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Bizarre culture of nigeria’s violent elections

This article was written after the re-election of Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State for a second, that is of you call it an election. One social media user simply called it a “coup.”

By George Onmonya Daniel 

Violence has now become an accepted part of the culture of election in Nigeria. Political thuggery and political thugs have become normal words in our political lexicon. These political thugs are the ones who decide who wins election and not the voters. The elections in Kogi State and  Bayelsa State, Kogi State especially, on 16th November, 2019, was a complete sham and a shame to the nation’s democracy, to the President Buhari’s administration, and to Africa. The most worrisome part of it all is the silence of leaders who should condemn it in totality. 

Election violence didn’t start with the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, but the madness was taken to next level of crass impunity without fear or care by perpetrators who are sponsored by politicians and sometimes the state and back by the federal government. The Centre for Democratic Development (CDD) has said that security officials were complicit in the violence and disruption that characterised the Kogi State elections. Jibrin Ibrahim, a senior fellow of the CDD, said this on Monday, 18th November, 2018, during a press conference in Abuja.

Video evidences and  journalists in Kogi witnessed how armed men, including those with police escorts, raided polling units and snatched ballot boxes. The police later claimed that those were ‘fake policemen’ that were involved in the act.

The electoral commission, INEC, has also condemned cases of thuggery and violence reported during the election.

INEC regretted the incidents of violence despite the efforts of the commission and the political parties to promote peaceful elections, including several engagements with stakeholders and the signing of Peace Accords.

At least two local observer groups, YIAGA and Situation Room, have called for the outright cancellation of the Kogi election.

Addressing journalists, Mr Ibrahim said security agencies saddled with the constitutional responsibility of maintaining the rule of law and the defence of citizens and their rights, were complicit in organising the disruption of the elections.

They, very directly, engaged in attacks at polling units for the carting away of electoral materials and for producing an outcome that is not in conformity with the wishes of voters, he said.

He also expressed concern about the direct contradiction of massive police deployment for the elections in both states.

“But on the ground, that massive deployment was not visible to eyes. Maybe they took another form because you know we are in Africa. We went through a lot of the roads leading out of Lokoja and there were no checkpoints and because the police were not there to check, those who were moving around, were armed thugs in vans, carrying weapons and moving systematically from polling units.

“This is a direct indication that there was state complicit in what happened,” he said.

He called on President Muhammadu Buhari as chairman of the police council, to set up a panel to establish why state agencies refused to play their constitutional roles in Kogi elections.

There is nothing INEC can do if armed thugs with AK-47 are allowed to move from polling units to polling units. They had to run when the thugs came because the thugs were armed and they were not, he added.

A senior Nigerian lawyer, Femi Falana, who was present, said the election report of the CDD has become a recurring decimal.

He called on the CDD and other Civil Society Organisations to ensure prosecution of those responsible for causing mayhem during the election.

“Beyond the press conference and the call of the president which may not be heeded because as of this morning, the president has congratulated the winner of Bayelsa elections and I think that of Kogi will come any moment from now…

“It is high time the CDD and other CSOs sat down to ensure that the criminal elements subverting the democratic process in Nigeria were brought to book. The government will not do it. 

“My suggestion is that CDD should coordinate other stakeholders to pursue the electoral offenders in Kogi and Bayelsa so we can make a point that those who fought for the rickety democratic process will not allow it to derail,” the senior lawyer said.

When asked if the CDD calls for the cancellation of the election, Mr Ibrahim said that may not be as effective as hoped.

“We have gone beyond that point because we saw what happened in Kano. We complained…it could give us worse. So we can cancel and the same thing will repeat itself, if not worse.”

Before the 2019 Presidential election, political thugs snatch ballot boxes and run away with it, they do it with fear and avoided being caught, but we noticed a new level of brazenness in the Presidential election that brought President Buhari back re-elected. The images we saw on videos were thugs who walked confidently into polling stations, snatch the ballot boxes, tore the ballot papers in front of everyone, with the security operatives watching and then set the ballot papers on fire. That’s the new normal in Nigeria’s election. 

This style of rigging election was widespread in Lagos during the presidential

election where political thugs stormed polling stations they know their candidate cannot win and the numbers may threaten their opponent and confidently snatch the ballot boxes at gunpoint and destroyed the ballot papers. A young man was shot and killed in Ibadan where political thugs snatched ballot papers and were carting away with it. These video evidence are all over the social media and it was perpetrated by both the APC and the PDP in their strongholds. 

However, since 1999, there isn’t a time where state power has been used to manipulate election like it has happened in 2019. 

Looking at the election, Professor Moses Ochonu, a Nigerian academic, historian, author and professor of African History at Vanderbilt UniversityNashville, Tennessee, USA, has this to say, “Ok, we all know that Buhari refused to sign the revised electoral act, which provides for electronic voting and vote collation, because he was afraid of defeat in the presidential election. 

“That election has been “won” and the “victory” has been upheld by his appeals and supreme courts. Why did he not sign the bill after his objective was achieved?  He could have prevented or minimized the debacle predictably unfolding in Kogi and Beyelsa states. 

“Without the electronic voting, collation, and other safeguards outlined in the revised electoral act, elections in Nigeria are going to get progressively worse and deadlier. 

“Kogi and Bayelsa have made the case loudly and tragically that we’re wasting our time and wasting lives and treasure to produce shams. 

“The incompetence and complicity of INEC, Yakubu Mahmoud, and the security agents have of course compounded the harvest of blood and violence.”

Asaju Tunde, Canadian based Daily Trust columnist wrote that, “The Coronation of idiocy ongoing in Kogi must be condemned. This is not election where helicopters were used to help snatch ballot boxes in Lokongoma, while the police shot in the air to scare people. Masked miscreants disrupted voting at Crowther Memorial, Lokoja’s largest ward according to #Channelstv. In most parts of Okunland, opposition members were arrested on Friday.

“#MBuhari, and his wife, Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai went to Lokoja and institutionalized terror, rigging and ballot snatching in their bid to subvert the will and wish of the people to, at least change the face of cluelessness.

“There’s always a day of reckoning.”

Posting the video of the violence in both Kogi and Bayelsa, Jaafar Jaafar, Publisher/CEO of Daily Nigerian newspaper wrote, “Never in my wildest dreams have I thought this would happen under Buhari. When are we getting it right in this country?” 

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) “to investigate whether the persistent crimes of corruption, violence, and killings during elections in Nigeria, most recently in Bayelsa and Kogi states, and the repeated failure of the Nigerian authorities to address the crimes amount to violence against Nigerians and crimes against humanity within the jurisdiction of the ICC.”

As condemnations trails Nigeria’s recent election, with people killed, even nephew to one of the contestants gunned down at a polling station of which he later died in a hospital, President Buhari quickly congratulated the APC winners but no condolence message to the families of those killed when going to exercise their rights to vote. For the APC it was celebration. 

Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Jama’atul Nasril Islam (JNI), MURIC, and most religious leaders have not condemned the election violence. Royal fathers, who are nowadays in the pockets of politicians, have been mute. 

With the silent acceptance of powerless Nigerians over this bizarre type of democracy, this style of stealing power by the gun in the name of democracy has come to stay. One commentator on Facebook simply described it all as a “coup.” 

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