By John Chukwu…
Following the declaration of the March 9 governorship election in Benue, Adamawa, Kano, Bauchi and Sokoto States as inconclusive by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), a supplementary election was held in 324 polling units across 89 Local Government Areas (LGAs) in the five states on March 23.
According to reports with video and picture evidence, the elections were marred by violence, intimidation, killings, ballot box snatching, among other electoral minuses. These awful occurrences, however, were not expected as the INEC had promised Nigerians, prior to the re-run elections, that strategies were already on ground to avoid any form of electoral malfeasance.
Ripples Nigeria examines, critically, the dominant factors that played out during Saturday’s supplementary elections.
There is hardly any election in Nigeria that comes and goes without any record of killings. The Civil Society Organisations stated that no fewer than 35 people were killed during the recently concluded, February 23, Presidential and National Assembly elections. The Saturday supplementary elections trailed this morbid path as there were reports that unrestrained electoral violence in Kano State resulted to the killing of four Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) members. This sorrowful development spirited the party’s leadership to seriously call for the cancellation of the Kano votes.
Moreover, in a swift reaction to bloodshed in Kano, the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) called for the immediate cancellation of the election in Kano State. CUPP’s spokesperson, Ikenna Ugochinyere, in a statement, said that the call was as a result of massive bloodshed, sporadic shooting of voters and violent acts of thugs that coloured the exercise.
“It is regrettable that the state had been taken over by armed thugs, who are busy shooting voters in the name of election and killing anything standing on their way. These thugs armed with sophisticated weapons took over accreditation and voting and murdered party agents,” they stated.
Other forms of violence
Violence has always been an inseparable aspect of elections in Nigeria. However, the height of violence witnessed in the supplementary elections was unexpected as elections only held in few areas of the five states. Security operatives were expected to clampdown on thugs that will come to make a mess of the electioneering exercise but they did not live up to their responsibility.
In Kano State, it was reported that some journalists covering the election escaped being lynched by some suspected thugs at Suntulma Primary School in Gama ward of Nasarawa LGA. Unfortunately, the thugs, succeeded, in attacking a journalist working with The Authority Newspaper, Mr Maduabuchi Nmeribe, and a Nigerian Tribune Newspaper correspondent, Mr Kola Oyelere. If the men of the Fourth Estate of the Realm cannot be allowed or given enough security to do their jobs, then, we are headed nowhere as a nation.
The thugs allegedly chased away electorates who came to perform their civic duty. An electorate, Comrade Aminu Tijani, asserted, “the situation is very bad and this is not how to conduct an election where people or voters are denied the opportunity to vote.” Also, Sani Abdullahi, another electorate, averred that he came out to vote as early as 8am but was frightened by the suspected thugs who were about 10 in number. Hence, he went home.
In Chito, the headquarters of Azendeshi ward, in Ukum LGA of Benue State, political thugs, in the early hours of Saturday, overpowered security officials and disrupted election. It was reported that the rampaging thugs attacked INEC officials, PDP agents and observers and burnt electoral materials, therefore, disrupting the entire process while in Adamawa State, some APC members were allegedly attacked by the youths of Nassarawo Jereng at the collation centre for Nassarawo/Binyeri House of Assembly election.
Following these shameful acts, the Director for the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), a non-governmental organization, in a report signed by its director, Idayat Hassan, condemned the electoral violence and indicated that it would “raise questions of the legitimacy” of the results.
Sadly, the supplementary elections was immersed in various deadly acts of intimidation that made a mess of the electoral process – in the affected states. For example, it was wildly reported that in Gama Ward, in Nasarawa LGA, Kano State, men wielding machetes, daggers and cudgels invaded several polling units forcing voters to run for their lives. Also, in Bichi and Gaya towns, armed youths dispersed voters and thumb-printed ballot papers in favour of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) – voters and party agents alleged. The acting Chairman of PDP in Kano State, Rabiu Suleiman Bichi, commenting on the events, on Saturday, called on INEC to cancel the elections. “As I address you now, we have reports that some of our agents have been killed, vehicles burnt, property destroyed,” he said.
The European Union Election Observation Mission were on ground to monitor the elections – in the five states, in their report on what occurred in Kano State, they stated, “the environment was intimidating and not conducive to voters’ free participation in the election. Party leadership, locally and centrally, did not appear to take any steps to rein in supporters and prevent evident violence, intimidation or other misconduct.
“In Nasarawa LGA in Kano, which accounted for approximately one-third of all registered voters for the supplementary governorship election, EU observers witnessed organized intimidation of voters. For example, groups of youths with clubs and machetes patrolled the streets, and people with party agent tags harassed voters. During collation in Kano, EU observers saw that several INEC polling staff had been attacked. Large groups of men with weapons were not contained by the Police.”
Vote buying, lately, has become a pathetic feature of a normal activity during elections. This unwholesome act makes gullible electorates commercialize their vote. Thus, selling it to the highest bidding political candidate. Many voters were reported to have had their vote bought during the Saturday re-run. This act persists even as campaigns have been unleashed against it.
The Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), YIAGA-AFRICA and Centre for Democracy Development (CDD) and Election Analysis Centre (EAC), in their separate statements said that it was unacceptable that despite all efforts by stakeholders to ensure the success of the elections and deepen democracy in the country, political parties and some politician openly engaged in widespread vote-buying, violence and other electoral malpractices even in the presence of law enforcement agencies.
EU Observers, in their report noted that they saw vote-buying in Sokoto and Kano States by both the leading parties – PDP and APC. In Sokoto State, observers noted that some voters were induced with as much as N15, 000 to vote for a candidate. And Citizen Observers also reported that party agents involved in vote-buying and bribery of polling staff and Police.
It is not surprising that voter-apathy was one of the dominant factors that trailed the supplementary elections. People, in the states where elections were held, felt so indifferent to go out and perform their civic duty. Former Senate President, David Mark, who was not satisfied on how the elections went, in his state – Benue – said the idea of inconclusive elections was largely responsible for the voter-apathy that greeted Saturday’s elections in Benue State. In Adamawa State, voter-apathy equally thrived.
Desperation by politicians
It is a culture and tradition by Nigerian politicians to exhibit desperation, in different ways, just to emerge victorious in the elective position they are vying for. The CDD, in their report on the elections, noted that the desperation of politicians and political parties to win, came with heightened tensions and tendencies.
The EU Observers made observations on different acts of desperation that politicians engaged during the election. In their report, they stated, “in particular, parts of Kano were largely inaccessible to EU Observers and Citizen Observers and journalists were also obstructed. EU Observers also witnessed increased interference by party agents and cases of vote-buying. Party leadership did not appear to take any steps to rein in their supporters. Given the high stakes and reduced electorate involved, supplementary elections are systemically vulnerable to parties strategically pressurizing voters and disrupting the process.
“Of the 40 polling units that EU teams could fully observe, agents were present in all and in five cases were seen interfering in the work of polling officials, in Benue, Plateau and Sokoto States. EU observers in all five states also saw party agents trying to influence voters, assisting voters or voting on their behalf. Supporters and agents were sometimes present in polling units in excessive numbers, resulting in overcrowding.”
Ballot Box snatching
The disgraceful act of ballot box snatching is a common feature in Nigerian elections. There is hardly any election that has held, in Nigeria, without the news of ballot box snatching. It was due to this recurring electoral malpractice that prompted President Muhammadu Buhari, prior to the commencement of the general elections, during an emergency caucus meeting of the APC to state, “anybody who decides to snatch ballot boxes or lead thugs to disturb it (elections) maybe that would be the last unlawful action he would take. I have directed the police and the military to be ruthless.”
In Bauchi State, it was reported that a mild drama played out when policemen, who allegedly carted away election materials, had difficulty returning the same ballot boxes, as people alleged they had been stuffed with more ballot papers. The Special Adviser on Media and Public Affairs to the Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, Mr Turaki Hassan, stated, “Policemen who abducted INEC staff and materials in Jama’are, Bauchi have returned with stuffed ballot boxes.”
Flashes of underage voting
Underage voting is a crime. Only citizens – Nigerians – who are 18 years and above are permitted to vote. However, the criminal trend of having underage voters queue up at polling units is now a big issue that needs to be addressed drastically. There were reports of underage voting in some polling units in Kano, Plateau and Sokoto States.
In some polling units, it was reported, that there was late arrival of voting materials and officials. However, this was not widespread as most polling units recorded the arrival of voting material and officials early enough. According to CDD report, in Karaye Ward and LGA, Magajin Gan polling unit 011, of Kano State, electoral material arrived by 10:02am while in Benue State, Konshisha Ward, PU 005, polling materials arrived at 9:08am. This is a great improvement unlike what happened especially in the February 23 Presidential and National Assembly election.
Smart Card Reader failures
Reports of failure of Smart Card Readers were not much. Most of the polling units had no problem with its use. This is also an improvement from what played out during the February 23 Presidential and National Assembly election.
For future elections
Democracy-wise, Nigeria is a model for most African states. As a matter of urgency, there is need for a total overhaul of our electioneering process. The changes will see that these ugly electoral practices will be history. The INEC should strive to map out strategies to see the end of having inconclusive elections. Having inconclusive elections only tell how immature our electoral process is. It is chiefly incumbent on the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, to champion the changes. EU Observers, in their report indicated that “throughout the day, Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, did not comment on electoral disturbances, despite its overall responsibility for the election and security arrangements.” Given the anomalies observed, they called for urgent electoral reform, a call that must be urgently heeded by the president and the National Assembly.