*Ojukwu says there was no smooth election in Kogi, alleges intimidation of voters and candidates
*Narrates how military held some local governments hostage in Bayelsa
Amidst reservations and grave concerns by well-meaning Nigerians over the credibility of the just-concluded governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa States, the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, Tuesday disagreed with the position of the incumbent governor, Yahaya Bello, who had been handed a second term in office having been declared winner of the November 16 governorship poll by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, that the election was free, fair and credible. Bello and the executive secretary of the NHRC, Anthony Ojukwu were guests Tuesday morning on Channels Television breakfast show, Sunrise Daily where they expressed divergent views on the conduct of the election.
In his assessment of the election, Bello,whose mandate to govern the state for another four years had just been renewed,averred that “the conduct of the election was quite very, very credible, alevel playing field was provided, and it was free and fair”. He was howeverquick to submit that “of course in any election, there is bound to be one issueor the other and you can’t really take pockets of issues to judge the generalconduct of the election”. While therefore admitting that there was violence insome areas, particularly Dekina local government area, the governor said “I amasking the question that out of 21 local governments, out of 239 wards, out of2,548 polling units, how many of these numbers did they record violence. Bello saidINEC and the security agencies should be given credit for the conduct of theelection.
But in his submission, Ojukwu differedwith the governor as he suggested that there was no level playing field beforeand during the election. In his words, “Let us even look at the atmospherebefore the election itself. There were a lot of crises in Kogi State. Some ofthe candidates could not even be allowed a free playing field to canvass forvotes like others. The case of Natasha is there where a candidate is attackedright at the centre where other politicians were and nothing was done to restrainher from being assaulted. Now, if you have that kind of climate, people arealready intimidated. It was very clear to everybody that the election in Kogiwas going to be bloody. All the pre-election analyses by all stakeholders pointedto that. Now, the stage was already set”.
Ojukwu said while it was not possible for NHRC to deploy monitors round the entire polling units due to challenge of manpower, restriction of movement on election day, as well as safety of election monitors, the instruction to the participants was to choose a large centre where they could effectively monitor what went on there, and they were encouraged to link up with other monitors in other locations. According to him, the feelers gotten by the NHRC at the end of the exercise were that “there was no smooth election in Kogi State”. Defending his position, the NHRC boss stated that from what the commission saw from the video clips on Channels TV or African Independent Television, AIT one could see that security agencies were shooting in the polling stations. “Well, at least they had the uniforms of the military and the police. So, if they were thugs that maybe, used those uniforms, that is yet to be verified. But from what one could see from the video clips; I could see in Bayelsa, there were people who were at the polling centres to vote and then, security forces came and were shooting, and people were running helter-skelter” Ojukwu posited.
Ojukwu’s assessment of the Kogi situation seemed to corroborate the complaint by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, which alleged lack of level playing field and collusion by security agents to tilt victory in favour of the incumbent governor and candidate of the ruling party, All Progressives Congress, APC. Faruk Adejoh-Audu, spokesman of the PDP Campaign Council, said on the programme that in as much as he would have wanted to congratulate Bello on his re-election, “but I cannot because he did not win an election; what he won is a war waged by him and the Nigerian Police so, I cannot congratulate him. According to the PDP spokesman, “we came out for an election, but it turned out to be a war with the Nigerian Police; in fact, with the security agencies on one side, and Bello and his staff on the other side”. Adejoh-Audu debunked the claim of “just pockets of violence” by the governor, stressing that “it is not correct”. He alleged that there was no single ward that there wasn’t ballot box snatching and intimidation in every single local government in Kogi State. He quoted one Professor Ibrahim, a guest on the station’s political programme, Politics Today, as having described what happened in Kogi o as “weaponization of electoral geography”. According to him, “they noted the polling centres that had good voter population and they attacked each of those polling units”, adding that not less than 1,500 to 1,800 polling units were attacked out of the over 2,500 polling units in the state during the controversial election.
As far as Ojukwu was concerned, the situation in Bayelsa was not different from that of Kogi. He alleged that “the military held some local government areas hostage and people couldn’t vote. There were some local governments where military presence was heavy and people could not freely go to exercise their right to vote”. The NHRC executive secretary, therefore, suggested revisiting the Justice Uwais panel report as a way out of the recurring electoral fraud and violence in the country. While asserting that INEC does not have the capacity to prosecute electoral offenses, Ojukwu said INEC should be an election management body and not election prosecuting body. “An election offences commission needs to be quickly set up by the government so that they would focus squarely on the issue of election offences. As long as people get away with committing offences during elections, there is nothing you can do because if you leave it to Attorney-Generals, what they do is all the ones against their party, they enter a nollie, and that is the end of the case”. He also suggested the need to find a way to eliminate the human element in our elections in order to stem the tide of win-at-all-cost during elections, stressing that “the situation in Kogi and Bayelsa should not be for us to be crying. There is no stereotype way of carrying out electronic voting; we can look at those things that are a challenge in our society and decide to design one that can beat it so that in that way, we can start to have credibility attached to our elections. As far as I am concerned, what we are doing now is anyone who has the power dictates what happens, and that is it”.