Less than 48 hours to November 16th, 2019, Governorship election in Kogi State in North Central Nigeria, the alarm bells are ringing from the Centre for Democracy and Development, (CDD), the Abuja based pro-democracy think tank which is calling on the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) and the Police authorities to work on extra fall back measures.
At a news conference Thursday in Abuja by Professor Adele Jinadu and Ms Idayat Hassan in which the centre provided elaborate details of of its own election monitoring process, CDD indicated it would not mind if INEC considers making special arrangements, including hiring security if there are gaps in providing cover from the usual channels, saying that if the recent history of electoral violence targeting INEC in Kogi State is anything to go by, clear preventive and contingency plans by INEC is an imperative.
Recalling the razing of INEC Office in Dekina LGA in December 2015 during the governorship election in what was suspected to be an attack by thugs working for some partisan interests, CDD opines that the risk of violence must be proactively and decisively addressed or could have severe consequences for the smooth conduct and, ultimately, the credibility of the election.
INEC is projecting voting taking place in 3,508 polling units across 239 wards in 21 Local Government Areas (LGAs) in Kogi State, with assurances of leaving no stone unturned towards delivering a credible poll but CDD is also saying INEC has already raised “warning signals” on the possibility of thugs mobilised by political actors disrupting the conduct of the elections as have happened previously.
It is equally pressing for the Police to go beyond deployment of 35, 000 officers to guaranteeing the neutrality and the level of professionalism by the police personnel on the ground, saying experience in previous elections, including the 2019 general elections, had shown that, without adequate oversight, the security agencies could forget their responsibilities and begin to act in connivance with partisan interests to subvert the electoral process. CDD is not leaving out the civil society organisations and media, asking them to remain vigilant and observe all deployment processes, monitor all aspects of the polling from opening to the collation phases without partisanship.
CDD insists it has received widespread reports of politicians inducing voters with cash, gift items and food. Reports indicate this anomaly has been observed to be at a very high level in Ankpa, Okehi and Lokoja. And calls on the electorate to shun political actors attempting to induce them to trade away their votes. It declares its support for firming up the mooted collaboration between INEC and the anti-graft agencies, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to identifying and arresting perpetrators where the electoral process continues to grapple with the severe challenge posed by vote-buying
CDD’s contextual analysis is that political actors have failed to de-escalate tension which has, according to it, been building up in the State, setting the stage for what could be a very bloody electoral process “if urgent action is not taken to address the situation”
Findings from the observation of the pre-election environment by its network of accredited observers, grassroots organisations and journalists is, according to CDD, pointing to a very volatile political environment, characterised by fierce rhetoric, threats of violence and actual incidents of violence. It cites a case in point is a recent attack on the State Secretariat of the Social Democratic Party, (SDP), whose governorship candidate, Natasha Akpoti, is one of the only three women contesting for the governorship election. CDD further observes that such vicious political attacks in the state are also capable of discouraging marginalised groups, especially women from participating in the political process and particularly from contesting for political office.
Based on a close watch on developments in the Kogi State that the think tank says it has sustained ahead of the November 16th poll, it is arguing that the environment leading into the polls and mainly how it contributes to the unfettered participation of all stakeholders is more important in determining the credibility of an election than what happens on the day of the polls. The centre disclosed how long term observers tracking early warning signs of violence capable of undermining participation and overall voter confidence have flagged cases of violent physical attacks between supporters of the All Progressive Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Attacks have also been recorded during campaign rallies and party activities. And there are reports of women being intimidated from voting in the election.
It makes reference to the Kogi State Conflict Scan Analysis recently released by Search for Common Ground (SFCG) which identified Dekina and Ankpa LGA as sites of the highest number of violent attacks among party members and supporters. Citing an October 19, 2019 case where a party supporter was shot dead in Ayingba during one of the political party rallies, it also referred to the number of deaths recorded in Anyingba and Ankpa communities to be alarming, adding how the conflict analysis also points to a rise in the use of political thugs to perpetrate violence as recorded in Dekina, Ankpa, Olamaboro, Omala, and Idah LGAs.
CDD is also drawing attention to stockpiling of arms and other dangerous weapons by rival political camps, noting the arrest of a chieftain of one of the major parties on allegation of illegal possession of firearms. It is equally disturbed by rise in politically motivated attacks on candidates, the destruction of property of political contestants as well as threats of reprisal attacks by rival political camps.
CDD described as disheartening what it calls the apparent lack of signs on the part of political gladiators across the partisan divide of refraining from using rhetoric capable of inflaming passions and resulting in dire consequences for voter confidence and turnout as well as the credibility of the entire process.