Preparations are in top gear ahead of the Saturday, 11 November 2023 off-cycle governorship elections in Bayelsa, Imo and Kogi States, from security arrangements by the Nigeria Police Force, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and other relevant agencies to deployment of officials, materials and other logistics arrangements by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

The candidates in the elections are also in the final leg of their campaigns to sway the majority of the citizens of their states to their sides.

In Imo State, the incumbent governor, Hope Uzodinma, the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) who is seeking a second term, will be slugging it out with Samuel Anyanwu of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Senator Athan Achonu of the Labour Party, and others.

In Bayelsa State, incumbent Governor Douye Diri, the PDP candidate, will be vying against former Governor Timipre Sylva of the APC and others.

In Kogi State, APC candidate Usman Ododo will be up against Sen Dino Melaye of the PDP, Hon Leke Abedeji of the African Democratic Congress (ADC), Murtala Ajaka of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), and others.

Security concerns

Pundits have noted that adequate security arrangements would be a major factor to the success of these elections. They have, therefore, called on the concerned security agencies to tighten all loose ends to ensure the security of voters, INEC officials and voting materials before, during and after the elections.

These concerns arise given the history of past elections in the three states. Violence leading to loss of lives and property was reported in governorship elections in Bayelsa State in the past.

During the last governorship election in Bayelsa State in 2019, former Governor Seriake Dickson said 22 persons were killed.

Dickson said 10 of the deceased were members of the PDP, while the 12 other residents were “beheaded, mutilated and actually butchered” before they were thrown into the sea.

Also, in Kogi State, no fewer than four persons were reported killed during the 2019 election.

So far, campaigns for the 2023 governorship in Kogi have been marked by thuggery, violence, accusations and counter accusations by political gladiators. Several areas including Ajaokuta, Lokoja, Dekina, Ejule, Kotonkarfe, Igalamela/Odolu, Kabba/Bunu/Ijumu Federal Constituency, and Yagba East are emerging as hotspots, according to reports.

On its part, Imo State has been in the throes of insecurity in the past few years. Currently, 15 out of the 27 local government areas in the state are said to be hotspots for violence. This is as a result of the killings by unknown gunmen as well as the activities of the separatist group, Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), and its militia wing, known as the Eastern Security Network (ESN). Ahead of the 2023 general elections, five local government areas – Ehime/Mbano, Okigwe, Oru West, Oru East, and Orlu – were reported as hotspots for violence. These areas, in addition to other areas like Orsu, Ideato North and South, Oguta-Izombe, and Njaba, have also been identified as security hotspots ahead of the forthcoming governorship election.

Unlike Imo and Kogi States, Bayelsa State has witnessed relatively less political turbulence. But previous elections in the state have been marred by skirmishes, assaults and other forms of violence by militants along the riverine areas, such as Southern Ijaw, Nembe, Brass, and the state capital, Yenagoa.

Police pledge hitch-free elections

The Nigeria Police and other security agencies vested with the constitutional authority to provide adequate and maximum security for the citizenry have been talking tough.

The Inspector General of Police (IGP), Kayode Egbetokun, who spoke as a guest on Channels Television’s People’s Townhall on Election Security in Abuja on Sunday, said the Force was adequately prepared for the elections, assuring voters that the elections would be hitch-free.

The police chief noted that elections would take place in only three states of the federation and so the Force would draw personnel from across the remaining 33 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to support the already existing security architecture in the states where elections would be held.

“We are ready for this election, we have been able to deploy adequately for this election,” Egbetokun said.

“In Bayelsa, we will be covering 2,224 polling units and we have enough men and resources to cover those polling units. We have also made adequate arrangements for both Imo and Kogi. We have done our threat assessments, and we already know how to carry out our deployments which we have already done.

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“I want to assure you that the police and other security agencies are ready for this election and we are sure it is going to be hitch-free,” he said.

The IGP stated that the deployment which had already started would be completed by Friday, about 24 hours before the governorship elections in the three states. He did not, however, put a figure to the number of policemen that had been deployed or were yet to be deployed.

As part of the security preparations, the IGP also ordered the distribution of 220 operational vehicles for Bayelsa, Imo and Kogi governorship elections.

Corroborating the position of the IGP, Force Public Relations Officer, ACP Olumuyiwa Adejobi, said the Force was ready.

“We are ready and have prepared well for the elections in Kogi, Imo and Bayelsa States. Adequate deployments have been done to all areas, including the protection of Independent National Electoral Commission officials, accredited observers, media, materials and facilities. We have made arrangements for necessary escorts during the elections,” Adejobi said.

The Force also said it has distributed other essentials including water cannons, Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs), helmets, bullet-proof vests, tear gas canisters, among others, to the three states to intensify security arrangements for the elections.

INEC preparations

The electoral umpire, INEC has also vowed to ensure that the elections are free, fair and credible.

INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Sam Olumekun, said INEC would be deploying over 46,084 adhoc workers for the Kogi, Bayelsa and Imo State elections. Olumekun also said INEC had accredited 126 national and international organisations collectively deploying 11,000 observers for the election. He further said some 80 media organisations were seeking to deploy 1,203 personnel made up of journalists and technical/support staff to report on the elections.

A total of 16 political parties will be taking part in the governorship election in Bayelsa State, according to INEC data. In Imo, 17 political parties will be taking part in the governorship election, while 18 political parties will be taking part in the Kogi State election.

About 5.4 million voters are expected to take part in the off-cycle elections in the three states of Bayelsa, Imo and Kogi, according to information gleaned from INEC’s website.

In Bayelsa, there are 1,056,862 registered voters out of which 1,017,613 collected their permanent voter cards (PVCs).

Kogi has 1,932,654 registered voters and 1,833,160 PVCs collected, while 2,419,922 persons registered in Imo but 2,318,919 collected their PVCs.

Information from INEC further indicated that there are 2,244 polling units in Bayelsa, 3,508 in Kogi, and 4,758 in Imo.

The electoral body, however, noted that in Imo State, elections won’t hold in 38 polling units where there was zero voter registration.

IReV and logistics

The Result Viewing Portal (IReV) promised to be one of the leading game changers going into the 2023 general elections after INEC assured Nigerians that it would upload election results directly from the polling units to the portal. The commission also promised that election materials and personnel would arrive on time, boosting the confidence of the people, most especially the youths who participated massively in the build-up to the election like never before in the history of Nigeria’s democracy, especially since the 4th Republic.

But this was not to be, as materials did not arrive on time in many polling units across the country and INEC also failed to upload the presidential election results on the IReV, an event which INEC declared as a technical glitch.

But ahead of the off-cycle elections, INEC has again vowed to redeem its image from some of the lapses of the 25 February 2023 presidential election.