Baring last minute hitches, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will conduct the Bayelsa State governorship poll on November 16, alongside that of Kogi State. Eligible voters in the two states are already warming up to cast their ballots on the D-Day.
Already, the campaigns have reached fever pitch with parties, their candidates and supporters striving for action. Although there are many political parties vying for the coveted positions, the race in both states is between the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
In Bayelsa State, the contest is between fresh aspirants because the incumbent governor, Seriake Dickson of the PDP is about to finish his second term in office. So, Bayelsa people are looking forward for a new governor to be elected on that day. In Kogi State, the incumbent governor, Yahaya Bello of the APC is vying for his second term in office. He will slug it out with other contestants and the outcome will show who will be in charge of the state in the next four years. Both elections offer the two leading political parties in the country an opportunity to show their supremacy. While it can be safely said that Bayelsa is a PDP state, it can equally be said that Kogi belongs to the APC.
But in politics, anything can happen and the pendulum can switch to either side depending on what the voters think and do on that day. In politics, a day is enough to change the outcome of an election. All these will solely depend on the neutrality of the electoral umpire, the security agents deployed for the polls and the federal government.
The impartiality of the electoral umpire is germane to having a free, fair and credible election on that day. However, there are disturbing signals over the polls, especially in Bayelsa State, where the opposition APC is grandstanding on capturing the state amid tales of carpet crossing on both sides. Regardless of the claim, it is clear that Bayelsa is a PDP state.
The party has been in power in the state since the birth of this democracy in 1999. It is expected that the people of the state will return the party to power for consolidation of what is already on ground. This is likely because the shouts of change might not necessarily lead to any meaningful change at the end of the day. The PDP candidate in the Bayelsa poll, Senator Douye Diri stands a good chance to carry the day despite the boast from the APC chairman, Adams Oshiomhole. The stakes in Bayelsa poll are understandably high for so many reasons. It is an oil-bearing state with huge money and APC is desperately rooting to capture it. But election is never won by force. A party can only win election in a sate it is popular and quite on ground, which is not true of APC in Bayelsa. If Bayelsa and Kogi governorship polls are bungled, Nigerians might start losing faith in the electoral process. And any move to turn Nigeria into a one-party state must be vehemently resisted. In the same vein, one can say that Kano is an APC state or that Lagos is an APC state.
Bayelsa is a PDP stronghold. And the party has done pretty well for the state. It is not likely that another party can dislodge the PDP in the state so easily. But the most infuriating aspect of the entire campaign is that while the APC did not see anything wrong in the federal government approving the release of N10 billion to Kogi State, which is part of the money the government owes the state, the APC is kicking against the federal government paying Bayelsa state its N7billion share from the Value Added Tax (VAT). This is a clear case of double standards and playing to the gallery. It is good to call a spade a spade instead of another name. What is good for the APC should equally be good for the PDP. The APC is against any plan by the federal government to pay Bayelsa State the VAT money because it believes the government will use it to buy votes, a claim that is unsubstantiated.
What is the guarantee that the APC will not use the N10 billion approved for it to buy votes in Kogi State? Also, the APC is more interested in the corruption allegations against the PDP candidate in Bayelsa State while turning the blind eye to those leveled against their candidate in Kogi State. If the current effort to fight corruption in the country must succeed, it must be holistic and non-partisan. It must be blind to political and religious affiliations of those affected.
Therefore, the elections in Bayelsa and Kogi states should be handled with great caution by INEC, so that the gains of the nascent democracy should not be derailed by the inordinate ambitions of power seekers. The Government and INEC should heed the recent warning given by former boss of the electoral agency, Professor Attahiru Jega, on the need for credible polls. No doubt, Bayelsa and Kogi polls provide INEC another opportunity to prove that it has learnt from the mistakes of the 2019 general poll.
Therefore, the electoral body should provide a level playing field for all the political parties and their candidates in the polls. Let the winners of the poll come through the ballot and not through ‘wuru wuru’ and ‘mago mago.’ The use of ‘federal might’ during elections should be done away with. It does not advance our democracy and it does not lead to the development of the country.
The extant ‘do or die’ approach to politics, especially during elections, must be discouraged. It has, more than any other thing, stunted the growth of our politics as well as the socio-economic development of the country. It is good that INEC has read the Riot Act to its staff and officials of political parties and others participating in the Bayelsa and Kogi polls. The agency has vowed to place on oath its staff and ad hoc staff deployed for the polls in order to ensure the good conduct of the polls. While the move is commendable, I think that the electoral agency should go beyond that and do more to ensure that the polls are free, fair and credible. The card readers and other essential materials for the polls must be available. The card readers must not malfunction in certain areas.
The federal government should allow the electoral umpire do the job without any interference. Let the security agents deployed for the elections carry their duties with utmost patriotism. They should be neutral in dealing with all the parties and their supporters.
The world and the international community will hail Nigeria if we conduct a credible poll. It is time we stop the outcome of our polls being determined by the courts. Above all, let all the stakeholders work together with the electoral agency to ensure that the polls are free, fair and credible. The current change mantra in the country will be a ruse if we cannot conduct free and fair polls in Bayelsa and Kogi states.