Preliminary reports from the last gubernatorial polls in Bayelsa and Kogi states show that the electiomarred by massive violence, rigging, and vote-buying. It is a sad reminder that our electoral process may not be improving despite efforts made by the electoral management body and other stakeholders to ensure that votes count and that credible leaders emerge in the country. The issue of electoral violence and malpractice has become a recurring decimal. The truth is that politicians are not solely responsible; the political parties, law enforcement agents, voters, and electorate, in general, have been found to have a share in the blame.
The way we see politics in our country is not only do-or-die, but it has also been taken as a profession that should be given all that it takes. Politics is not seen as an avenue to get into political office and render selfless service to one’s fatherland. Massive violence reportedly marred polls in Bayelsa and Kogi states. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) stated that despite all the efforts by the commission and political parties to promote peaceful elections, including several engagements with stakeholders and signing of Peace Accords, there were reports indicating that the process was in several places marred by violence. It would be recalled that about 900,000 voters were eligible to vote for the contesting candidates of 45 political parties in 1,804 polling stations across Bayelsa.
INEC said that over 31,000 policemen and 87 gunboats were deployed to prevent violence in the state. Police helicopters hovered over the capital, Yenagoa while soldiers and anti-riot police mounted roadblocks at major points. In Kogi, a total of 35,200 police had been deployed to protect some 1.5 million registered voters. The leading candidates were David Lyon of ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and Douye Diri, a former senator of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In Kogi, incumbent Governor Yahaya Bello of APC was seeking re-election against Musa Wada of PDP and 22 other candidates.
A leading election observer, YIAGA Africa alleged that it had received reports of voter inducement and vote-buying in polling units. Expressing his disappointment over the late arrival of INEC officials and election materials in Otueke, Jonathan said he was at his polling unit early without anyone to attend to him, stating that Nigeria had no justification to get its electoral processes right, adding that many African countries had been able to maintain a good electoral system, as Governor Seriake Dickson also accused security agencies of connivance in the poll.
This ugly trend may continue unless some urgent measures are put in place to address the declining credibility attached to our polls. Inability to apprehend and punish those found guilty of abetting, perpetration and sponsoring electoral violence and vote-buying remains a big obstacle. Another major source of worry is the level of poverty in the land. This seems to be the most crucial factor that is festering this malaise. It is common knowledge that many Nigerians live below the poverty line and are seriously hungry to resist falling for electoral offences.
Politicians and political leaders, who are largely responsible for the plight of the nation, would explore the economic situation in the country to make the electorate sell their votes by inducing them with money. For them, politics is a big and serious business that requires huge investment for a bountiful harvest. In Nigeria, many people go into politics because of what they can benefit from and not to serve the populace. It is for this reason that most voters become easy prey to few Naira notes splashed on them by the same politicians responsible for their economic woes. The cycle of poverty, economic and political slavery continues unabated.
If nothing serious is done to nip this cankerworm in the bud, we are likely to see more of such rot in our polity. By next year, more gubernatorial elections would be held in states like Edo and Ondo. Tension is already building up in these states between the incumbents and their godfathers that have not been on the same page. The year 2023 is not too far a period for the general elections. Already, politicians have started campaigning using various platforms, groups, and structures. As a way forward, INEC should intensify efforts at educating and enlightening the people on the dangers of vote-buying and electoral violence. The much-awaited electoral offences commission should be made operational while politicians found engaging in these acts should be sanctioned appropriately to serve as a deterrent to others.
Political parties should let internal democracy take roots in their parties. Proper orientation should be given to aspirants on the need to appreciate the real essence of patriotism, nationalism, and public service. More importantly, decent, hardworking and committed Nigerians with enviable track-record and pedigree should venture in politics in the interest of our dear country. The lukewarm attitude by fine men and women, not to participate in Nigerian politics, has been the nation’s albatross. This unhelpful disposition and apathy should stop for our politics to become better, more attractive, and less violent.