November 18, (THEWILL) – The three off-cycle governorship elections in Imo, Bayelsa and Kogi States have come and gone but three factors, vote buying and selling, voter’s apathy and violence marred the elections.
The Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) has declared winners in the elections with Governor Hope Uzodinma retaining his seat as Imo Governor. Governor Douye Diri of Bayelsa was also re-elected.
In Kogi State, the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Usman Ododo, who is also the godson of incumbent Governor Yahaya Bello, also won the election.
The results of the election showed that the governing political parties were able to retain control of their respective states, thus APC (Imo and Kogi) and the Peoples Democratic Party (Bayelsa).
In all the three states, the incumbency factor played a great role in the outcome of the elections.
One indisputable feature of the governorship elections in Bayelsa, Imo and Kogi States is the issue of vote buying.
Vote buying is a widespread phenomenon. It is usually viewed as a purely economic exchange in which the voter sells his or her vote to the highest bidder. Voters usually sell their votes for money or other gift materials, including foodstuff.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC) which monitored the elections to avoid vote buying and selling, confirmed that its operatives arrested 14 suspected vote buyers in Otueke, Adawari playgrounds in Bayelsa and at various polling units in Imo and Kogi.
A statement by the commission said the suspects were arrested on November 11, 2023, during intelligence-driven operations that commenced several days before the ongoing governorship elections in the three states.
It said a total sum of N11, 040,000 was recovered, including N9, 310,000 intercepted by operatives and recovered from suspected vote buyers and sellers in Bayelsa, while N1, 730,000 was recovered from electoral fraud suspects in Imo State.
The statement, signed by the spokesman of the EFCC Dele Oyewale, said two vehicles were intercepted by the operatives of the commission.
Reports also had it that some voters sold their votes for as low as N2, 000.
Field reports from observers deployed by civil society organisations (CSOs) showed that violence, vote buying and other forms of electoral malpractices characterised the conduct of the election.
The Centre for Democracy and Development, (CDD), a pro-democracy think-tank, while highlighting the factors that undermined the 2023 governorship elections in Bayelsa, Imo and Kogi also stated that vote buying and selling nearly marred the elections.
The group in a statement said its Election Analysis Centre (CDD-EAC) monitored the off-cycle elections through the over 150 fact-checkers and observers deployed in the three states.
It said they worked with a team of data clerks, reviewers and analysts in its situation room in Abuja.
The statement signed by Adele Jinadu, Chairman, CDD EAC, explained how delays in voting and deployment challenges, election irregularities, election violence, disinformation, BVAS functionality and how vote-buying and trading characterised the governorship elections generally across the states.
The statement added that it received reports about voter inducement across all three states.
“Observers reported incidents in PU 1, Ward 8 and PU 11, Ward 1 in Sagbama LGA in Bayelsa West.”
In Bayelsa Central, it said vote-trading was reported in PU 16, Ward 6 in Yenagoa LGA, PU 22, Ward 13 in Southern ljaw LGA with reports of voter inducements ranging from N5,000 – N22,000, including other items such as wrappers.
“In PU 30 and 31, Ward 13, along with money, rice was also shared to buy votes and we are concerned that there were allusions that it might be linked to the delayed flood and subsidy palliatives that state governments only started distributing two days ago.”
In Kogi, the statement said there were reports of vote buying in PUs 004, 038 and 039 in Ward A of Lokoja LGA, where party agents were allegedly giving out cash to voters upon confirmation that they voted for their candidates.
Furthermore, it said both APC and PDP agents were reported to have engaged in vote buying, with N2000 to N3000 shared, at PU3 Mbutu Ward, Aboh Mbaise LGA and PU11, Civic Centre Ward, Mbaitoli LGA.
“There was another incident in Olamaboro LGA, Ward 3 and Unit 12, with reports of vote buying by APC and PDP agents.
“There were similar trends in Imo, where we observed incidents of vote buying in PU 11, Civic Centre Ward and PU 1, Umuodu Ward, both in Mbaitoli-Ezinihitte LGA. In PU 7, Central School UmuNakanu Ebime LGA, there were reports that INEC ad-hoc staffs were given monetary inducement by party officials. Based on our observation, incidents of vote buying have so far been concentrated in Mbaitoli-Ezinihitte, Owerri West and Njaba LGAs,” the CDD said.
The think-tank said this is particularly interesting because Mbaitoli-Ezinihitte and Owerri West LGAs had the highest number of collected PVCs amongst the LGAs in the state with 150,012 and 134,192.
Also the Labour Party (LP) governorship candidate in Bayelsa, Mr Udengs Eradiri, alleged that the election was marred by massive vote-buying.
“The level of vote-buying is overwhelming,” Eradiri said while commenting on the general conduct of the election.
Eradiri said he was particularly disappointed in the open cases of vote-buying because his campaign was partly devoted to educating the people not to sell their votes.
“My greatest disappointment was with a woman from this community whom I offered a scholarship to her son, but today sold her vote for N14, 000,” he added.
According to him, votes were freely traded for between N12, 000 and N40, 000 per person.
Despite assurances by the security agencies, especially the Nigeria Police, regrettably electoral violence resurfaced in the elections.
CDD wrote, “Electoral violence was reported in Dekina Local Government Area of Bayelsa State , specifically in Agala Ogane PU, Anyigba town, a thug was reportedly shot and killed by security agents while fleeing in an attempt to snatch a ballot box.”
In Yenagoa LGA of Bayelsa State, observers reported that one person was shot in Famgbe community and in PU 24 Ward, voting ended abruptly when thugs destroyed election materials at about 11:45 am.
“There were also reports of the Igalamela LGA chair being caught by security personnel with live bullets and wads of naira notes.
Imo Labour Party governorship candidate, Athan Achonu, alleged that some thugs beat up some agents of his party. Describing the situation as crazy, he said the violence was contrary to democratic norms.
“They beat up so many of our agents. We are sad. We are going to upload some of their pictures. This is crazy. This is what our democracy has come to.”
The PDP candidate in Imo State, Senator Samuel Anyanwu, also speaks on electoral malpractices during the poll.
Anyanwu alleged that there were incidents of vote- ballot box snatching, and other irregularities in some polling units. He accused party agents of the ruling APC of “coercing voters to vote for the party”.
He further alleged that some PDP agents were shot by political thugs. According to him, a vehicle belonging to the party was burnt at Inyishi Community, while the agents were trying to resist the thugs.
It was also learnt that some thugs invaded the Umuokoro Village Hall, Iho, also in the LGA, where they allegedly snatched and destroyed ballot boxes and ballot papers.
Despite the fact that the elections were only held in three states, the performance of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was viewed as far from impressive.
In Bayelsa, voters observed the late arrival of INEC staff and security personnel at Yenagoa where voting started as late as 11:37am; in Oporoma, the headquarters of the Southern Ijaw LGA, where INEC officials only arrived at 12:15pm, and in Ogbia LGA Ward 10 Unit 3, in which voting only commenced at 12:40pm.
The same observation was made about Kogi, where by 10:54am, voting activities had yet to resume in Iluteju, Okesi, Okibo, Eni, Oshobeni and Aiyeronmi wards in Ogori-Magongo LGA.
This was also the case in Imo where observers reported INEC officials arriving late at most of the polling units observed, including Avu/Oforola, Ehime Mbano, Mbaitoli-Ezinihitie, Umuokpiriri, Umuogu, Owerri North and Isiala Mbano LGAs.
In Ihitteoha PU, in Owerri North LGA particularly, officials arrived as late as 10:23am, said the CDD report endorsed by Prof Adele Junaidu, which also reported vote trading.
A report released by Yiaga Africa Watching The Vote, which deployed the Process and Results Verification for Transparency (PRVT), a technology to observe the governorship elections in Imo and Kogi and the deployment of 600 stationary observers to a randomly selected sample of 300 polling units in each of the states and 50 roving observers in Kogi and Imo states, said some political actors breached the process by engaging in vote buying and electoral violence.
The CSO in their report endorsed by WTV working group leader, Dr Asmau Maikudi, and director of programmes, Cynthia Mbamalu, said on election day its data centre received critical incident reports relating to pre-filled election results sheets in Ogori Magongo and Okehi Local Government Areas (LGAs) in Kogi State.
“Yiaga Africa also received a worrying report of manual accreditation of voters in Polling Unit 006 (St. Martins School, Ejule street, Martin’s School, Ward 03, Ofu LGA in Kogi State where the polling officials refrained from accrediting voters with the BVAS and manually accredited voters,” the report said.
The CSO said it also noted some variations in the arrival of INEC officials across polling units in Imo and Kogi states.
Notably, it said that in Kabawa PU, Lokoja LGA, the BVAS machine was not working and electoral officers resorted to the use of Voter Identification Number (VIN) to accredit voters. Similarly, the BVAS machine was reportedly unable to display accredited voter information in PU 047, Adankolo Open Space Ward in Lokoja LGA.