Almost two weeks after the governorship elections in Bayelsa /Kogi states, Nigerians are still discussing the conduct and the outcome of the polls. Except for the winners, nothing seems to be cheering about the process and the eventual outcome of the exercise. Election observers in the two states said that the polls were characterized by violence, heavy shooting, bloodletting, ballot box snatching, vote buying, and other electoral irregularities.
In Kogi State, a least six people were killed, one of them being the women leader of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mrs. Salome Abuh, who was gruesomely murdered in her residence and her house set ablaze by political thugs. It is commendable that some of the suspects have been arrested by the police. However, the statement credited to the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, that some of the ‘police personnel’ that perpetrated violence in Kogi during the election, were “fake” police officers is hard to believe.
Clearly, the exercise was not free, fair and credible. A situation where thugs took over polling booths and killed many people cannot be said to be democratic. Therefore, what happened in the two states was a mockery of democracy.
That Nigerians are embarrassed over the poor conduct of the two elections is an understatement. We deplore the shoddy conduct of the exercise.
More disheartening is the apparent failure of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to ensure that the polls are credible. The conduct of the polls has raised doubts about the electoral umpire’s ability to conduct a transparent poll in future. Despite concerns raised before the exercise, it is regrettable that INEC has not imbibed sufficient lessons from previous elections. Unarguably, the two elections were marred by logistic problems in spite of sufficient time the electoral umpire had to prepare for them.
We decry the unprofessional conduct of security officials deployed for the elections. In many areas, the electorate watched in disbelief as security officials took sides. The report of “fake police” overpowering thousands of police officers in Kogi State is deplorable. It diminishes the essence of democracy and people’s freedom to choose who governs them.
No doubt, Nigeria has lost an opportunity to strengthen its democratic process. We reiterate that democracy loses the trust and confidence of the people where the process and the outcome are manifestly flawed. The winners can only wear the badge of dishonor, irrespective of their victory when the outcome does not reflect the wishes of the people. Nigeria and indeed, the people of Bayelsa and Kogi states deserve much better than what INEC delivered. It bears repeating that INEC and security agencies deployed for elections should encourage our democratic development and not dampen it.
While we urge the losers in the elections to embrace peace and go to the Election Petition Tribunals, the winners should also see their victory as an opportunity to serve their people. There is need to use the observed lapses in the Bayelsa/ Kogi polls to comprehensively reform the electoral system. The Electoral Act should be reviewed before the 2023 election. We say this because the success of any election depends on having good electoral laws and strict adherence to them. Our democracy missed this opportunity when the president declined to assent to the Electoral (amendment) Bill passed by the National Assembly on account of clerical errors and other reasons. Without a review of the extant electoral laws, future elections might be compromised.
Before the next election, all hands must be on deck to address the problems that hamper credible polls in the country. The Electoral Act 2010 needs to be reformed to take care of emerging exigencies in our democratic process. One particular area that needs urgent attention is the issue of electoral offences. There must be stiffer punishment for electoral offenders. Also, our democracy is ripe for electronic voting. We believe that it will reduce the problems that often lead to electoral irregularities. For our elections to meet international standards, INEC must use the lessons learnt from the Bayelsa/Kogi polls to improve on future ones.