Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Perspective on Kogi’s electoral impasse

I have been a keen follower of the political developments in Kogi State. Ahead of the inconclusive November 21, 2015 gubernatorial election, I have been to the state three times on pre-election duties. The first was on Monday, September 14 when Alliance for Credible Elections organised a day sensitisation programme for election stakeholder on peaceful, non-violent and credible election. The second time was in October when INEC Gender Division held a voter sensistisation seminar for Kogi women also on the need for peaceful gubernatorial election. The third time was on November 12 when I was again a resource person at INEC organised Electoral Alternative Dispute Resolution workshop for election stakeholders in the confluence state. The central message in the three engagements was on the need for a non-violent election.

As it turned out last Saturday, the election was largely peaceful and well conducted but for the inconclusive end and the unexpected death of the candidate who was coasting home to victory, ex-Governor Abubakar Audu. Permit me to summarise the basic facts about the election. Twenty-two political parties fielded candidates in the election though it turned out to be a two horse race between the incumbent Governor Idris Wada of the Peoples Democratic Party and former Governor Abubakar Audu of All Progressives Congress.  Two political parties were reported to have fielded women as their candidates. There are approximately 1,379,971 registered voters in Kogi State. Of this number however, only about a million collected their Permanent Voters Card ahead of the election and are therefore persons expected to vote. Again, on the Election Day, only 511,648 out of registered voters were accredited to vote in the election. Of this number, the total valid votes cast was 459,983 while the total rejected ballot was 21, 351. An estimated 40,314 accredited voters did not make it back to cast their vote.

There are 2,548 Polling Units and 239 Registration Areas or Wards in Kogi State. About 16,000 security agents were deployed across the 21 Local Government Areas of the State. INEC deployed 11 Resident Electoral Commissioners and 3 national commissioners to supervise the poll.  Final results from the election as declared by the Returning Officer, Prof. Emmanuel Kucha, Vice Chancellor of Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi showed that the APC candidate, Audu, scored a total of 240,867 votes and won majority of votes in 16 Local Government Areas, while the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Capt. Idris Wada (Retd), who is the incumbent governor, polled 199,514 votes and majority of votes in five LGAs.

Kucha said with Audu’s votes at 240,867 and Wada at 199,514, the margin of Audu’s lead over Wada would be 41,353, He said election was cancelled or not held in 91 polling units from 19 of the 21 local government areas and noted that the total registered voters in places where the election did not take place were 49,953, a figure higher than Audu’s lead of 41,353. This is the rationale behind the declaration of the poll as inconclusive necessitating the need for INEC to fix date for the conduct of supplementary election in the affected 91 Polling Units.

I was an accredited observer for the election but could not make it down to Kogi for the exercise. I was however among the distinguished panelists that analysed the poll on the Nigerian Television Authority’s “Kogi Decides” studio. I had earlier been guest of Kakaaki on African Independent Television a couple of times to discuss the election.  I have also had the honour and privilege to be on Nigerian Info 95.1 FM as well as Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria’s “Politics Nationwide” on November 24 to discuss the election.

Few lessons I drew from the Kogi gubernatorial elections are these:  Electorates alone and no one else determines the winner of election in Nigeria. As it happened during the Ekiti State June 21, 2014 governorship election where an incumbent governor lost a reelection bid, Kogi electorates were at the threshold of voting out the incumbent governor, Captain Idris Wada. Many factors could account for this. Non-performance may be one; It may as well be that the electorates do not want their state to be in the opposition party. Two, INEC, Security agents and the electorates in Kogi performed splendidly as they were roundly commended by the various accredited observer groups and journalists that cover the election.

For instance, the nagging challenge of late commencement of voting process was largely overcome in the election as about 95 per cent of the Polling Units opened as at 8 am which is the stipulated time for commencement of accreditation. Also though there were isolated challenges with the authentication of fingerprint by the Smart Card Reader, Transition Monitoring Group in its official report on the poll said “During accreditation, the card readers functioned well throughout in 93 per cent of polling units.” The Group further said that “In majority of polling units, no incidents of intimidation, harassment, or violence against poll officials, political party agents, observers, or voters (96 per cent) or women (98 per cent) were reported.” This underscores the fact that INEC and security agents planned adequately for the poll.

I have read and heard a lot of opinions on how to resolve the unprecedented conundrum thrown up by the death of Prince Abubakar Audu. Some said it necessitated fresh governorship election. Others opined that APC should just be allowed to nominate a replacement for Audu while the supplementary election should be held to conclude the exercise. In selecting a substitute for Audu, some legal opinions believed that since Audu and his running mate Hon. James Abiodun Faleke are on joint ticket, the running mate should become the new candidate while the party goes ahead to nominate a new running mate for him. Others believe the first runner up in the APC governorship primary for Kogi,. Yahaya Bello should be picked as the new candidate. There are those who believe a fresh party primary needs to be held.

In my candid opinion, those who are calling for fresh party primary and statewide gubernatorial election thereafter needs to factor in the provision of section 178 (2) of the Nigerian 1999 Constitution (as amended) which says election to the office of the governor should be held not earlier than 150 days and not later than 30 days. Captain Wada was sworn in as Kogi Governor about January 31, 2012 and as things stand INEC may not have the wherewithal to conduct fresh election throughout Kogi State within the next one month left for it to do so. For those pushing the joint ticket argument. Audu alone ran in the party primary while his running mate was nominated by him or his party after he emerged victorious at the intra-party election. Meanwhile for a person to be a candidate of the party under our extant law, particularly section 87 of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended, he must have participated in all the stages of the nomination processes. That is he must have undergone party primary. Faleke unfortunately did not undergo primary with Abubakar Audu. To my own mind, the cost and time-saving thing to do by APC and INEC is for the party to nominate the first runner up to be its candidate while INEC should go ahead to conclude the election by holding supplementary poll in the 91 polling units where elections could not hold or cancelled. Meanwhile it is not the first time INEC had declared election inconclusive and went ahead to conduct supplementary elections. It happened in governorship election in Ekiti State in 2009, Imo State in 2011 and 2015 to mention but a few. Last line, it is now imperative for political parties to ask for certificate of medical fitness from their candidates before they are nominated to INEC to run election. Perhaps, that will guard against what happened with former president Umaru Musa Yar;Adua and now Prince Abubakar Audu.
N.B: This piece was written before INEC took the decision to allow APC nominate a new candidate and fix the supplementary election for December 5, 2015

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