenges in Kogi state 2019
gubernatorial elections squally lies on the role and failures of
security agencies, the police in particular, political parties, the
major candidates and their state and non-state accomplices. These
stakeholders deliberately worked to undermine the election. They
appeared to be more concerned about electoral victory than the
credibility and legitimacy of the process.

Until the law and those that implement
it have the guts to shame and prosecute culprits of electoral
complicity, Nigeria may just begin to give up on its electoral
democracy. While waiting for stakeholders charged with the
responsibility of conducting a free, fair, credible and peaceful
elections to take responsibility, there is further need for the
executive and legislative to expedite necessary actions on electoral
reforms.

Moshood Isah, Media Officer, YIAGA Africa. He tweets @moshoodpm

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