Kogi Of Bruised Victory; Tangled Uncertainties!

Source: Owoicho Ogbole Esq.

The recently conducted Kogi State governorship election which was largely expected to be the first real test of the government of President Buhari’s commitment to credible electoral process in Nigeria has come and gone, yet the outcome of the election which has been greeted with a cascade of court cases and commotion has made it very difficult to establish whether the new administration of President Buhari has added value to or deducted integrity from Nigeria’s electoral process.

Nevertheless, what is now clear is that the manner of conduct of the Kogi election and nature of result as declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC has really made any view on the Kogi election not to be out of bounds. Sadly, the Kogi political environment remains highly charged and such has introduced a peculiar kind of upheaval into Kogi politics that goes beyond both inter party squabble and partisan political disagreements. Specifically, what INEC did by granting electoral victory to a person with the least number of votes in an election remains a questionable democratic triumph and if not well managed, may not only be a black eye for the Buhari’s administration but a mammoth dent to Nigeria’s electoral process.

In any case, before dwelling on Kogi’s ravaged governorship election which now looks like a boring soap opera, it is important to state that though President Buhari’s worst critics have already laid the entire blame on the door steps of the Federal government, the fact is that the strings that ought to directly connect may be difficult to find except when this Kogi election gridlock is tied to Mr. President’s role in appointing the leadership of the INEC, which from every rational logic exhibited gross level of mediocrity in the handling of the Kogi governorship election as a supposedly autonomous agency. Indeed, on the surface analysis, INEC’s action during the Kogi election has made the assurances of the government to oversee a free and fair election look quite unconvincing.

However, without necessarily conceding to the argument advanced in some limited quarters that the Buhari’s administration’s likely overbearing influence on INEC is liable for the Kogi election impasse, the candid observation is that these arguments cannot be said to be utterly meritless especially given that at vital stages of the Kogi election, INEC openly relied on the advice of the Attorney General of the Federation and justice Minister, a political appointee of President Buhari’s ruling party for its decisions, an abnormality that portrays an agency like INEC as being reckless with its responsibilities.

Even if INEC may continuously deny that its directive was not from above, the public remarks of the Attorney General of the Federation on what was expected of the INEC on Kogi election whilst the INEC leadership was still purportedly consulting on next steps after the demise of Prince Abubakar Audu, the candidate with the leading number of votes in the inconclusive election leaves nothing much for imagination as to the nature of hold the ruling political party has over INEC especially given that the eventual decision that emerged totally concurred with the directive of the Attorney General. This impudence of INEC not only diminishes its status as an independent umpire but should be seen as a clear act of bias by a referee that has stubbornly stuck to play politics of persistent ignorance because it is of public knowledge that views of its legal consultants were in contrast to the final decision of the Commission.

Consequently, that the decision of INEC caused widespread confusion for the Kogi electorate which has now resulted in many post electoral legal tussles should be least surprising to any credible political analyst as it is obvious that INEC’s decision is not in any form grounded in facts, context or known law. Indeed, the ready assumption is that if the INEC did not opt to blindly follow the advice of the Attorney General, it should have foreseen the potential chaos that emerged from its decision of declaration of victory based on the inheritance of votes of a dead candidate, an action that is not based on any section of the Electoral Act or the Nigerian Constitution.

Paradoxically, what makes the INEC decision evidently very unpopular is the fact that a large section of Kogi voters’ population from both sides of the two major political parties in the election contest are still protesting the decision of INEC in declaring what is largely termed a controversial candidate as winner in the said election. For avoidance of doubt, the major issue that has lead to lawsuits against INEC’s decision cannot be said to be as a result of President Buhari’s defilement of the electoral process, abuse or faults but INEC’s creation of primary confusion in settling for a supplementary election at the instance of the Attorney General when it had acknowledged that the candidate that was almost emerging victorious but for the inclusive election had died.

Thus, INEC’s stubborn disinclination to take a brave decision or follow the advice of its legal consultants against the self motivated directive of the Attorney General of the Federation constituted a grave error that made it apparent that INEC deliberately ignored both its autonomy and big dangers of setting a wrong precedence for future truthfully democratic elections in Nigeria. Indeed, this is where the new INEC leadership inflicted suicide on its independence and merits a proper redress.

On the converse, the remarks by some political analysts that INEC certainly did not want to be blamed for a lack of action is well noted but it is obvious that INEC’s final declaration of a winner with inherited votes of a dead candidate has made Kogi voters to face a dual disadvantage, first is that it robs them of their fundamental rights to make a choice of candidate that governs them and second is that Kogi state has now been thrust into a political battleground of sorts with no immediate remediation except through a court process which may last a while with attendant huge costs to all the interested parties in the legal fight.

Certainly, this comes with major leadership distraction and distortions to anyone that rules Kogi state in this interim period of political uncertainty. All these setbacks resulting from INEC’s role in making Kogi election a guinea pig in an unworthy experiment would have been easily avoided, if only the Attorney General of the Federation had acted competently and approached the Supreme Court to proffer a solution rather than electing to act as judge, prosecutor and mediator in a case his interest is not hidden.

Besides, the Attorney General’s meddlesomeness, for emphasis, INEC’s highly criticized decision to go ahead with what it termed supplementary election without seeking legitimate meaning on the status of what becomes of the dead man’s votes especially whether the earlier votes accrued by the late Prince Abubakar Audu was worthy to be inherited and by whom is where the major confusion now lies. Presently, three major interest groups have advanced good logic on their respective suitability for the number one position in Kogi state and this is really where it becomes more complex to say which makes the best sense especially given that a review of all the situations and arguments rest on a common denominator which is who profits from a mix of flawed constitution and Prince Abubakar Audu’s sudden death in the middle of an inconclusive election.

On the Kogi leadership tussle, for the ease of analysis and not merit, the first interested camp is the APC as a party which the late Prince Abubakar Audu emerged from. For this group, their claim is that Kogi voters mandate extended to the late Prince Abubakar Audu and his running mate are assets of the party. Thus, for the APC, it is the party that has the sole authority over who inherits such which as it appears to fall into the desire and directive of the Attorney General to INEC.

Interestingly, the Chairman of the APC may have inadvertently expanded the confusion over inherited votes when in a recent interaction with members of the late Audu’s constituency outrightly contradicted himself by stating that in politics, there is no such thing as inheritance thus dismissing their agitation to produce a replacement for the late Prince Abubakar whom they offered their voters. In any case, the APC settled for Yahaya Bello, its first runner up in the party primary election that produced the late Prince Audu Abubakar as its nominee and beneficiary of Prince Audu Abubakar’s political efforts.

The second interested group are the supporters of Hon James Faleke, the running mate of Prince Audu Abubakar, in the said inconclusive election. Their claim is based on the logic that the votes acquired from presumably the joint ticket of the late Prince Audu Abubakar and Faleke make them eligible with due compensation extended to the late Audu’s family in the form of producing a new running mate, this again is certainly logical. The third interest party in the Kogi electoral debacle is the PDP which claims to be the party with the surviving candidate with highest number of votes. Literally put, for them in a competitive race, it is not the man that stops near the finishing line that emerges winner but the contestant that gets to the finishing line. As such, the former Governor Idris Wada merits the victorious status in the said governorship election.

For any PDP loyalist like me, the argument advanced by my party makes the best sense but for common good of the Kogi people, let me recognise that in reality many credible analysts believe that all the claims from the three major camps may just end up as a chain of broken dreams because none is absolutely backed by the constitution and none of them have the capacity to address the furious rage of Kogi voters against INEC’s decision to ignore their fundamental rights through imposition and naked impunity. Indeed, that INEC’s decision has attracted loud screams from Kogi voters remains a disturbing constant but at the base of the Kogi issue is what next? Would the INEC’s infamous and unconstitutional decision be upheld or reversed and what would be the consequences thereafter.

With all sense of modesty but frankness, several good logic have been advanced by all parties with interest in the Kogi governorship election but regrettably, all of them promote the inevitability of death of a candidate as an advantage in an electoral process. Even though all their arguments are all healthy and highly defensible but on proper examination besides their good intentions, upholding any of them without due recognition of the danger that confronts all, may give room for some criminal minded persons to easily hijack and use death of a candidate to advance the temptation of killing a candidate that is seen as their hindrance to victory. Thus, the necessary caution herein is that those reviewing the Kogi situation must place common good in first place and avoid a situation which will make the death of a man in the late Abubakar Audu’s situation, an attraction for political rivals.

Without fear or favour, it is natural for all the interested parties in the Kogi number one position to be nervous over their political future but we must keep the focus squarely on what is best for Kogi democracy despite the fact that what INEC has already done barely smells like democracy because its only benefit will be for contestants to kill each other. For instance, within a party fold, should a person be the first runner up in the party primaries, his best option to upturn the situation will be to sit, wait, watch and allow the party nominee to coast to near victory then plan his death for automatic secession. On the other hand, if one is the running mate, but with great hidden agenda to be governor, then the major focus would be to work hard for victory but closely monitor the election results, then at a point that it becomes obvious that victory is assured, his cohorts will strike with a Brutus stab.

On the side of the rivalry party, the candidate that is tending to emerge second in the race will only have to wait for the collation day, engage a few brutes in an insecure state like Nigeria, then do what he considers apt for his immediate ascension to power. Whether we like it or not, these are potential realities if any of the above circumstances of the interested parties is upheld and this is why we must take decisions that will always make politicians ask their supporters to put their guns on safety as no direct gain would emerge from killing.

Indeed, the Kogi inconclusive election if it were to be a movie that has all the actors described above, so should a law be made that encourages any of the situations to ascend immediate victory, then such will make criminality very attractive. Thus, we must avoid all these negative possibilities by not entrenching a dangerous precedence in national politics that will permit a little bunch of people that will see death of a rival as attractive venture for self gain. This is why we must admit that the law even if assumed blind must see beyond today’s declaration of INEC on the politics of who governs Kogi state in the interim and focus on the realities of what confronts our democracy if INEC’s mishandling of the situation is sustained.

The bottom line is that the INEC declaration must be short-lived as we must take into cognizance the reality of our society’s insecurity especially on the ground that Nigeria’s history has shown that politically exposed persons can be wasted with ease as there exist too many unresolved politically induced murders. As such, any electoral process that obscures our collective quest for peace and the sanctity of human dignity must be wholly rejected.

For now, Kogi state election remains Nigeria’s recent biggest challenge in a democracy and If we have to go by what the INEC has applied in Kogi state it may advance political criminality to an extent which will encourage the abrupt elimination of candidates of great potency for victory with many disastrous consequences on our politics. Realistically, for Kogi election to reflect apt democratic process, a candidate that deserves the mandate of the people must be subjected to general and transparent election not controversial inherited votes. Thus, it must be stated that in untangling the web over Kogi election, we must recognise the need to desist making any new law that will be a clear attraction for political miscreants and greedy men to kill. As such, the best way to safeguard our democracy that will be based on people’s choice, will be to conduct fresh elections in circumstances like Kogi .

It is apparent that so many sensational analyses have cropped up on Kogi elections, some expanding the argument for quality democracy, others diminishing it for self interest but what is of urgent significance is that the cases before the courts is a good opportunity to stop INEC’s conscious attempt to promote political criminality and mute the capacity of the electorate to determine who rules them. Let the courts rule but in the interest of our democracy, preservation of voters mandate and safety of contestants. INEC has certainly done a dirty work but it remains for the court to correct this wrong. The justice that is much needed here should really not be on the sentiments of who rules Kogi state but that which will help promote unshakable commitment to electoral credibility, peace and security to achieve developed democracy.

*Ogbole,writes from Makurdi,Benue State
Accept the assurance of my very personal regards,

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