By Eric Elezuo
The quest for the next governors of Kogi and Bayelsa states did not begin today, but will surely climax today. In Kogi, the battle as it seems is pitted between the incumbent governor, Mr. Yahaya Bello of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Alhaji Musa Wada of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the surprised entrant, who seems to have taken the shine off the other two major contestants, Mrs Natasha Hadiza Akpoti of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). While in Bayelsa State, the duo of Douye Diri of the PDP and David Lyon of the APC will be the main contestants. This is taking for granted that Lyon has already been jolted as a result of a court judgment which annulled his candidature just 48 hours to the election. He got a reprieve however, hours later when another court judgment ordered a stay of execution.
The battle without in both states, mincing words, is far from fair as the contestants have been locked in a free for all, using every manner of aspersion as weapon to get the better of their opponents.
Ever since individual party primaries, especially in Kogi State, were held in September, each of the contestants has been on each other’s neck, attempting to prove that the other is not eligible to contest the election albeit with deeply expressed misgivings, creating an atmosphere that suggest that the November 16 governorship election in the state will be anything but peaceful.
The first sign of discontent reared its ugly with the disqualification of the candidate of the SDP by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The commission had refused to accept the candidature of Khalid in replacement of the earlier nominated deputy governor, Mohammed Yakubu, on the grounds that Yakubu was not qualified in the first place to be fielded as a deputy governorship candidate in the election on account of his age.
The SDP reacted speedily, rejecting INEC’s disqualification, and saying “Our principal having declared her interest to contest for the governorship election in the party and went through the party scrutiny and had subjected herself to the internal democratic mechanism, (Primaries) and emerged victorious with her name forwarded to INEC within the timeframe stipulated by the law and have met all eligibility criteria for running for the governor, its therefore not an issue or any contemplation to be on the ballot box come November 16th.”
They however went to court, and in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/1129/2019 and filed on Oct. 3 by their lawyer, Ola Olanipekun, SAN, sought a declaration of the court that INEC’s declaration vide a letter with reference number: LEG/PP/23/T/107 that “the nomination of Mohammed Yakubu as the deputy governor of the SDP in the gubernatorial election is “invalid” on the grounds of qualification is ultra vires the statutory powers of INEC and it’s therefore null and void.”
In its judgment, the Federal High Court, Abuja, and presided over by Justice Folashade Ogunbanjo-Giwa directed INEC to restore the SDP candidate, Mrs Natasha Akpoti, on the ballot, pointing out that the electoral umpire lacked the powers to prevent any candidate from participating in the election without a court order. The judgment just about one week to the election proper.
Meanwhile, Akpoti in what looked like a reprisal attack approached the Federal High Court in Abuja, seeking the disqualification of Yahaya Bello over alleged double registration as a voter.
In a suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/1221/2019 and dated October 10, Akpoti said Bello allegedly committed the offence of double registration on May 23, 2017 at the government house in Lokoja after he had reportedly registered as a voter in Abuja in 2011.
The suit has the All Progressives Congress (APC) (first defendant) and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) (second defendant) as defendants.
Akpoti formulated three questions for determination by the court which reads; “Whether Yahaya Bello, the candidate of the 1st Defendant (APC) in the forthcoming Kogi governorship poll being organised by the 2nd Defendant (INEC) has by his act of double registration committed a wrongful act capable of disqualifying him as a voter or person to be voted for having violated the provisions of Section 24(E) of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended).
“Whether Yahaya Bello, candidate of the 1st defendant, is on account of his double registration as a voter, a fit and proper person to be sponsored as a governorship to candidate by the 1st Defendant or allowed by the 2nd Defendant to contest as a governorship candidate the forthcoming Kogi state governorship election.
“Whether Yahaya Bello, the candidate of the 1st defendant in the forthcoming Kogi state governorship election is not liable to be disqualified and/or barred from participating or contesting in and/or voting for any political office for the next 10 years, pursuant to his flagrant violation of the provisions of Section 24(E) of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended).”
The plaintiff further asked the court to declare that Bello violated section 24(E) of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) by virtue of his act of double registration as a voter, and a declaration that he is liable to be disqualified and/or barred from contesting, participating and/or voting in the November 16 Kogi governorship poll “on account of his wrongful act of gross violation of Section 24(E) of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended), which act of violation robs him of the capacity or vires to contest the forthcoming Kogi State governorship election.”
She also prayed for an order of the court disqualifying and/or barring Bello, or directing INEC to disqualify the APC candidate from the governorship race or for any political office for the next 10 years and an order of mandamus compelling or mandating INEC to investigate the allegation of double registration against Bello and as well prosecute him on completion of his first tenure of office as governor in January, 2020, among others.
Akpoti’s action brought her face to face against the ruling party, and the battle line was drawn. The APC saw in her a threat, not electorally per se, but in unearthing the hitherto hidden fact, a fact capable of truncating the second ambition of the incumbent governor. The supporters of the governor therefore, took it upon themselves to teach her a lesson. During the weekend before the election therefore, alleged loyalists of the APC and Yahaya Bello invaded the SDP secretariat in Lokoja and vandalised it, returning later under the cover of darkness to raze it down.
The SDP candidate had pointedly accused Yahaya Bello for masterminding the attacks, stating that he was not fit to be governor. She also accused the police of complicity, claiming that the Police gave the hoodlums cover while they perpetrated their act of terror.
Akpoti and SDP cried foul, but until this day, no action worth mentioning has been taken by the law enforcement agencies as no arrest has been made so far. The helplessness of the security personnel was further exposed when a Mrs Akpoti and her encourage were denied entry into the stakeholders meeting venue. The chairman of SDP, Kogi chapter was also manhandled and property of the party including cars were destroyed.
But a lawyer from Kabba/Bunu Local Government Area of Kogi State, Femi Joseph, also asked the Federal High Court in Abuja to disqualify the Peoples Democratic Party’s governorship candidate in Kogi State, Musa Wada, from participating in the election.
The plaintiff, who filed the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/1147/2019, alleged that Wada submitted false information about his primary school certificate to the Independent National Electoral Commission as the PDP’s candidate for the poll.
He alleged that the certificate, which Wada claimed to have obtained in 1973 in the old Kwara State, was either a fake or forged.
The tension reached a crescendo with the calling from prominent organisations and individuals for all aggressors to sheath their swords and let peace reign.
One of such individuals was former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, who urged the candidates in Kogi and Bayelsa states to avoid violence, saying that election is not war.
“Election is about the people and not a war against the people,” Atiku said.
He said it was pertinent for all political actors to exhibit necessary decorum and sportsmanship while urging all security agencies on election duty to do their jobs with utmost professionalism.
In the same vein, the Executive Director, Conscience for Human Rights and Conflicts Resolution, Mr Idris Abdul, urged political parties, their candidates and supporters to avoid mayhem during the election.
He also called on the Independent National Electoral Commission to live up to its constitutional responsibilities by creating a level playing field for all stakeholders in the elections.
In Bayelsa, the PDP and APC are singing discordant tunes. While PDP maintains that APC had no business participating in the election following the disqualification of its candidate, Lyon and his running mate, by two courts of competent jurisdiction, APC remains undaunted standing on the stay of execution rule.
PDP, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said the development pointed to nothing but victory for the PDP and democracy in the country. The party asked INEC to delist the APC from the ballot as any vote cast for the party would be a wasted vote.
“The PDP invites INEC to note that no fewer than two decisions of courts of competent jurisdiction have negated the participation of the APC in the race,” the statement said.
But in a rather frightening report by the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), it was said that there is a great sign that the APC has a high chance of wresting power from the PDP, which has produced three governors in the state since the return of democracy in 1999. The report titled: “The Godson Turned Godfather: Governor Dickson and Bayelsa’s 2019 Election” suggested that the “growing popularity of APC in the state could make the election fiercely contested”.
It further projected that the internal crisis within the PDP and its primary election in September may be the “straw that will finally break the camel’s back”.
The centre warned that violence, fake news, vote buying and complicity of security agencies are likely to mar the election.
The Kogi and Bayelsa elections seem to have jettisoned reliance on peoples’ votes to place their hopes on intrigues and maneuvers. While APC is hoping the internal crisis in the party will break and cause its lost, PDP on the other hand is relying on the confusion that brought about the disqualification of all APC candidates.