BY ANDY ASEMOTA
….The recent by-election in Katsina State during Mashi/Dutsi Federal Constituency on May 20,2017, was trailed by controversies that reflects the sad state of affairs in Nigeria
In a revealing report, titled Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Activity Report: 2011 – 2014, the immediate past chairman of INEC, Professor Attahiru Mohammadu Jega, declared that the Commission has been repositioning itself to be one of the best electoral management bodies in the world.
By focusing on creating and utilising new knowledge on elections and electoral processes, identifying and addressing attitudinal predispositions to work and deepening the culture of planning in the management in the electoral system as the basis for sustaining the gains achieved in the 2015 general and subsequent by and re-run elections, the commission has been enhancing its capacity to more efficiently monitor, manage and deploy electoral resources and personnel across the country.
It is note worthy that the commission has been making significant strides in its repositioning to meet the aspirations of Nigerians and address the major challenges facing the country’s electoral process.
A brief review of the by-election which followed the death of the member of the House of Representatives from Mashi/Dutsi Federal Constituency (Katsina State), Hon. Sani Bello Mashi, on February 5, shows the APC won the poll keenly. This did not come as a surprise to many followers of Katsina and indeed Nigeria politics because the Mashi/Dutsi constituency is President Muhammadu Buhari’s forte, Daura Senatorial zone in Katsina State
Three political parties – All Progressives Congress (APC), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and People Redemption Party (PRP) – vied for the seat but attention of every election stakeholder was on APC and PDP because of their strength in previous elections both in the state and the country. The APC is the state governing party and the platform of the late law maker while PDP was the ruling party in the state between 1999 and 2015.
There has been mixed reactions following the by-election. However, until members of the political class check their desperation for power and spoils of office, Nigeria’s democracy will be under threat.
May 20, 2017, was certainly a historic day for the people of Mashi/Dutsi Federal Constituency. INEC had fixed a by-election to fill a vacant seat in the House of Representatives following the demise of the member representing the constituency, Hon. Sani Bello Mashi, in February this year.
To ensure a hitch free election, security agencies and para-military agencies deployed their officers and men to various polling units and wards as well as strategic places across the constituency. The military was involved in provision of adequate security on major highways into the Mashi and Dutsi Local Government Areas of the state.
The turn-out of voters for the election was quite impressive due to the efforts of parties and other stakeholders. They had sensitised and mobilized voters ahead of the day.
When viewed against some other elections in the country, there was an obvious improvement on the part of INEC in respect of timely distribution of election materials resulting to timely commencement and conclusion of election across the entire constituency.
The election was widely acknowledged by various stakeholders, except PDP and some independent observers that are currently in the eye of the storm, as free and fair. Some alleged irregularities in the election have generated controversy to the extent that PDP wants something done immediately, about the election won by APC.
The opposition party is not mincing words on its angst, as it warned the INEC that upholding the result of the election could amount to a call for legal tussle between her and the ruling party.
As the PDP kicks and alleges intimidation, ballot box snatching and voters’ coercion, the APC and many other election stakeholders claim that the opposition party’s allegations were absurd.
PDP Complaint To INEC Commissioner
The PDP complained to the INEC Katsina State office and to as many as it could, including the commissioner of police and the Director of DSS in Katsina, on May 21, 2017, asking that the announcement of winner in the election should be reversed as there could not be a winner in an inconclusive election.
It urged INEC to declare the election inconclusive, alleging that over 13,240 votes were not cast by voters because election materials were snatched and destroyed by government officials who were assisted by thugs and some security personnel. They claimed that that incident nearly doubled the difference (about 7000) between APC and PDP candidates.
The assessment issued by a coalition of the election observer groups also came on May 21. They stressed that “the election was marred by several irregularities like ballot box snatching, stuffing of ballot papers, intimidation of voters, financial inducement and campaign within the polling units against the electoral law.”
To them, the turnout of voters was very impressive but argued that the election was far below electoral and democratic tenet of credible elections.
In its observation, the group said: “INEC has once again shown incompetence and partnership by not minding the said fraud went ahead to quickly announce the result of the election without due consultation and consideration to the observed issues/challenges.”
These observers argued that the by-election was not in any way credible or transparent to produce the winner to reflect the wishes and desires of the people of the constituency.
The position of the INEC, after the scathing allegations of PDP and damning assessment turned in by the observer groups, is clear: The darts being hauled at the commissioner are undeserved.
The spokesman of INEC in Katsina State, Mallam A.T. Mohammed argued that despite the grouse of any group or party, the commission deserved commendation for the entire electoral process rather than vilification for discharging its obligations effectively.
On the vigorous attacks from PDP and some observers, Mohammed retorted: “That is their own view; their perception of the election. We (INEC) did our best. The votes in one or two or three ballot boxes that were snatched were rejected.”
The Bribery Allegation
One of the many reports of the observers that covered the election includes that of an independent observer that leveled bribery allegation against the coalition of civil societies supporting PDP.
His report dismissed the claims of misconduct against the just settled Mashi / Dutsi Federal Constituency by-election as bias, baseless and unreliable observation of an amalgamation of civil societies under the banner of ‘Election observers’
“On the surface, the report was enough to deceive the gullible into accepting the verdict of the observers as the true account of events in Mashi / Dutsi. However, a little scratch beneath the surface would expose an unpatriotic agenda to embarrass Katsina State Government and Governor Masari for no reason other than his refusal to play ball by not succumbing to overtures by the Observers to settle the elections in Gidan Muhammadu Buhari, the Katsina seat of power,” he disclosed.
While the PDP alleged that 13,000 voters were disenfranchised in the constituency, observers who are sympathetic to the party however praised the impressive turn out recorded at the election. They attributed the success story to adequate voters’ sensitization and mobilization by both political parties and other election stakeholders.
Even more absurd was that both the PDP and its purported ally in the election observers community alleged that there were rampant cases of voters’ intimidation and harassment yet, in the assessment of the observers, commercial activities were seriously observed across the constituency particularly in polling units.
The allegations of the irregularities in the election which put Katsina State in spotlight, according to many residents, was largely driven by a do-or-die craze for public office than the will to serve.
More so, pundits argue that PDP served Katsina people for 16 years to the best of its ability and APC is also doing so, to the best of its ability, but both parties were eager to win the by-election.
This much is clear from the result of the May 20 by-election. A look at every facet of the election shows keenly contested poll and reflects both the voters’ population of the constituency and the efforts of both parties to woo voters.
Finally, the INEC may not have totally lived up to expectations of all, yet it has no doubt acquitted itself fairly well in the Mashi / Dutsi by-election The claims and counter claims of different parties in the election may not be totally unfounded but excessive colouration cannot be ruled out too.