Despite the peace accord signed in Lokoja by the political parties in the upcoming governor ship election in Kogi state this weekend, peace appears far from reality. OYIBO SALIHU in this report writes on the concerted effort put in place by a non governmental organisations and stakeholders for a free poll.
Despite concerted efforts made by non governmental organisations, religious bodies and other individuals including the assurances from security agencies to ensure a violent- free election, there have been political killings, destructions and attacks across political parties.
Barely two days after a court ruling in Abuja that gave Barrister Natasha Akpoti, the flag bearer of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), victory, the secretariat of the party in Lokoja, the state capital, was vandalised and few hours later set ablaze by hoodlums suspected to be political thugs allegedly aided by security agents.
Moreso, the All Progressive Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic party (PDP) have been at loggerhead accusing each other of planning violence ahead of the election.
While the APC had the incumbent governor as its standard bearer, the strongest opposition party in the state, the PDP would be fielding Engineer Musa Wada for the election.
In search of peace
Irked by the tension already generated, the National Peace Committee, (NPC), organised a peace meeting with stakeholders, political parties, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), religious leaders with a view for a peaceful election in the state.
The state commissioner of police, Mr Hakeem Busari, while addressing the people at the occasion said that the force is working round the clock to ensure a peaceful environment for law- abiding citizens to exercise their civic responsibility without molestation from any quota. He revealed that a comprehensive security arrangements have been put in place to ensure security of lives and property, before, during and after the election.
Speaking further, the police chief appealed to political gladiators to play the game by the rule, saying election is not war, but said people should vote freely for candidates of their choice during the election.
He, however, said campaign are on-going though not without pockets of violence. He however said 35, 000 policemen would be deployed during the election.
The CP also assured that they would put total surveillance on activities of political thugs who may wish impede the integrity of the election in order to impress their pay masters.
“We are working in synergy with other security agencies to ensure peaceful conduct before, during and after the election.
“There would be restriction of movement on the election day and no VIP would be escorted during the election. Electorates are expected to cast their votes and vacate the polling units.”
Also, the Ohinoyi of Ebiraland, Dr Ado Ibrahim who led other traditional rulers to the occasion, however, sues for peace and urged the security agencies to be neutral in the course of discharging their duties.
“Ever before this election , security of life and property has been our major concern and election must not cause division among brothers,” he said.
He enjoined other traditional rulers in the state to talk to their people on the need to eschew violence, stressing that power comes from God and He gives to whoever He pleases.
The Obaro of Kabba, Oba Solomon Owoniyi, said the maintenance of peace is the duty of everyone and not just the security men alone. According to him, true democracy cannot be achieved through violence. He therefore tasked security agencies on the need to be proactive in taking decisions that would pave room for peace among the citizen.
Expectedly, the resident electoral commissioner (REC), Professor James Apam, disclosed that election materials are ready and in the custody of Registration Areas in the various local governments but expressed worries over the high rate of violence in the state because of election.
He identified the use of hate speeches and physical attacks among supporters of various political parties as another dangerous dimensions that have been introduced to the polity,
calling on stakeholders to work for a peaceful election in the interest of the state and the country at large.
NGOs challenges INEC to its responsibilities
Non-governmental organisations working in the state have also raised concern about unaccredited agents of political parties, who may flood the polling units on the day of election. They called on INEC to wake up to their statutory responsibility without fear or favour.
Apparently, as part of effort to ensure peaceful conduct, ‘Search for Common Ground’ (SFCG) in one of its programmes funded by National Democratic Institute (NDI), United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and UKaid said that it has deployed 21 early warning observers for Kogi governorship election, lamenting that the rate of political killings in some parts of the state may pose threat to the election.
The early warning coordinator of the NGO, Mrs Omolola Mamedu who disclosed this in Lokoja during the Monthly Stakeholder’s Conflict Scan Analysis on Electoral Violence in Kogi State, said the 21 early warning observers have been deployed to all the 21 local government councils of the state.
Mamedu revealed that the observers have been selected and trained to observe and report to an existing database platform on early warning signs and conflict indicators.
She pointed out that these reports cover areas of election-related violence, identifying potential threats to peaceful election at pre and post-election stages in order to facilitate an early response by stakeholders like the police INEC, NOA and other relevant agencies.
She noted that the early warning observers have reported cases of violence, physical attacks between the APC and PDP during campaign rallies, saying that Dekina and Ankpa local government councils have recorded the highest number of violent attack among party members and supporters .
“On the 19 of October, 2019, a party supporter was allegedly shot dead in Ayingba during one of the political party rallies. The number of deaths recorded in Ayingba and Ankpa communities is quite alarming. There has been a rise in the use of political thugs to perpetrate violence, as this was recorded in Dekina, Ankpa, Olamoboro, Omala and Idah local government areas.”
However, no fewer than 18 political parties participating in the election have signed peace accord with a promise to ensure peaceful conduct of Kogi elections.
The accord was signed under the auspices of the Peace committee at the end of a dialogue with stakeholders on peaceful conduct of the election last week in Lokoja.
The programme was one of the peace initiatives of Search for Common Ground working for a peaceful election in the state and other states of the federation.
Prof Apam had during the exercise expressed concern over possible outbreak of violence during the election.
“Our major challenge is that of violence and that is why Kogi is termed as ‘Bayelsa of the North’ and the only way to remove the tag is by holding peaceful election.
“The people should resolve for peace. The issue of security lies with the people because there is no way the police can provide 100 per cent security.
“We are appealing to everyone to conduct themselves in an orderly manner. We want you to help our efforts to pay off. Our partners have committed so much to this cause and we cannot afford to discouraged them please,” Apam said.
Again, Busari said that election is not war and not a do-or-die project.
“You don’t need to kill anybody to get into office. We appeal to political actors to play the game according to the rules and to avoid anything that would result into violence,” he said.
Dr Ibrahim said the traditional institution in the state was concerned about possibility of violence during the election.
“We are concerned with the security situation in the state. There has to be advancement of peace from the grassroots,” he said.
Despite all these, three day after the accord, the state secretariat of SDP was burnt by yet-to-be identified hoodlums.
However, the SDP governorship candidate, Barr Natasha Akpoti, who visited the office on Monday morning alleged that there was plan by governor Yahaya Bello to attack her convoy, adding that the unfolding event has affirmed the allegation.
Responding to the allegations against the APC, the director general, media and publicity to the governor, Kingsley Fanwo, said Miss Akpoti should deal with her issues and leave the governor out of her travails.
“She is always out for unmerited sympathy. The governor is against violence and has already told security agents to ensure the governorship election is peaceful across the length and breath of the state,” he stated.
By and large, the stage is set for the election, but the success of the poll lay in the hands of actors as peace seems to have no alternative and its attainment should be a collective effort of all.