On November 17, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), declared the second Kogi West senatorial election rerun between mainly Dino Melaye and Smart Adeyemi inconclusive.
The courts had earlier voided Sen Melaye’s victory in last February’s senatorial race, and ordered a rerun. It is this rerun that has crashed into a ditch, leading to a court order for a second rerun.
There will probably not be a third rerun ordered by INEC, for the second rerun, which was conducted at the same time as the November 16 governorship poll, witnessed unprecedented projection of violence and shocking display of lawlessness that virtually indicated what and who the votes were meant to deliver. A third rerun would be scandalous, except ordered again by the courts.
Federal authorities gave indication before the November 16 governorship and senatorial polls that the elections would be policed by some 35,000 policemen, in addition to an indeterminate number of other security agents.
In the end, as attested by amateur video recordings and nearly all election monitoring groups, the thousands of policemen deployed in the state were unable to guarantee free and fair polls. Indeed, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, plaintively declared that armed thugs and fake policemen had a field day during the polls. Some observers insist regular policemen were a part of the racket that led to the election being universally condemned and declared as scandalous.
Mr Adamu gave no explanation why his men, in their thousands, could not rein in the armed thugs and so-called fake policemen who shamefully and brazenly subverted the polls.
Today is the second rerun. The police have been more careful in disclosing how many policemen would be deployed to safeguard the polls. Kogites themselves have wondered whether there is any reason to doubt the outcome of the second expected to favour Senator Adeyemi, given the fact that the arithmetic of the outstanding votes should make Senator Melaye grimace rather than grin or smile.
After the intense violence of November 16, would anyone still have the appetite to give or receive more of such violence? In declaring the senatorial poll inconclusive, INEC announced that the difference in votes between Senators Melaye and Adeyemi (20,570) was less than the number of cancelled votes (43,127) in 53 poling units and 20 registration zones.
There was no indication of how many PVCs were collected in those polling units to enable the public know whether the rerun is nothing but an academic exercise.
Obviously, regardless of the PVCs collected and the difference in votes established between the two candidates, the November 16 violence and the fatalities that accompanied balloting are unlikely to encourage a high voter turnout.
Worse, having witnessed the manner in which ballot boxes were snatched and votes returned in places where violence barred elections, it is unlikely that the electorate would still entertain hope that whatever they did could still matter in determining the winner.
They are not after all inured to that overwhelming sense of fait accompli imposed by the Yahaya Bello government whose supporters shamelessly celebrated electoral violence and endorsed impunity in the classical hate speech mode.
But perhaps before today’s poll the police would deem it necessary to avail the public their preparations, including the number of men they hope to deploy in the affected zones, and what plans they have to deter fake policemen and armed thugs.
There will probably be no helicopter to fire live bullets and tear gas at supposedly unruly voters, a means of crowd control during elections that is both arbitrary and unjustifiable. If law enforcement agents will take sides again, as many feared they did on November 16, observers and critics suspect that they will be less flagrant, perhaps believing that the damage had been done, and the election already ‘won’ and ‘lost’.
The senatorial rerun and the concluded governorship election have raised quite a number of worrisome ethical dilemmas for the government and INEC. First is the ethical confusion created by the federal government itself.
By immediately endorsing the governorship election through a congratulatory statement to Mr Bello, without indicating any abhorrence of the violence that led to loss of lives or indicating any resolve to probe the violence and bring suspected murderers to book, the Muhammadu Buhari presidency seemed to downplay the significance of the subversion of the will of the electorate.
It took nearly a week for the president to condemn the November 18 gruesome murder of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) women leader, Salome Abuh, with the condemnation coming almost as an afterthought. It is even more shocking that in clumsily responding to popular outrage, the presidency forgot to give the same stentorian order in respect of the about a dozen other victims murdered during the election. Significantly, barely 24 hours after the presidential order, six suspects were arrested and are undergoing interrogation.
The second ethical problem that proceeds from the election is why the police, which had given series of unsatisfactory statements to explain their impotence in the face of armed electoral thugs, needed to be prodded by the presidency to professionally respond to the violence and the murder that unhinged the Kogi polls. The police are constitutionally empowered to deal with breakdown of law and order and to routinely solve crimes.
They need no extra orders from anywhere. By making light of the violence that compromised the Kogi polls of November 16, the police managed to give the impression that they were not impartial, and that they were tragically subservient to certain vested interests and incapable of independent judgement.
A third and even more distressing ethical problem came out of the violent Kogi polls — the complete inurement of Mr Bello’s supporters to his cruelty, incompetence and maladministration. That those supporters composed musical ditties and embarked on raucous celebration to entrench a dubious electoral outcome gave the impression that a disturbingly high number of Nigerians may already be viewing political issues through ethnic colourations and warped ethical prisms.
That Mr Bello’s supporters ululated over the use of guns to coerce votes is a natural progression from the federal government’s own disinterestedness in the violent manner Mr Bello himself conducted his campaign by ostracising his opponents, creating electoral and campaign no-go areas, and threatening to use all means to deliver votes to his party — all this without a whimper from the law enforcement agencies. This was truly cataclysmic.
The Kogi polls did not pass muster, not even the smallest litmus test. All the relevant agencies and governments which should have safeguarded a free and fair election on November 16 failed woefully. Many critics think this is a terrible retrogression. Others think that what happened in Kogi is unprecedented. But whether it is a retrogression or it is unprecedented, the failed election in Kogi is not just the responsibility of Mr Bello, as ruthless and unethical as he is, and INEC, as weak as they have become, it is in fact more legally the responsibility of the federal government which had the means to safeguard the process but chose connivance instead of impartiality.
The chickens will eventually come home to roost, considering that the next general election is just round the corner. Given the horrible erosion of electoral and governmental ethics in Nigeria, and the increasing lack of willingness by the civil populace to challenge and resist all the political and bureaucratic malfeasances undermining good governance and law and order, less hope is being reposed in the sanctity of polls as a means of regulating power struggle and mediating political conflict. Between 1999 and up to last month, some achievements had been recorded in the country’s electoral process.
Now, especially consequent upon the latest electoral misadventure in Kogi, which will likely be reinforced in the Kogi West second rerun today, and the electoral dubieties that smeared the Bayelsa poll also of November 16, hope is fast receding that a better tomorrow exists for the country’s electoral process.