The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will on November 16, conduct the gubernatorial elections in Bayelsa and Kogi states. After months of electioneering that witnessed intra-party litigations, intemperate language and pockets of violence, Saturday’s elections in the two states will be the first major election since the 2019 general election. Therefore, the exercise will test the preparedness of INEC to conduct free, fair, credible and transparent elections. The outcome of the elections will demonstrate if the electoral umpire has imbibed the lessons of the previous ones. We say this considering the public perception that the electoral umpire performed below expectation in the 2019 exercise.
In view of the violence-prone nature of the politics of the two states and divergent political interests, we advise that all hands must be on deck to ensure the success of the elections. Nigerians expect the conduct of the polls to be seamless and meet international standards. It is sad that despite our 20 years of unbroken democracy, people are predicting that the elections in Bayelsa and Kogi states are likely going to be violent.
Now that INEC has signed a Peace Accord with all the political parties in the two states, it is hoped that things will be different this time. It is commendable that all sensitive and non-sensitive materials for the elections have been moved to the two states. The commission has cleared 45 political parties to contest the governorship poll in Bayelsa, while 26 parties have been given the nod in Kogi. Without prejudice to any political party, the contest is likely going to be between the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
However, to enhance the credibility of the elections, INEC must ensure that the polls are free, credible, peaceful and transparent. Security agents deployed for the polls, must be professional and non-partisan. The voters should be given the freedom to elect their governors.
Therefore, the recent alarm raised by the INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, about alleged plans to undermine the elections in both states, is disturbing. Despite the alarm, it is good that he has promised to conduct free, credible and transparent polls in the two states. The commission has deployed 26,000 ad hoc staff to the two states, 2,548 presiding officers, 2, 804 assistant presiding officers, 255 senior presiding officers, 26 collection officers, and 240 registration supervisors. It is expected that Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) from other states will complement the efforts of the state RECs in the two states.
With the deployment of 66,241 officers and men of Nigeria Police Force for the elections in both states, there is hope that they would provide enough security for the exercise. We urge them to be patriotic in performing their duties during the polls.
We recall the inglorious roles of some security agents in the governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun states last year. Such needless infractions in our electoral processes should not be repeated in Bayelsa and Kogi polls. The security agents must ensure that the polls are peaceful. While there should be adequate security in all the flash points in the two states, it should also not be used to intimidate voters.
There is need to ensure that the collation centres are properly guarded. It has been observed that often, the rigging of elections starts at these points. Therefore, security agents deployed for the polls should be vigilant. Politicians and their supporters should eschew acts that could dent the electoral process.
At the same time, INEC should ensure that the card readers function efficiently. The performance of card readers in recent elections has attracted much criticism.
INEC must ensure that the votes count and that the outcome reflects the wishes of the people of both states. That is the only way to stem post-election violence. We urge the candidates and their supporters to embrace peace and ensure that the exercise is devoid of violence.