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Kogi gov’ship: Between ballots and bullets

Incidents of vandalism, arson, and thuggery in Kogi State have cast a frightening shadow on its political horizon ahead of the November 11 governorship poll.…

Incidents of vandalism, arson, and thuggery in Kogi State have cast a frightening shadow on its political horizon ahead of the November 11 governorship poll. These reported violent activities have caused apprehension across the state as preparations for the election gather momentum, Daily Trust reports.

A few months back, the public space was awash with news of the destruction and burning of party offices, posters, billboards, personal assault, and other violent activities in some parts of the west and east senatorial districts of the state.

Daily Trust reports that some crises were reported in   Lokoja, Anyigba, Ejule, Ajaka, Odolu, Okpo, and Aloma that sent shock waves across the state.

For instance, on Friday 4th August 2023, Peddy Dosantos, a known staunch supporter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Abocho, in Dekina Local Government Area of the state had a raw deal in the hands of suspected political thugs.

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Dosatos, who was allegedly beaten to a stupor on this fateful day by suspected members of a rival political party who were on “road work” in the area relapsed into a coma. According to reports, the offence of the young man was his alleged refusal to dump his party for his assailants’ own.

By press time, Dosantos was said to be still lying critically ill in a nearby hospital over the encounter.

Odekina Ojonimi, a leader from the Biraidu community in Dekina LGA said the Abocho incident was just a tip of similar ugly incidents that had characterised the land over the vaulting ambition of politicians to retain or acquire power.

“The political scenario in Kogi State can best be described as an unceasing roller-coaster. For years, it has been a violent ride on a slippery track that was dotted with twists and turns, as gladiators jostle for power.

“The elections during the transition of power in the state had always been coated with thuggery, violence, intrigues, and maneuverings, with the citizens paying for it.

“The increase of violence across the state at this level of preparation calls for concern by peace-loving people. We are just praying it will not snowball into the record of the 2019 election that broke all records of violence in the state”, said Ojonimi, a stakeholder in the Kogi East district.

Daily Trust reports that apparently miffed by the spate of violence that greeted the  National and State Assembly election in Kogi, the AIG zone 8, Asafa Adekunle held a meeting with the stakeholders and warned all to operate within the enabling laws for rancour-free politicking to ensure free and fair, peaceful gubernatorial election in November.

The stakeholders’ meeting involved leaders of political parties, INEC representatives, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and traditional rulers, religious bodies, including youth groups, and all the heads of security agencies in the state, including other interest groups.

AIG Zone Adekunle told politicians: “Violence will not solve anything. Go and canvass, convince people to vote for you or your candidate; sell your policies to them. Tell the electorate why you are a better candidate than the rest contestants in the race.

“Burning of billboards, posters and other forms of thuggery will not win you the election. The introduction of BVAS in our electoral system has put an end to it.”

The AIG who vowed to deal decisively with politicians that refused to play the game by its rules warned them and their supporters to desist from any violent act before, during and after the gubernatorial election.

However, a few weeks after the police’s sermon, arsonists, thugs, and vandals had intensified their nefarious activities, having field days, creating fears, panic, and tension in the political atmosphere in the confluence state.

According to a youth leader from the west district, Sunday Daramola who said he was part of the stakeholders’ meeting, it’s disheartening to be hearing Kogi’s name in the negative and violent news always. “Celebrated violent incidents were recorded recently that smear the name of the state with impunity and thuggery. Our security can do better by upping up their game so that such plans can be frustrated or nipped in the bud”, Daramola said.

At the centre of the growing political violence are the ruling party, All Progressives Congress (APC), and members of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) who were locked in a battle of interest and wit, as they trade words to justify their actions or inactions.

Some celebrated violent incidents that drew heavy traffic in the public, include, the convoy row at Banda-Lokoja, involving Governor Yahaya Bello and the SDP flag bearer, Muritala Yakubu Ajaka, and his supporters; the vandalism and burning of the SDP campaign office in Lokoja and Radio Kogi, Ochaja.

There was also the destruction of APC and SDP campaign offices in Dekina, the headquarters of Dekina LGA; vandalism of APC party billboards in Anyigba and Ankpa, including the killing of a vigilante in Ankpa attracted a lot of public discourse.

The tension created by these unfolding violent events became frightening, as it sent shock waves throughout the land. This prompted the police authorities, in conjunction with sister security operatives, to take action aimed at dousing fear and instilling confidence in members of the public that the security agents were on top of the situation.

Accordingly, acting on security reports, the joint security team moved against an alleged criminal kingpin and his gang members, Kabir Bala at Ejule in Ofu LGA and got him “neutralised” during an operation.

While the operation was hailed in certain quarters, some lawyers raised dust, describing the alleged death of the criminal gang leader in the operation as extra-judicial killing in the eyes of the law.

“The Nigerian Constitution does not permit extrajudicial killings. That is what the security agencies have done. Kogi State is in danger. Democracy in the state is in danger. Everyone lives in fear”, said Jibrin S. Okutekpa (SAN) in reaction to the operation.

However, the former Kogi State CP, Hakeem Adesina Yusuf said the men of the joint security team acted in self defence, saying the operatives came under fire from the criminals during the operation.

Kabir Bala was alleged to be on the wanted list for years over various offences, ranging from the killing of PDP woman leader, Mrs. Salome Abuh at Ochadamu in the 2019 election to kidnappings and armed robbery in the east district.

Equally, the SDP condemned the incident of violence that took centre stage during the period of the election.

The deputy governorship candidate of the party, Chief Sam Ranti Abenemi, described the attacks on their facilities as most unfortunate and unwarranted, stressing that the action remains one of the undemocratic and barbaric acts recently.

On its part, the Kogi State government has condemned the spate of violent activities as the electioneering activities progress.

Responding to the recent violence, the government warned criminals and hoodlums to steer clear of the Kogi governorship poll as the government would deal with criminals.

“The Kogi State government will continue to support the freedom of anyone and everyone to aspire to positions in line with the ethos of democratic values. Attacking the campaign office of any political party is criminal and would not be condoned”, said Evangelist Kingsley Fanwo, Commissioner of Information and Communication.

He called on security agencies to investigate and apprehend perpetrators of the alleged attacks and bring them to justice in order to send a strong warning to hoodlums that the governorship election will be decided by the ballots, not the bullets”.

Kogi State Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Dr. Gabriel Haley Longpet said that the last election witnessed instances of instability and destruction of lives and property at some voting points, urging the stakeholders to operate within the ambit of the electoral law.

He stated that the state has acquired a bad reputation for election misconduct in recent polls because many of the gladiators see the election as a do-or-die affair.

“This is the battle of the ballots, not the battle of the guns. We should try to disabuse the minds of the people on what Kogi has been known for when it comes to elections. Any political party, however small, has a right to campaign for a vote anywhere as long as they notify relevant security agencies”, he said.

Chief Atadoga Usman, an elder and community leader from Anyigba in the Dekina Local Government of the state said violence is like a “prerogative” of all the parties fielding candidates in the election all this while in Kogi.

“You cannot pinpoint a particular party in terms of election violence in the state. All the politicians in the state in their bid to win by all means, deploy all types of tactics to the game. It’s just the question of capacity and effectiveness,” he said.

He said if the state must have a rancour-free and conduct fair elections, the security agents must be firm in their actions, the electoral umpire must ensure fairness in their dealings, and political gladiators must operate within the ambit of the law of the election.

Chairperson of Kogi NGOs Network (KONGONET), Ambassador Idris Ozovehe Muraina, said curbing political violence in the coming election in Kogi requires a comprehensive approach involving multiple stakeholders and strategies.

Ambassador Muraina said that individuals involved in perpetrating political violence should be held accountable for their actions, including establishing a strong legal framework that punishes perpetrators of violence and ensures swift and impartial justice.

By Fidelis Mac-Leva (Abuja) & Tijani Labaran (Lokoja)

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