The results of the Saturday November 16 2019 off-season polls in Kogi and Bayelsa States, as announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission have, as expected, been mired in controversy. The two elections were marred by violence as projected by many analysts in the run-up to the elections. According to the Election Analysis Committee of the Centre for Democracy and Development, there were over 50 critical incidents that marred the outcome of the elections in Bayelsa state alone. In Kogi State, over 10 deaths have so far been reported from the elections in the State.
Beyond the orgy of deaths and other untoward incidents that characterized the polls in these two states, including their contentious outcomes, there are a number of lessons from the elections:
One is the fluidity of political alliances in the country. It was obvious that after the emergence of Senator Douye Diri, (who was reportedly backed by Governor Seriake Dickson) as the PDP’s governorship candidate in Bayelsa State, that the party would go into the elections as a divided house. It was also obvious that former President Goodluck Jonathan, whose rumoured anointed candidate Timi Alaibe lost at the primary, did not warm up to the candidacy of Senator Diri. There were equally reports of other forms of disrespect shown to the former President by Governor Dickson. In fact after the Governorship primaries, many of Jonathan’s political associates decamped to the APC. The rumour was that Jonathan would use the Governorship election to ‘teach’ Governor Dickson a lesson.
After the elections APC leaders led by Jonathan’s long-term political adversary and now Minister of State for Petroleum Chief Timipre Sylva and Governor-elect David Lyon reportedly visited Jonathan to “thank him for being neutral” during the elections. While I can understand Jonathan’s lukewarm attitude to the PDP candidate – if not opposition to his candidacy- I think his virtual celebration of the defeat of a party that brought him from being a nobody to occupying the highest office in the land over a personal slight negates all the goodwill he accumulated as a selfless politician since he conceded defeat to Buhari in the 2015 elections. I feel that to allow the reported slight from Governor Dickson to becloud what the PDP has done for him as a person, and for him to forget that he is seen as the father of the party by many supporters, suggest politics without principles. And in taking such a step over perceived slight, I wonder if he considered his hordes of supporters like Reno Omokri who have staked their lives and everything to defend him from the APC propaganda machine? Jonathan is today larger than life largely because of the spins from his supporters and those who sympathize with him over the way they feel he was mistreated by the APC government.
I am not against the reconciliation of former political adversaries or re-alignment of political forces, but such ought to be driven by larger visions, not personal slights or gains. In fact some are now insinuating that the purported support Jonathan gave to the APC candidate might not be partly unconnected with his wife’s legal battles with the EFCC.
Two, the APC has never made bones of its desire to have solid footholds in the oil-rich Niger Delta (besides Edo State which it currently controls). It made very audacious efforts to take over Rivers, Delta, Akwa Ibom and even Cross Rivers State during the last elections and came short. Now that it has gotten Bayelsa – largely on the back of the grudge matches that tend to drive elections in many of the States in the Niger Delta – both the APC and the PDP may not be the same again. One of the likely impacts of APC’s increased foothold in the Niger Delta is that its current alliance configuration, seen as North and South-West alliance, may come under stress as the strategic importance of the South-West to the party diminishes. With Governor Nyesom Wike, who is in his second and final term in office as the Governor of Rivers State already softening up his hitherto strong position to the APC, and with the PDP lacking any financier of note, we may be moving towards a one party dominant state – the position the PDP was in until 2015. The PDP will, at least in the short to medium terms, become more emasculated as it will lack not just financiers but the likes of Wike and former Governor of Ekiti State Ayodele Fayose who could at least bark back at the APC political machine. I expect series of re-alignments within the APC, and the emergence of new tendencies and cleavages within the party. Essentially the outcome of the Bayelsa elections may also have changed the permutations for 2023.
Three, the election in Kogi State is interesting because the structure of the state almost mirrors the structure of ethnic configuration in the country. The Igala, which are concentrated in the East Senatorial District, constitute about 49 per cent of registered voters in the State. The PDP’s candidate Musa Wada comes from the majority Igala – so on paper, and given the ethnic politics in the state, he stood a good chance. The incumbent Governor, Yahaya Bello is an Igbira man from Kogi Central. The total number of registered voters in the North Central was slightly less than the total number of voters in Kogi West, dominated by the Okuns. So how did Bello try to overcome the inherent disadvantages of contesting against a man from a dominant ethnic group? First, he appeared to benefit from a prevailing anti-Igala sentiment in both Kogi Central and Kogi West because the Igala have dominated the politics of the state and are often accused of having a “sense of entitlement”. Second is that he turned Kogi West into the battle ground area, combining a play on the anti-Igala sentiments with stoking the fear factor that a vote for Musa Wada would mean that it would take a longer time for Kogi West to produce a governor. In hindsight, this fear factor would have been numbed if former Governor Idris Wada, who had already served one term in office was the PDP candidate. It seemed that the prospect of Kogi West producing a Governor in 2023 was a big attraction to the people there. There was equally the open endorsement of Governor Bello by Jide Omokore, an oil man with deep pockets from Kogi West who probably had his personal reasons for that open endorsement. It is also not unlikely that some of the violence during the elections were instigated to suppress or intimidate voters from opponents’ strong areas of support. Essentially, while the outcome of the Kogi election remains contested, it appears that Bello, often criticised for not being a ‘performing Governor’, benefitted from the above strategies.
Four, questions should also be asked on why there was so much violence in the two elections despite the fact that the police claimed they deployed 66,241 personnel to the two states to police the elections. We were also told that these police personnel would be joined by other paramilitary organizations like the Nigerian Civil Defence Corps.
The Police claimed that 35,200 police personnel would be deployed to Kogi, which has 2548 polling units (meaning an average of over 13 police personnel per polling unit). While it is true that Kogi is a massive state, sharing borders with some ten states, and that some of the police personnel would inevitably be deployed to man the borders, it still beggars belief that so much violence could be perpetrated in the state amid so much alleged policing. It is also surprising that with such a huge number of police personnel, police presence was visibly absent in some polling units. The same can also be said of Bayelsa state which has a difficult terrain and topography. Many people feel that if 31,041 police personnel were actually deployed to the state as claimed by the police to man the state’s 1804 polling units ( an average of over 17 police personnel per polling unit), there would have been more police presence than we saw during the elections. Since appropriations for these deployments were made, perhaps it will not be out of place for an inquiry on why such high level of violence (which was anticipated in all the pre-election analyses for the two states) was still possible in the two states despite the alleged huge deployment of police personnel to both states.