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Tension Mounts in Kogi, Imo, Bayelsa Before Governor Elections

As the governorship elections in Kogi, Imo, and Bayelsa states approach, scheduled for November 11, 2023, these states are experiencing mounting political tension and unrest. The atmosphere is increasingly fraught with violence and intimidation, particularly targeting opposition parties and their supporters. This ominous trend harks back to the troubled history of past elections in these regions, characterized by violence, tragic loss of lives, and extensive property damage.

In Kogi State, the scars of the 2019 governorship election still haunt memories. It was marred by widespread violence, voter intimidation, and the horrifying incident of the burning to death of Mrs. Acheju Abuh, a Women Leader of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Ochadamu Ward, Ofu Local Government. Sadly, this violence has begun to resurface as we approach the forthcoming elections, with reports of sporadic violence, attacks, and even the defacement of campaign materials.

Imo State, too, witnessed a turbulent electoral history during the 2019 governorship election. Violent incidents occurred in the shadow of armed gunmen and the Eastern Security Network, a militia group linked to the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). Recent events, including the shocking killing of eight security personnel in Umualumaku, Ehime Mbank Local Government Area, bear witness to the precarious security situation in the lead-up to the polls. In addition, the Labour Party’s secretariat in the state, situated on Wethedral Road, was razed to the ground, and political thugs targeted leaders, supporters, and assets of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Meanwhile, Bayelsa State faced its own share of turmoil during the 2019 election, marked by violence and protests that spanned all eight local government areas. Opportunistic thugs exploited lapses in security to sow chaos among voters, party agents, and INEC officials. Just a few weeks ago, suspected political thugs took three lives in Opu Nembe, Nembe Local Government Area, in a gruesome display of violence. In Bassambiri, another community in the same local government, a clash between armed youths and the police resulted in a stampede and numerous injuries.

The ongoing reign of fear among residents, coupled with the brazen actions of political thugs bankrolled by influential and affluent politicians, threatens to cast a long shadow over the November 11 governorship elections.

Election experts, political analysts, and concerned Nigerians have not been silent about the repercussions of these events. They share the consensus that the activities of these hoodlums could cast serious doubt on the legitimacy of the upcoming elections. Desperation on the part of politicians to secure victory at any cost is a root cause of this pre-election tension.

Commenting on the matter, Ezenwa Nwagwu, the convener of Partners for Electoral Reform, an election observer group, reveals that politicians intentionally stoke this tense atmosphere to gain an unfair advantage over their opponents. He underscores that any election conducted amid violence will inevitably face legitimacy challenges.

Nwagwu further laments that politicians consistently escape scrutiny and accountability despite their role in perpetuating this violence. He calls for a united effort to combat political violence, emphasizing that electoral reforms and a commitment to free, fair, and credible elections are paramount.

Labeling criminal acts as mere political crimes diminishes the gravity of the issue. It is incumbent upon Nigerians to rise against political violence in all its forms. This calls for extensive reforms and an unwavering dedication to achieving transparent, peaceful elections.

The Chairman of the Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC), Yabagi Sani, warns politicians and political parties against violence, deeming it incompatible with democracy. IPAC has written to security agencies, gubernatorial candidates, political party leaders, and other stakeholders to urge the maintenance of peace and order. They argue that such actions undermine the democratic process and infringe on the citizens’ constitutional right to diverse political choices.

In response to the oppressive campaign materials/signage fees imposed on political parties in Kogi State, some opposition parties have rejected the move. The IPAC chairman emphasizes the importance of political tolerance, inclusivity, and non-violent campaigns as prerequisites for a thriving democracy.

Sani also calls on governors to ensure that the forthcoming elections are conducted fairly, transparently, and inclusively. Security agencies are urged to work diligently to maintain peace, especially in light of indications that trouble may brew during the election.

Lawrence Alobi, a security expert and former Commissioner of Police, underscores the vital role of security in driving democracy and development. He emphasizes that security is the bedrock upon which democracy and governance stand. A peaceful election, in his view, is a prerequisite for credible and acceptable outcomes.

Alobi further stresses the need for security agencies, politicians, and stakeholders to collaborate closely to ensure peaceful elections. He recommends proactive policing and extensive measures to deter violence during the election period. He also suggests that police invite leaders of political parties to discuss and commit to a peace agreement, with consequences for any party that breaches it.

The Nigeria Police Force recognizes the gravity of the situation and plans to deploy additional personnel to Kogi, Imo, and Bayelsa states for the upcoming elections. The Force Public Relations Officer, Assistant Commissioner of Police Olumuyiwa Adejobi, warns politicians against inciting violence and harassment. He emphasizes that any politician who promotes violence will face consequences.

Adejobi assures that the police have devised comprehensive operational strategies to ensure the safety and security of voters, candidates, and the electoral process. The police will also engage in a “show of force” to deter potential troublemakers. Ultimately, their goal is to create an environment conducive to free, fair, and credible elections.

In conclusion, it is imperative to address the escalating political tension and violence in Kogi, Imo, and Bayelsa states to ensure that the upcoming governorship elections are conducted peacefully and uphold democratic principles. Cooperation between security agencies, politicians, and stakeholders is paramount in achieving this objective. The sanctity of the electoral process must be preserved to ensure a just and legitimate outcome for the people of these states.

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