Ahead of the governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states on Saturday, President Muhammadu Buhari and his predecessor, Dr Goodluck Jonathan on Thursday condemned violence that had characterised campaigns in the two states.
Jonathan, who handed over to Buhari in 2015, described signals coming from the two states as disturbing.
On Wednesday, one person was killed at the Peoples Democratic Party rally in Bayelsa State. Last month, a man was killed at Anyigba, Kogi State, after hoodlums attacked a convoy of governorship candidate of the PDP in Kogi State, Mr Musa Wada.
He expressed concern about violence and killings in the two states, saying this would not have happened if Nigeria had got to a point where voter cards mattered.
On his part, Buhari asked security agencies to ensure that citizens were allowed to vote at tomorrow’s elections to be conducted in the two states.
The President further directed that all cases of ballot box-snatching should be handled by legal means.
Buhari stated, “I call on voters in Bayelsa and Kogi states to exercise their franchise in a peaceful and orderly manner and in line with the law in all situations.
“Law enforcement officials must ensure that citizens are allowed to vote without harassment and intimidation and any attempt to steal or hijack ballots must be stopped using all legal means.
“In all democratic elections, there are bound to be winners and losers and the elections in Bayelsa and Kogi will not be different.
“All candidates should be ready to accept the outcomes and wherever they are dissatisfied, they should follow due process of the law in seeking redress. There must not be a resort to self-help”, a State House statement quoted Buhari as saying.
Violence during campaigns saddening – Buhari
The Presidency reviewed the campaigns ahead of the polls, noting that the cases of violence recorded in some areas were saddening and unnecessary.
The statement, which was signed by presidential media aide, Mr Garba Shehu, added, “On Saturday, November 16, voters in two states, Bayelsa and Kogi, will be left alone to decide who takes charge of the administration of their important states for the next four years.
“Since the ban on campaigns was lifted a few weeks ago, their citizens have been called to attend political rallies of various hues and were bombarded with advertising on billboards, radio and TV; texts, tweets, WhatsApp and Facebook posts in campaigns that sadly, have so far recorded not a few uninspiring incidents of violence and of intemperate use of language.
But Jonathan described the signals from Bayelsa and Kogi states as worrisome, saying that only electronic voting process could stop thuggery, violence during elections in Nigeria.
Jonathan expressed sadness that people were already being killed when election had not begun, adding that the only way out was electronic voting.
He spoke in Port Harcourt on Thursday during the presentation of a book authored by a former deputy governor of Rivers State, Sir Gabriel Toby, titled ‘In the Cause of Service: Memoir of Gabriel Tamunobiebere George Toby’.
The former President stressed that the people would be able to elect those they believed in should the country begin to vote electronically.
He expressed optimism that electronic voting would work in Nigeria, owing to the fact that several Nigerians transferred billions of dollars from one bank to the other through electronic means.
“Look at what is happening now; we have governorship elections in two states in Kogi and Bayelsa. The signals coming from both are quite disturbing.
“The use of thugs, shooting guns and our people are already being killed when the voting process has not even started is disturbing. This would not happen if we have got to a point in this country where voter card matters.
“That is why I have always advocated electronic voting. We must go into electronic voting. If people these days can transfer billions of dollars from one bank to the other, using electronic means, then I believe that we can do electronic voting perfectly and that will ensure that the use of thugs during elections would not come up again.”
Jonathan further noted that political offices in the country did not change their holders, rather, the people with low integrity were being voted into offices.
He added that when the country developed to a point where voter card mattered, politicians would mend their ways.
“My opinion is that people don’t change when they get into political office; we vote people that we don’t know into offices and it is difficult to know the true character of a person; it is hard to understand, but the fact is we don’t really vote people we know. People tend to use different means to get into office.
“When we develop as a nation to the point where our voter cards matter, where the people can vote, who they believe in, the behaviour of the politicians would change; politicians would stop recruiting group of boys and feeding them like dogs, calling them thugs to be used for elections while their children attend the best universities abroad,” the ex-President added.
Police warn troublemakers
In Kogi State, a Deputy Inspector-General of Police (Operation), AbdulMajeed Ali, warned those planning to snatch ballot boxes during Saturday’s elections.
Addressing a press conference in Lokoja on Thursday, Ali said that the Inspector-General, Mohammed Adamu, had deployed enough personnel to adequately police the state and deal with any eventuality during the election.
The DIG stated, “We are determined to provide an enabling environment for a peaceful election. We are tired of being held to ransom in Kogi and Bayelsa states at the turn of every election, we will put a stop to that this time around”.
He said that the police had undertaken a security threat assessment in both Kogi and Bayelsa states and had identified possible risks, located trouble spots, and classified individuals and groups that could constitute security challenges to the process.
Ali said, “The outcome of this intelligence-driven initiative guided our election deployment plans and informed our post-election security projections.
The DIG said that the police were determined to create an environment that was secure and peaceful enough to give confidence to the political actors to undertake their campaigns and other political activities and for the citizens to freely exercise their electoral franchise.”
Kogi PDP, APC trade blame ‘imported thugs’
TheMusa Wada/Sam Aro Campaign Organisation of the PDP raised the alarm that thugs had been ‘imported’ into Kogi State by the APC.
The Director, Media and Publicity of the campaign organisation, Mr Frank Adejoh-Audu, in a statement, urged the police to quickly arrest and flush out the hoodlums before their presence.
He said, “Our campaign has been told by insiders in the Bello camp, of how the hoodlums were brought in from other APC states, with instructions to unleash violence, including killing, harassment and snatching of ballot boxes to derail the smooth conduct of the election and ensure that votes do not count.”
But the APC urged the PDP to stop spreading rumours and fake news. The Chairman, Media and Publicity Committee of the Bello/ Onoja Campaign Council, Mr Kingsley Fanwo spoke while addressing journalists after the APC mega rally in Lokoja,.
He charged security agencies to fish out the “imported killers.” He accused the PDP of importing thugs into the state.
According to him, the PDP raised “false alarm” to scare voters from coming out to exercise their franchise.
PDP alleges OPC invasion of Kogi
On Thursday, the Kogi State PDP Campaign Council raised the alarm that members of the Oodua Peoples Congress had allegedly invaded Kogi West and Kogi East senatorial districts for the governorship election in the state.
The Deputy Director, Public Communication of the campaign council, Mr. Austin Okai, in a statement, sought the intervention of traditional rulers over the alleged invasion.
He said the OPC members were brought into the state from Ekiti State to cause mayhem during the election.
He also alleged that the OPC members were brought to aid the alleged rigging plans of the All Progressives Congress in the Saturday election.
According to him, the OPC members, who would wear fake military uniforms were brought to the Kogi West and Kogi East to stifle the opposition and ensure the victory of Governor Yahaya Bello.
He appealed to the Department of State Services to be weary of the antics of the people that were determined to cause crisis during the election, particularly in the strongholds of the opposition.
He said the OPC members had already been drafted to strategic areas of the state with the aim of taking instructions from government on how to perpetrate their illegal acts.
He pleaded with the traditional rulers, as the custodians of the society, to prevail upon the governor not to throw the state into crisis.
Efforts by one of our of correspondents to get the response of the media aide to the Kogi State Governor, Mr Kingsley Fanwo, proved abortive as his mobile indicated it was not available. He had yet to respond to a text message on the subject as of the time of sending this report..
Secondus condemns killing in Bayelsa
The National Chairman of the PDP, Mr. Uche Secondus, called on security agencies, particularly the military, to allow the people of Bayelsa and Kogi states to vote candidates of their choice.
Secondus, in a statement by his media aide, Mr. Ike Abonyi, condemned the killing of a man in Nembe, Bayelsa State on Wednesday.
He urged security operatives not to allow themselves into areas that would lower their professional values in the eyes of well-meaning election observers and watchers.
He stated that the disqualification of the APC candidate in Bayelsa State, Mr. David Lyon, should send a message to everyone that God did not want bloodletting of innocent citizens.
He said, “Nigerians expect all stakeholders in the Bayelsa election to see divine hand in the disqualification of blood thirsty APC out of the race and respect it. That is a consequence of impunity and it should send a signal to all.”
According to him, from inception APC knew that they were never wanted in Bayelsa State but allegedly continued with the help of operatives to heat up the state to frighten voters out of the ballot box.
Meanwhile, election workers were stranded on Thursday as dearth of accommodation hit Bayelsa State ahead of the Saturday poll.
The PUNCH correspondent, who monitored the development, noticed that individuals had hurriedly arranged private houses to serve as accommodation to visitors in the state.
Policemen, journalists and other election workers who would be on duty during the polls were seen milling the streets searching for accommodation.
“We are stranded. We have been looking for accommodation since 10am today (Thursday) to no avail,” a security officer told our correspondent.
Bayelsa, Kogi polls ‘ll hold as scheduled, says INEC
Also, on Thursday, INEC said the governorship elections in Bayelsa and Kogi states would hold as scheduled despite the court judgments.
The Chief Press Secretary to the INEC chairman, Rotimi Oyekanmi, stated this in a WhatsApp message following enquiries by journalists on the outcome of the meeting held by INEC national commissioners.
He said, “Dear Colleagues, the meeting has ended but we are not issuing a statement. However, our elections in both Kogi and Bayelsa will go on as planned.”
US to put instigators of violence under watch
On its part, the United States Embassy said that America and its allies would be paying close attention to the actions of individuals who interfered in the democratic process in Kogi and Bayelsa governorship elections holding on Saturday.
The US said it was looking out for anyone who might instigate violence against the civilian population before, during, or after the elections.
Stating that it did not endorse any specific candidate or party, the US explained that it supported a genuinely free, fair, transparent, and peaceful electoral process.
The US Embassy, in a statement in Abuja on Thursday, noted that the conduct of the elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states was important not only for Nigeria but for the African continent.
It said, “The United States Government does not support any specific candidate or party in any Nigerian election.
“The United States supports the Nigerian democratic process itself. We support a genuinely free, fair, transparent, and peaceful electoral process.
“We and other democratic nations will be paying close attention to the actions of individuals who interfere in the democratic process or instigate violence against the civilian population before, during, or after the elections.”
Meanwhile, the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution has appealed for the peaceful conduct of the elections.
The Institute called on the citizens of the two states to conduct themselves peacefully before, during and after the elections to avoid a crisis.
The Director-General of the Institute, Dr Bakut Bakut, said, “Election is not a do-or-die affair. It is a process of electing leaders, who would govern the state, thus, the need to avoid violence so that whoever emerges as governor will inherit peaceful states.”
He urged the politicians to stop inducing youths to cause trouble during elections, pointing out that it was only in a peaceful atmosphere development could be achieved.
Election is not war, Atiku tells politicians
Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar urged candidates to avoid violence. He said in a statement from his media office, that election was not war.
He urged the people of Bayelsa and Kogi states to take serious interest in the choices they make on Saturday as they cast their votes in the governorship elections in both states.
John Ameh, Chukwudi Akasike, Friday Olokor, Adelani Adepegba, Success Nwogu, Sampson Itode, Tony Okafor and Gbenga Odogu