November 16: How INEC is preparing to nip violence in the bud

There have been cases of violence in Kogi state ahead of the governorship election in the state which is barely some 12 days. Emeka Nzeh writes on efforts by the Independent National Electoral Commission to ensure a violent-free poll.

Attack on convoys

Ahead of the November 16 governorship election in Kogi state, incidences of violence have been recorded in some local government areas in the state. Recently, for instance, the convoy of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship candidate, Engr Musa Wada, was allegedly attacked by hoodlums. And in a few cases death have reportedly occurred.

Besides, some politicians have, by their utterances and body language, given the impression that the exercise is a do-or-die matter and therefore all manners of violence must be deployed to outdo opponents and secure victory, quite unmindful of the choice of the electorate.

Though the dominant parties- the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition PDP have pointed accusing fingers at each other, the security agencies are yet to hold any of the parties culpable, instead they have repeatedly appealed to them and in fact all others to see the exercise as a peaceful process of selecting leaders of the state.  Other agencies and organisations have equally identified with the police and other security agencies to urge the people to shun violence and allow a hitch-free election.

Besides, others have urged the electoral body to ensure a transparent, fair and credible exercise saying that is the only panacea for non-violence election as it would instil confidence and ensure the wishes of the electorate are respected. Little wonder some non-governmental organisations have enlisted in the campaign against any electoral immorality that could dent the credibility of the exercise.

NGOs seek violence-free election

One of such is the Centre for Advocacy of Justice and Rights which has, in partnership with the International Foundation Electoral System, opted to educate the people of Kogi on how to mitigate election-related violence.

The Project Officer of the centre, Mr Kingsley Obida, at a stakeholders’ meeting held in Ogori, Ogorimagongo Local Government Area of Kogi, said that they have held series of meetings to discuss issues related to electoral violence and how to mitigate such violence.

“We are meeting with stakeholders in Kogi to talk about issues concerning elections violence that were noted during the presidential, governorship and National Assembly elections.

“It is to see how the stakeholders could overcome and give their support in curbing the menace of electoral violence during the November 16 Kogi governorship,” Obida said.

Like other NGOs which have mobilised the masses against electoral violence, the centre explained that most of the stakeholders were drawn from the community groups and members such as the traditional and religious leaders, security agencies, associations and market women, among others.

Obida stressed that the interactions would enable them to chart a way forward in trying to avert issues of electoral violence in Kogi as well as Nigeria in general.

“So far so good, we have had three of the community programmes across Kogi; we started with Kogi East in Anyigba, Kabba in Kogi west and now in Ogori for Kogi Central.

“We have trained 45 monitors that are already on the field and monitoring violence before, during and after the elections across the 21 local governments of Kogi.

“Currently, they are monitoring, reporting and documenting all the electoral violence since the elections activities commenced in Kogi and the peace initiatives that are being carried out either by civil society organisations, governments or individual as the case may be,” he said.

Mr Steve Aluko-Daniel, Director Civil Liberties Organisation and the Lead Monitor in the programme, said that the responses of stakeholders across the senatorial districts were inspiring.

He advised INEC to take every step to reinvent the trust and winning the confidence of the people in their ability to conduct free, fair and credible elections.

He further urged the electoral umpire to build more synergy with the security agencies so that the security lapses would not be exploited to have an inconclusive or a violent election.

A participant, Mr Sadiku Samuel, representing Kogi Central Elders Forum, said that meeting was a fruitful one at a privileged time for them in Kogi to have election into the office of the governor.

Another participant, Mrs Elizabeth Johnson, representing women group, commended the gesture, saying she would go back and sensitise the women to the need to come out, vote and not to be scared.

INEC strategises for non-violent election

In apparent response to the plea of the people for a hitch-free and non-violent election, the INEC recently assured that all hands are on deck to organise and conduct governorship election that will not only be credible and transparent but devoid of violence.

Accordingly, it says “given the challenges of topography in the two states of Bayelsa and Kogi as well as their unfortunate history of electoral violence, the commission has mapped out strategies of degrading threats to the conduct of elections and ensuring the safety of materials and personnel.”

The commission also said it is in consultation and partnership with the Nigerian Navy and Airforce for the purposes of providing security for our personnel and materials.  

It’s National Commissioner and Chairman Information and Voter Education, Barrister Festus Okoye, recently stated in Abuja at a dialogue session with Resident Electoral Commissioners, that it is not leaving any stone to prepare for and conduct a violent-free exercise.

Okoye noted that it has, through its Alternative Dispute Resolution Directorate, met with traditional rulers, religious leaders and youth groups in the states who are now committed to ensuring peaceful elections adding that meetings with candidates are scheduled for next week.

Okoye told the RECs that “As part of its preparations for both governorship elections, the commission has embarked on sustained and targeted voter education, stakeholder engagements and peace building initiatives

Further, the commission through Okoye said “As part of its preparations for both governorship elections, the commission has embarked on sustained and targeted voter education, stakeholder engagements and peace building initiatives. 

“To this end it has through its Alternative Dispute Resolution Directorate met with traditional rulers, religious leaders and youth groups in the states who have committed to ensuring peaceful elections. It will equally meet with candidates this week.

While thanking civil society organisations for putting the event in place and inviting INEC he said “the dialogue session will provide an opportunity for civil society groups and organizations preparing to observe the elections to interact with Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) and Security Agencies on their preparedness and strategies for achieving a peaceful governorship election in each of the states.

He said the commission would hold 5 elections in the month of November 2019, namely two off season governorship elections in Bayelsa and and Kogi states, Kogi West senatorial district elections as well as the state constituency election in Sabuwa state constituency of Katsina state occasioned by the death of the member.

He assured that “the commission is fully mobilized and is steadily firming up and implementing mapped out programs and policies leading to these elections.”

He further explained the preparedness of the commission for the forthcoming elections.

“As at today, the two states of Bayelsa and Kogi state have received the full complement of non-sensitive materials which have already been deployed and batched in accordance with the Commissions schedule. 

“We have trained supervisory presiding officers, presiding officers and assistant presiding officers in the two (2) states. We trained them on handling of electoral materials, polling day procedures, operating the smart card readers, sorting and counting/ recording votes etc. 

We urge all categories of ad-hoc staff including collation and returning officers to pay close attention to their trainers. 

“The sorting, collation, declaration and returns in election are simple and at the same time complex. Innocuous mistakes and alterations that may be overlooked in certain and normal circumstances sometimes lead to fatal consequences in the electoral process. 

“Majority of our ad-hoc staff performed creditably in the last general elections and other previous elections and we commend their commitment and patriotism. However, the commission has banned some ad-hoc staff who abused the trust reposed on them during the 2019 general elections. 

“We urge all political parties, the candidates in the election and all the major stakeholders to respect and protect the right of the registered voters to free choice.  Voters must be allowed to go to the polling units unmolested, without fear, without intimidation and without being harmed.  

“Our young men and women that have volunteered to serve as ad-hoc must be allowed to serve without harassment, intimidation or threat of losing their lives.  

“To this end, the commission will not accept or tolerate any form of harm on its ad-hoc electoral personnel and will on no account tolerate siege on its collation centers or the declaration and returns made under dubious circumstances”, he said 

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