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Guber elections: Anxiety in Kogi, Bayelsa over looming violence

Anxiety in Kogi, Bayelsa over looming violence
  • Flashpoints Identified
  • Corps Members, Ad-hoc Staff Seek Special Security Cover
  • We’re Not Leaving Any Stone Unturned – INEC
  • No Cause For Alarm – Police
  • We Have Placed Some Politicians on Watch List – DSS

Ahead of the November 16 governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states, there are palpable apprehensions and worries among the electorate, officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), political actors and civil society organisations over the likelihood of violence.

The tension ravaging the two states was further compounded by allegations and counter-allegations of weapons stockpiling by the two major political parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC).

The INEC, through the Electoral Institute (TEI), raised the alarm of possible violence in identified flashpoints. Going by the fact that the two states previously witnessed election violence, the must-win posture of the two major parties and their candidates has heightened the tension.

Already, in Kogi, there have been reported cases of clashes between supporters of the APC and those of the PDP in Ankpa and Dekina local government areas.

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On October 19, suspected political thugs laid ambush on the convoy of the PDP governorship candidate, Musa Wada, at Anyigba in Dekina Local Government Area. In the ensuing melee, a party supporter identified as Yusuf Seidu Uhiene, was killed while others sustained serious injuries.

Wada was said to be on his way to a PDP stakeholders’ meeting at Harbour Bay in Anyigba when the thugs, allegedly belonging to a rival political party in the area, attacked his convoy.

Our correspondent learnt that the clash occurred when some top politicians from a rival political party in the area reportedly drove their vehicles into the convoy of the PDP governorship candidate, an action that led to the altercation.

In the process, some persons sustained injuries while vehicles were damaged.

When contacted, the commissioner of police, Kogi State command, Hakeem Busari, confirmed the incident, saying that one person was injured.

On September 3, 2019, the primary election of the PDP, held at the Confluence Stadium, Lokoja, was disrupted by heavy shootings by unknown gunmen. One person was confirmed dead while several others sustained various degrees of injury.

The dead victim, who was identified as Abdullahi Ibrahim, hailed from Kotonkarfe in Kogi Local government Area.

Political violence in Kogi State began as early as 2018, but it seems to have gathered momentum as the election draws closer.

In the buildup to the last general elections in February, two supporters of the PDP were reportedly killed and many others injured while they were on their way to a rally at the Atama area in Dekina Local Government Area.

At Ihima in Okehi Local Government Area, one Enesi Ojo, a Social Democratic Party (SDP) youth leader and ward coordinator of Natasha Akpoti’s door-to-door campaign for the Kogi Central senatorial seat, was killed by suspected thugs in the buildup to the last general elections.

The foregoing incidents and many others, coupled with alleged stockpiling of arms and recruitment of thugs by political actors ahead of the elections have continued to generate concerns among critical stakeholders.

At a public function recently in Lokoja, the INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner in Kogi, James Apam, expressed fears over possible violence before, during and after the election. He called on the relevant stakeholders to play the game by its rule to avoid violence.

Speaking at a stakeholders’ consultative meeting on how to curb violence against women in politics, which took place in Lokoja, Apam disclosed that his worries on the November governorship election in the state centred on violence. He noted that all efforts by the INEC to organise a free, fair and credible election was always jeopardised by some people. He called on parents to educate their wards against violence.

“The INEC is doing everything possible to organise a free, fair and credible governorship election in November. We have met with traditional rulers and other stakeholders in the state on the way forward.

“People always blame the INEC when there is a problem, but the truth of the matter is that in most cases, the electorate and politicians are responsible for the problem.

“On our part, we normally encounter some problems, but I can assure you that some of these problems will be solved before, during and after the Kogi governorship election,” Apam said.

Flashpoints in Kogi

While any part of the state could be prone to electoral violence due to vested political interests, there are places residents and political pundits believe violence would be higher during the upcoming election due to some factors. Such flashpoints include Dekina, Ankpa, Olamaboro, Ijumu, Ajaokuta, Lokoja, Kabba-Bunu, Okene, Okehi, Bassa and Ofu.

A non-governmental organisation, Conscience for Human Rights and Conflict Resolution (CHRCR) recently called for an early warning risk assessment and response to be developed for “flashpoints or trigger zones” ahead of the election.

The executive director of the CHRCR, Idris Miliki, said his organisation had identified nine local government areas as flashpoints and urged the INEC and security agencies to be proactive in that regard.

He identified the local government areas as Dekina, Ajaokuta, Ofu, Bassa, Adavi, Okehi, Kabba/Bunu, Ijumu and Lokoja. He urged security agencies to be proactive and address early warning signals.

Dekina Local Government Area has been identified as one of the flashpoints of violence because it has the largest voting population in the state.

Also, the governorship candidate of the PDP and some stalwarts of the opposition APC are from the area, thus the place is largely seen as a battleground.

In the last general elections, a 100-Level student of Kogi State University was killed at Anyigba while he was trying to exercise his franchise for the first time.

In the same vein, there is a  likelihood of violence in Ofu Local Government Area, with particular focus on Ejule, which has been flashpoint overtime.

Observers also said that Ijumu could be another flashpoint, given the fact that Senator Dino Melaye of the PDP and Senator Smart Adeyemi, who is the director-general of the campaign organisation of the APC governorship flag-bearer, hail from the area.

In a similar vein, the chairman of the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON), Kogi State chapter, Alhaji Taufiq Isah, who is one of the strong loyalists of Governor Yahaya Bello, is also from the area, thus making the place a battleground of sorts.

Kabba-Bunu Local Government Area is another battleground, given the fact that the national publicity secretary of the PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan; the Speaker of the Kogi State House of Assembly, Matthew Kolawole; the director-general of the campaign organisation of the PDP for the governorship election, Tajudeen Yusuf and other critical stakeholders hail from the area, and as such, would want to have a good show.

Okene is the country home of Governor Yahaya Bello, who is seeking a second term. Observers said there may not be many issues in the area on election day, but there are concerns of likely clashes between members of the ruling party and the opposition, especially during the campaigns.

Going by the experience of previous elections, Lokoja, Okehi, Olamaboro and Adavi are among the areas that could also be prone to violence in the forthcoming election in the state.

Speaking on the possible spate of violence during the election, a member of staff of the Federal University, Lokoja, who was trained to serve as a supervisory presiding officer, urged the INEC and security agencies to provide adequate security for electoral officials.

Some residents of the state also expressed concern over issues of electoral violence and urged security agencies to rise to the task.

A resident of Anyigba, Ameh James, said the level of clashes between members of the ruling party and the main opposition party in the area in recent times was heightening fears of the electorate.

Also, a voter in Lokoja, Usman Abubakar, said he was apprehensive about coming out to vote, given the kind of violence witnessed in the state during the last general elections.

Meanwhile, the coordinator of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in charge of North-Central, Abdullahi Yusuf Baba, has assured corps members who would serve as ad-hoc staff in the election of adequate security. He, however, charged them to be apolitical in discharging their duties.

Addressing the corps members during their training in Lokoja, Baba advised them to be fully kitted in their uniforms and always display their identity cards throughout the exercise.

We’re battle-ready – Police

Reacting to the palpable fear of violence during the elections, the police expressed determination to provide adequate security for electoral officials and voters, saying there was no cause for alarm.

“We are battle-ready. Over 25,000 men and two helicopters have been deployed for surveillance,’’ the police said.

The commissioner of police in the state, Hakeem Busari, urged the electorate not to entertain fears and advised them to come out to exercise their franchise.

“We have put a programme in place to raid all criminal hideouts so that would-be troublemakers would be arrested before the election.

“The Inspector-General of Police is helping us by sending additional manpower of 25,000 officers and men to us. With these officers and men, we don’t have anything to fear.

“We are sure of having at least four policemen in each polling unit. And we will have our men on land patrols. They are deploying two helicopters from the headquarters for aerial surveillance across the state.

“A lot of logistics will be coming from the Force headquarters to assist us. The people can be sure that the police, with other security agencies, will provide adequate security.

“We have enough hands to police the election, so people should not entertain any fear. A lot of security measures have been put in place.

“The IGP recently sent us some special forces to assist us tackling violent crimes, such as kidnapping and armed robbery on our highways,’’ he said.

He said the police had taken measures to prevent clashes by ensuring that the two major political parties don’t have their campaigns on the same date.

“We urge the political actors to play the game according to the rule. They should not encourage thuggery. An election is not a do-or-die affair, and it is not war,’’ Busari said.

He advised youths not to allow themselves to be used by politicians to perpetrate violence.

In Bayelsa State, electorates are also worried over possible violence, following the attitude of supporters of political parties, especially youths who believe the election should be won at all cost.

Right from the inception of the current administration, elections are hardly conducted in Bayelsa without violence. As a result of violence witnessed in Nembe Basambiri during the February 2019 general elections in the state, for example, many people are still displaced, while some lost their lives.

A Government House photographer, Mr Reginald Dei, was killed in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area during the presidential/National Assembly elections. Similarly, a PDP ward chairman in Oweikorogha, Southern Ijaw, Mr Taribi Seidougha, was killed, while a deputy commissioner of police, Mr Kola Okunola, was abducted and harassed by hoodlums in Nembe Basambiri during the polls.

Bayelsa flashpoints

Places like Southern Ijaw, Nembe, Brass, Ekeremor and Ogbia local government areas could have a high risk of violence during the governorship election. The reason is that the two major political parties, the PDP and APC, will be fighting for supremacy in these places. The APC is seen to have dominated most places in these areas since its candidate, Chief David Lyon is from Southern Ijaw and the minister of state for petroleum, Timipre Sylva, is from Brass and wields so much influence there.

In Southern Ijaw, it is always difficult to conduct elections peacefully due to its difficult terrain. It is the largest local government in the state, with the highest voting strength. In 2015, the election in this area was declared inconclusive as a result of violence. Also, it has the largest creeks and coastlines where militants and other criminals hide. And its villages are not accessible easily.

Nembe is traditionally an APC stronghold, so what may cause violence in this area is a possible struggle by the PDP to get some votes there. During the last National Assembly election, it was an alleged attempt to shortchange the people of Basambiri, a densely populated community in the area that led to the crisis that claimed some lives while others sustained various degrees of injury, even as a deputy commissioner of police was abducted and harassed.

Brass is also the base of the  APC. Right from 2012 when Chief Timipre Sylva was deprived of an opportunity to contest as governor, the PDP lost grip of the area. The governorship election is expected to be peaceful here, except in a case of irregularities, or the will of the people is subverted.

In Ekeremor, the PDP and APC have equal opportunities. Most of its communities are bounded by Warri and other communities in Delta State. Militancy and kidnapping are prevalent in the area while their youths are hostile.

Ogbia, the former President Goodluck Jonathan’s local government, was 100 per cent PDP, but with the current cold war between Jonathan’s supporters and Governor Dickson, the APC has gotten an inroad into the area. One thing that could spark violence during the governorship election is intolerance should any party claim sole ownership of the area.

Similarly, the deputy governorship candidate of the APC is from Nembe, while the people of Ogbia seem not to be very happy with PDP at the moment.

Recently, an election monitoring group, Kimpact Development Initiative (KDI), said their survey suggested a high tendency of violence in four local government areas: Southern Ijaw, Nembe, Ekeremor and Brass.

According to the group, four other local government areas – Yenagoa, Ogbia and Kolokuma/Opokuma – have a lower risk of violence.

The executive director of the group, Mr Bukola Idowu said, “The commitment of the KDI is to deepen democratic processes. That is why we assessed electoral risk factors in eight local government areas ahead of the 2019 gubernatorial election in Bayelsa, with a view to exploring opinions, knowledge and non-violence expectations on one hand, and examine real and potential security threats in the zone so as to identify early warning signals that assist relevant stakeholders,

especially the INEC, security agencies and civil society organisations.

“The pre-election survey comprised a web-based experiment, which sampled the opinions of 677 respondents spread across Bayelsa State, desk reviews, interviews and focused discussions. We based our observations on top risk factors that could spark electoral violence, including thuggery, vote-buying, cultists’ clash and the spate of decamping presently going on in the state.

“With all these aforementioned concerns, providing an impartial voice on electoral violence through citizen observation with the ultimate goal of ending the culture of violence by documenting and publishing comprehensive electoral violence data is crucial to inform relevant stakeholders on why election violence needs to be mitigated.

“The KDI has trained and deployed over 16 monitors to all local government areas for pre-election, election day and post-election phases. Some peace initiatives, such as advocacy meetings and town hall meetings, have been held and will still be held across the state to discuss with key stakeholders to mitigate political tension that may result into electoral violence.’’

Last week, some hoodlums, believed to be supporters of a particular political party, attacked the special adviser to Governor Dickson on youth matters, Mr Bobolayefa Owoupele, who is still in a critical condition at an undisclosed hospital in the state capital.

Anxiety in Kogi, Bayelsa over looming violence

Also, some international and local organisations, including youths, women and elders, have been engaging in sensitisation on violence-free election come November 16.

Reacting to the allegation of arms stockpiling, the state chairman of the PDP, Cleopas Moses, in a statement recently, said the APC-led Federal Government was plotting to deploy soldiers to rig the governorship election in favour of their candidate. He said Bayelsans would resist any attempt to rig the governorship election in the state.

An electorate who identified himself as Ebis Daniel, from Azuzuama, Southern Ijaw Local Government Area, told Daily Trust on Sunday that no matter the antics of politicians to create fear in the minds of voters, he would not be deterred from casting his vote for his preferred candidate. He added that this election would determine the future of Bayelsa State for the next four years. He said if the electorate stayed back out of fear, politicians would hijack the process and install their stooge as governor.

Also, Nonso Friday from Ekeremor told Daily Trust on Sunday that no matter the situation on ground, he would go to his polling unit to cast his vote. He said that most times, politicians spread rumours of violence to discourage people from going out to vote so that they would have the opportunity to rig the election.

We have placed some politicians on watch list – DSS

Meanwhile, the Department of State Security (DSS) in the state has said that some politicians are on their watch list.

The director of the DSS in the state, Ishaku Yusuf, disclosed this during a seminar organised by the Nigeria Police Force, led by the Assistant Inspector-General of Police (AIG), Zone 5, Mr Dibal Yakadi for political party leaders and governorship candidates in the state. He added that those under security watch were politicians that have been identified as having the capacity to instigate violence during elections.

“Those who can perpetrate violence during the election have been put under security watch; some homes are also under surveillance,” he said.

Corps members speak

Some corps members who will serve as ad-hoc electoral officials have promised to discharge their duties with sincerity, but pleaded with the INEC and security agencies to ensure their safety, especially in some riverine communities identified as flashpoints.

One of the corps members who didn’t want his name mentioned said, “Serving as ad-hoc staff in this election is our little way of contributing to the betterment of the electoral system of our country. We are on a national assignment.

“Out of fear, some corps members have rejected the assignment, but personally, I know I’m going there to contribute my quota for national development, and God will certainly guide us.’’

But some corps members in the state told our correspondent that they would not serve as ad-hoc staff due to the fear of violence.

A Batch B corps member, who did not want his name mentioned, said he chose not to participate as ad-hoc staff for the election because of the tensed political situation in the buildup to the election.

“Both the APC and the PDP see the election as a do-or-die affair. I can’t risk my life. I will be in my house that day, cook and eat good food and get the outcome on the television,’’ he said.

A female corps member who preferred anonymity, also said she would not take part in the exercise, given the tensed political atmosphere.

We’re not leaving any stone unturned – INEC

Speaking on measures taken by the INEC to avert possible violence in Kogi and Bayelsa states during the November 16 governorship elections, the chief press secretary to the INEC chairman, Mr. Rotimi Oyekanmi said, “The INEC has already conducted its risk assessment on both states, and we have shared our findings with security agencies, who have also independently carried out their risk assessment in both states. It is based on the harmonised findings and positions that they will be guided in their deployment plan.

“Areas to be covered include an escort of personnel and materials and the protection of the processes throughout the election. In Bayelsa, the INEC has not only hired boats, but we are also working with marine police, navy and the army to have gunboats to escort the boats carrying personnel and materials for the elections,’’ Oyekanmi said.

He said the commission was also being proactive by planning two consultative meetings with stakeholders.

He said, “We have already held one in Bayelsa and Kogi, in which all the political parties and their candidates were present.  We had very fruitful discussions in Kogi, with the political actors, and the candidates of the PDP and APC gave their firm commitments to the peaceful conduct of the election.

“In Bayelsa, we met the traditional rulers, who assured us of their commitment to a peaceful election. The stakeholders’ meeting in Yenegoa was peaceful until towards the end of the programme when two political actors got into an argument that unfortunately forced the INEC to end the meeting. But we are going back there in the first week of November. We also have assurances of all political actors in the state, of their commitment to a peaceful election.’’

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