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Notes from Kogi/Bayelsa Polls ~ By Olusegun Adeniyi

What do you think will happen in Bayelsa and Kogi States this coming Saturday?

The question was posed to me last week Monday by a prominent citizen who considered my political opinion to be of some value.

“Let’s start with Kogi,” I replied. “If performance in office dictates incumbent election results, Yahaya Bello should lose badly. But we all know this is not the case in Nigeria. Therefore, if I were a betting man, I would put my money on him. The governor has left no one in doubt that he is a politician for whom only the end justifies the means. So, I expect Yahaya Bello to deploy the entire arsenal at his disposal to rig himself back to power. I don’t think anybody or anything can stop him.”

While the body bags are still being counted in Kogi State, and fresh killings even after the results have been declared, Yahaya Bello is back as I predicted. I watched him on television yesterday and he couldn’t even spare a word to condole the families of those who died. So to the people of Kogi who will have to endure another four years of purposeless government, please accept my commiserations.

“What about Bayelsa?”, asked the man who appeared unsurprised by my take on Kogi.

Here, I hesitated a bit before I made my call. “Bayelsa is a bit tricky for me. All the big shots I have spoken to in recent weeks from the state would love to see Governor Seriake Dickson humiliated. The election is not going to be about PDP or APC. Rather, it is more a referendum on the outgoing governor who is bent on installing a successor of his choice, regardless of who his party men want. Dickson, who was railroaded to power in 2011 by President Goodluck Jonathan, now sees himself as the ultimate godfather in Bayelsa and has practically told the man who provided him the ladder and other PDP leaders to go to hell. While many of them are secretly working against their party’s candidate in favour of the APC, I am not sure how that will eventually go. But I will not be surprised if PDP loses the state on account of Dickson’s hubris.”

In the end, Dickson, who was plotting to install a governor and then go to the Senate as the icing on his political cake, ended up with 100 percent of Nothing last Saturday. To the people of Bayelsa State, I say congratulations!

Following conclusion of the gubernatorial elections in Kogi and Bayelsa States, the battle has now shifted to the courts, but there are important lessons we should draw. Last Saturday, especially in Kogi, all the ugly things that make politics such a dirty enterprise in Nigeria were on full display: Systematically orchestrated violence with the connivance of those responsible for enforcing the law; open purchase of votes and a complete hijack of the electoral process by a desperate incumbent. The situation was different in Bayelsa only to the extent that the eventual outcome approximated popular sentiment.

In its post-election analysis appropriately titled, ‘Gunpoint Democracy’, the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) which put the number of deaths in Kogi at 10, highlighted malpractices that marred the elections. They include “the hijack of electoral materials by thugs, the kidnap of INEC ad hoc staff, vote buying, attacks on observers, intimidation of voters, under-aged voting, widespread stuffing of ballot boxes, ballot snatching and multiple voting.” Urging Nigerians to reclaim our electoral system from the grip of partisan outlaws, CDD alleged “a direct complicity of security services in giving leeway to hoodlums to disrupt the elections.” Since both signatories to the report, Ms. Idayat Hassan and Professor Adele Jinadu are respected citizens who have for decades been involved in monitoring elections in our country, this is a weighty allegation that must be taken very seriously.

Sadly, in the aftermath of elections like this, no serious interrogation is ever done by critical stakeholders since the usual retort is for the loser to put all blame on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). But while officials of the commission may be complicit in some of the malpractices, the reality is that INEC itself is often a victim. I have read several reports of how commission officials were brutalised in Kogi last Saturday while two national electoral commissioners were caught in the violence at Ganaja, Ajaokuta local government area of the state. Forced to take refuge at the campus of Salem University, it took several hours before they were later rescued by the police.

Conducting credible elections in Nigeria has always been a challenge. In my book, ’Power Politics and Death’, I recalled the attempt to deal with the problem by my late boss, following a meeting held on 16th January, 2008 with state governors, leadership of political parties that won elections in one or more states in the 2007 elections, leadership of the National Assembly and heads of various security agencies. The summation of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was that no matter the legislation, nothing would change until political actors were ready for genuine reform.

Let me take a bit from my book: After his brief remarks, all the journalists were excused because, as he (Yar’Adua) said, he wanted a frank and open discussion. Even when that had been done, he looked in my direction rather apprehensively, as if he considered me to be one of the reporters he had only moments ago excused. The import of that became glaring when he began to speak again. “Now that journalists have left and all of us are politicians, we should be able to speak the truth”, he began. “If we will be honest with ourselves, we all know how we rig elections in this country. We compromise the security agencies, we pay the electoral officials and party agents while on the eve of the election we merely distribute logistics all designed to buy the votes…”

For about twenty minutes, the president spoke candidly about the methods usually adopted to manipulate elections stopping, occasionally, to ask rhetorically whether his observations were false. Nobody controverted him and so he concluded by telling the participants that collectively, they could lay a new foundation for democracy in the country if the political elite had the will. That candid declaration by the president achieved its aim as it emboldened others to speak frankly. It was a most enlightening session which revealed quite clearly that the average Nigerian politician would rather not leave matters in the hands of the electorate on polling day. The meeting, which commenced at 11am, eventually ended at 5.30pm with the constitution of four committees under the coordination of Vice President Goodluck Jonathan. One of the committees’ tasks was to examine the role of security agencies in the course of elections and why murder and arson when perpetrated on polling day were usually treated as “electoral violence” with nobody ever successfully prosecuted for such heinous crimes.

More than eleven years after that session, nothing seems to have changed. While we will come back another day to deal with the issue of electoral violence and associated malpractices, of considerable concern to the future of our democracy is the bad behavior of the political class, made worse by our judicial environment. Instead of advancing electoral jurisprudence, many court judgments confuse even matters long settled by case law (in many cases by the Supreme Court). Increasingly, our elections are no longer determined through votes cast by citizens at polling units but by decision of Judges, often on the basis of technicality. Some rulings are also bizarre.

We have been told over the years by many judges in Nigeria that because a court cannot play Father Christmas, it can’t give what applicants never seek. Last week, despite the closed borders with Nigeria, Santa Claus still managed to arrive at a Federal High Court sitting in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State. Former Minister of State for Agriculture, Heineken Lokpobiri, was handed a gift he never sought: the primaries of his party were declared cancelled by Justice Jane Inyang! And with that she restrained INEC from “accepting, recognising, dealing with or putting the name” of the man who is now governor-elect.

The situation in Kogi State was no better. A suit filed by the Young Progressive Party (YPP) against the validity of the nomination of its candidate for the governorship election with attempt to substitute was dismissed with cost in favour of INEC. Ten days later, a similar case in every detail, filed by the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in another Federal High Court went against INEC. Yet, these are courts of coordinate jurisdiction. As I wrote in January this year, our democracy is becoming increasingly imperiled because many of our prominent citizens are no longer content having as many SANs as their lawyers, they now opt for their own judges too, to our collective detriment as a nation.

At a consultative meeting he held with stakeholders in Lokoja last week Tuesday, 12th November, INEC chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu lamented: “…with four days to the governorship elections, two more cases challenging the decision of the commission on the validity of candidates’ nominations have been reserved for judgement in Bayelsa and Kogi States. In addition, there are twelve (12) cases of intra-party disputes filed by aspirants from different political parties challenging the conduct of their own primaries and nomination of candidates, some of which have been reserved for judgement in the next few days. I must admit that the plethora of court cases and conflicting judgements delivered on the eve of elections in Nigeria are stressful to the commission and costly to the nation.”

At the bottom of all the foregoing shenanigans is a regrettable failure to cultivate a truly democratic culture. Our political actors are a mixed bag of persons who have hardly succeeded in any other meaningful venture. This inchoate army of desperados will stop at nothing to win elections that have become virtual wars with political opponents seen as enemy forces that must be crushed. To worsen matters, official security agents are now rentable contractors at the disposal of the highest bidder. That then explains why the free deployment of violence has become the means to a despicable end. In turn, recourse to the judiciary for redress of electoral grievances transfers the decision that should have been made by the electorate to a handful of judges who feel entitled to earthly reward.

In the end, the transactional ethos of our corrupt society has been allowed to overrun the national political leadership selection process and the way we are governed. For the health of our democracy, there is an urgent need for reforms at the heart of which is a re-examination of the role of critical institutions, including the judiciary.

The Women Are Coming

On Tuesday, I was at the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library in Abeokuta, Ogun State, to chair a ‘Youth Governance Dialogue’ session. Participants were drawn from across West Africa, including the guest speaker, Mr Moussa Kondo from Mali, who spoke to the issue of transparency and accountability and the role of young people. The director of the youth centre, Mr Damien Oyibo and chairperson, Mrs Bisi Kolapo dwelt on the same theme. The premise of my brief intervention was on the powers held by young people today with all the tools that have been provided by technology to ask questions. And challenge erroneous assumptions.

Incidentally, this was the second time in five days that I shared a platform with President Obasanjo, though with roles reversed. Last Friday in Lagos, he chaired the African Initiative for Governance (AIG) Advisory Panel session which preceded interviews of shortlisted scholarship candidates for a Masters of Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, Oxford University. On Tuesday, I chaired the Abeokuta youth session where he actively participated as the chief promoter.

While the youth conference was quite engaging, I found that the female contributors distinguished themselves in their display of intelligence and the manner they spoke to the issue of integrity and character. This is not an isolated experience for me because in most of my interactions with young people these days the women seem to not only be brilliant but uphold stronger values. Last Saturday in Lagos, shortly after the round robin interview with 24 candidates for the Oxford scholarships, AIG chairman and promoter of the scheme, Mr Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede asked me, “Did you notice how strong the female candidates are?”

For a society where patriarchy is still dominant, it is little surprise that so few women hold corporate or political leadership positions in Nigeria. But things have to change. If we are to develop as a nation, we must allow opportunities for women to take their place at the top. Because our women have proved to be as good, if not better, than the men, they may just be the catalyst Nigeria needs to take off.

You can follow me on my Twitter handle, @Olusegunverdict and on www.olusegunadeniyi.com

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