By Tijani Labaran, Baba Martins & Abbas Jimoh, Lokoja
The Kogi State gubernatorial election might have come and gone, but the intrigues that played out in determining the winner have left a pocket of protests, condemnation and commendation on its trail.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had declared Ahmed Usman Ododo, the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), as the winner of the election, beating his closest rival, Murtala Ajaka of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) with almost 190,000 votes.
Barring any unforeseen circumstance, the incumbent governor of the state, Yahaya Bello’s second tenure in office will expire on January 27, 2024 and he would hand over to the governor-elect.
The outgoing governor hails from the Kogi Central senatorial zone of the state, same zone with the governor-elect.
In the run-up to the election, Governor Bello never hid his intention to ensure that his kinsman, Ododo succeeded him. So he offloaded all the tricks in his bags into the game for the candidate of the ruling party to succeed him.
Equally, the stakeholders from the East senatorial district see the election as another window of opportunity to enthrone their kinsman to the corridor of power in the state.
In the same vein, the people of West senatorial district, particularly, the Okun Yoruba-speaking people, have been clamouring for the chance to be given to them to have a taste of power for the first time. Thus, they saw a chance, albeit short-lived, in either of Dino Melaye of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Leke Abejide of the African Democratic Party (ADP), while the Igala-speaking people of Kogi East saw the chance to return to Lugard House in Muritala Ajaka.
Daily Trust Saturday reports that with the flame of ethnic interest, the election became so fierce that the concerned stakeholders unleashed intrigues, twists and turns to the contest to achieve victory.
According to Dr Julius Adewuyi, a Lokoja-based public affairs analyst, “Election in Kogi has often been characterised with violence and intrigues, with the highest bidder and the master of the game coasting home to victory.
“We are not surprised to hear of the latest lexicon of filled -result sheets before election is held, or non-availability of result sheets to record votes. The politicians are winning, but our democracy is gradually dying.”
The ethnicity agenda
The three senatorial districts in the state are dominated by three major tribes, the lgala (East), Okun-Yoruba (West) and Ebira (Central). Other minority tribes like Bassa-Kwumo, Bassa-nge (Nupe), Igbira-mozum, Kankanda and Ogori and Magogo co-exist with these major tribes in each districts. Thus the top three candidates, Ododo, Ajaka and Melaye, were championing the agenda of each of the major tribes.
This indication was made manifest by the results of the election so declared, making good the earlier thinking of political analysts that election may go in ethnic way.
The pattern of voting as indicated by the declared results showed that Ajaka, who won in eight out of nine councils in the East senatorial district to have received 227,610 votes. Ododo and Melaye got 53,114 and 15,439 votes in the process respectively from this district.
In the central district, Ododo got 306,207 votes, winning all the five councils, Ajaka received 9,756 votes, with Melaye netting only 5,759 votes. But Melaye’s vote was heavily split in his stronghold (West), where he couldn’t win any of the seven local government areas.
The ‘miracle’ of uneven voters turnout
The uneven distribution of voters turnout on the election day also played a significant role in determining the winner and losers of the poll.
It was observed that while there was an abysmal turnout of voters in the East and West zones, there was massive turnout of voters in Central, the APC stronghold, with two local councils contributing over 200,000 votes to the coffers of the winner.
In Ibaji Local Government in the East district, 25,099 was accredited, out of 90,556. Also, in Dekina Local Government Area of the same East zone, which had the highest number of eligible voters with 187,881, only 60,588 came out for the election. The same scenario was experienced in Lokoja Local Government in the West district, where 36,526 voters were accredited out of 157,248 registered voters. But in Adavi Local Government of Central, 103,251 out of 114,663 eligible voters turned out for the poll. The situation was the same in Okene Local Government Area in the same zone, where 141,898 out of 151,243 eligible voters turned out.
Allegations of rigging, vote-buying
No sooner had the election started than allegations of electoral malpractices went viral in both the social and conventional media, including independent observers, candidates and stakeholders.
Among others, issues that characterised the election included incidents of vote- buying, alleged over-voting, filled result sheets before election and the allegation of non-availability of result sheets to record votes, including cancellation of result in perceived enclaves of some governorship candidates and alleged non usage of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS).
Daily Trust Saturday gathered across the state that few hours after the election commenced, agents of various parties besieged several polling units and started trading money for votes.
“We saw operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in our polling unit at Crowther Memorial College, Lokoja, but party agents did the transactions smoothly without the anti-graft agents decoding it,” Jumai Abdulsalam, a voter said.
According to Desmond Obaro, an SDP stakeholder in Ogori/ Magogo, an electoral official was caught at Ogori polling unit with filled result sheets while election was yet to commence.
The PDP candidate and some civil rights groups, particularly theYouth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement (YIAGA), had raised the alarm over prefilled result sheets, especially at Ogori/Magongo Local Government Area in the Central district.
According to the PDP candidate, a serving member of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) was caught with over N10 million and filled result sheets in the Central district to that effect.
He also alleged that his votes were cancelled in most polling units he had supporters over the rival party, particularly the APC.
Equally, the SDP candidate alleged that the election in the Central district was compromised, alleging that INEC officials had made available, sensitive electoral materials to the APC to fill the result sheets before the election was conducted.
Stakeholders in the electoral system, including observers, also alleged that cancellation of results was done in Ibaji, Lokoja and IgalaMela, including several local governments in the West and East councils, a move some of them described as a strategy to favour the APC candidate.
But the INEC returning officer, Professor Johnson Urama, said the cancellation in few areas was due to the none usage of the BVAS and over-voting.
The electoral body also confirmed allegations of malpractices raised against some of its officials.
The INEC national commissioner and member, Information and Voter Education Committee, Mallam Mohammed Kudu Haruna said, “Some members of staff of the commission were caught with completed result sheets while election was still ongoing, which led to the suspension of election in the affected polling units.”
However, Prof Urama said the number of cancelled votes in the areas where election did not hold was 16, 247 and could not substantially affect the outcome of the result. He, therefore, declared the APC candidate, Ododo as winner of the election.
Although the election was adjudged to be relatively peaceful, an alleged ballot snatcher, Umoru Iduh, was reportedly shot dead at the Agala-Ogane polling unit in nyigba metropolis in Dekina Local Government area in Kogi East.
Meanwhile, the SDP candidate, Ajaka and the PDP candidate, Melaye, have indicated their interests to seek redress at the governorship tribunal over alleged electoral malpractices.
Both candidates have reportedly given the electoral commission notice to that effect, claiming to have overwhelming evidences to support their allegations.
Looking at the above scenario, stakeholders believe that while the election has been concluded, it might still be too early to determine the next governor of the state.