Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Political economy of Bayelsa electoral war

Bayelsa State, better known as the Glory of all lands, had its governorship election on Saturday, December 5, 2015. Just like that of Kogi State earlier held on November 21, the Independent National Electoral Commission declared the election inconclusive. The Bayelsa election is one of the seven off-cycle elections in Nigeria occasioned by judicial pronouncements. The others are Anambra, Ondo, Edo, Ekiti, and Osun states.
Bayelsa is the state with the smallest population in the country. It was created on October 1, 1996 and has a population size of 1,704,515 according to the 2006 census figures.
The state derives its name from the acronym of three of its local government areas – Brass (BALGA), Yenagoa (YELGA) and Sagbama (SALGA). It is erroneously believed that Bayelsa is made up of only the Ijaw. This is untrue. The main ethnic groups in the state are the Ijaw, Kolokunu, Ekpetiama, Igbriran, Atissa and Biseni. There are 10 languages spoken in the state; of these, Izon, Nembe, Ogbia and Epie-Atissa are the most predominant.

The state has 663,748 registered voters (54 per cent male and 46 per cent female), 1,806 Polling Units, 105 Wards and eight local government areas and three senatorial districts, five federal constituencies, and 24 state constituencies. INEC deployed 9,827 poll workers to conduct the governorship poll. Twenty out of the 29 registered political parties in Nigeria fielded candidates in the December 5 poll although the result of the seven out of the eight Local Government Areas so far released by INEC as of Monday, December 7, 2015 showed that the election was a two-horse race between two “governors”. The incumbent, Henry Seriake Dickson of the Peoples Democratic Party and his immediate predecessor, Timipre Silva, of the All Progressives Congress. Before the cancellation of the polls in Southern Ijaw, results from seven of the eight local councils announced showed Dickson polled 105,748 votes while his closest challenger, Sylva, got 72,594 votes, a difference of 33,154 votes.
INEC published the time-table for the election on June 19, 2015 and since then a lot of plans and preparations were made by the various actors and stakeholders in the electoral process to ensure that there was a successful, credible and violence-free election. On the part of the electoral management body, it activated its Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security, deployed its Election Risk Management Tool to map out potential flashpoints and hot spots for election-related violence, conducted extensive voter education, women sensitisation programmes, organised an Electoral Alternative Dispute Resolution workshop for political parties and the civil society, held several stakeholders fora, got the contesting parties and candidates to sign a peace accord on November 10, trained poll workers, conducted Continuous Voter registration in September and ensured that their Permanent Voter Cards were printed and distributed ahead of the election day as well as made sure that adequate sensitive and non-sensitive election materials were deployed for the election.
The civil society organisations with support from donor agencies mobilised resources to organise political debates for the contestants, complemented INEC’s voter education exercise and also deployed accredited election observers across the length and breadth of the state. The security agencies were not left out of the plan. The Nigerian Police Force alone deployed 14,000 of its personnel under the leadership of a Deputy Inspector-General of Police; the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps deployed about 5,000 personnel as well while the military Joint Task Force also provided additional security. The media too carried out some voter education as part of its corporate social responsibility and ensured free flow of information from the election management body, the political parties and contestants to the public.
Ordinarily, given the elaborate preparations made for the election, nothing should go wrong. Those who believed that are na├»ve about Nigeria’s style of politics which is Machiavellian in nature. The end simply justifies the means. Election is war in Nigeria and for Bayelsa, the stakes are far higher than what obtains in other states. The state is located in the South-South geopolitical zone where militancy has been raging for over a decade. While it may be true that amnesty programme was instituted in 2009 during which thousands of military hardware including small arms and light weapons were surrendered by the Niger Delta militants in exchange for forgiveness of their economic crimes of kidnapping and sabotage of Nigeria’s oil facilities, the programme did not extinguish the flames of criminality in the Niger Delta region. It only reduced it. Cases of kidnapping for ransom and oil theft are still rampant in many of the six Niger Delta states, especially in Bayelsa.
It was in that volatile environment that INEC tried to conduct the election last Saturday. Meanwhile, the militants in the state have metamorphosed into private armies for politicians seeking to use both fair and foul means to wrest power in the oil-rich state. Politics wise, Bayelsa had hitherto been a de-facto one party state though a de-jure multi-party one. From 1999, the PDP had held sway and whoever won the party ticket was as good as having won the main election. The opposition parties operating in the state were just too weak to pose any electoral threat to the PDP in the state. All that changed early this year as many disgruntled elements who lost out of the PDP primaries held ahead of the 2015 elections massively defected to the APC. With the APC winning the 2015 presidential election, it became the new bride as many more politicians from the rival PDP and other opposition parties moved into the party in droves. Opposition politics is not lucrative in Nigeria given the winner-takes-all political system we run.
That is the emergence of Bayelsa as a de-facto two-party state with balance of power and balance of terror. It bears being mentioned that the December 5 election is the fiercest and most competitive election to be held in Bayelsa since 1999. Now, the calculations are multifold. The PDP wants to retain its stronghold having lost the entire governorship seats in the North-West and North-Central geopolitical zones to the APC in the last elections. Four out of six states in the North-East were won by the APC and an election petitions tribunal recently gave the party the fifth one in Taraba. In the South-West, only Ekiti and Ondo states are controlled by the PDP. It also controls only three out of the five states in the South-East. Meanwhile, five out of the six South-South states belong to the PDP. Bayelsa was thus for consolidation.
Besides, the state election is a referendum on former President Goodluck Jonathan and Dickson. The sentiment is that if the APC wins Bayelsa, then Jonathan, whose godson is the incumbent governor, will become politically irrelevant.
Economy wise, Bayelsa is an oil producing state and is one of the top four in terms of revenue allocation from the federation account. The state also enjoys projects from the Niger Delta Development Commission and the amnesty programme. It equally shares from the 13 per cent oil derivation revenue. The APC covets the oil and gas dividends accruing from the state and thus threw everything into the game to oust the PDP.
Indeed, the PDP and APC party stalwarts should be held responsible for the mayhem recorded on December 5 and 6 across Bayelsa State. I blame the security agents for not mopping up arms and ammunitions in the wrong hands ahead of the poll. As things stand, all the arrested perpetrators of electoral violence in the state should be successfully prosecuted to serve as a deterrent to others. INEC should ensure that adequate security is put in place for the supplementary election in Southern Ijaw where the poll was cancelled as a result of violence and electoral malpractices. It is a shame that politicians who of their own accord signed a peace pact treated it with disdain by observing it in breach.
Bayelsa, like Kogi before it, has demonstrated that politics is not all about service in Nigeria but more about self-interest and self-aggrandisement.
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