THE time has come for the people of Bayelsa, Imo, and Kogi states to decide on their choice of governors for new four-year terms.
On Saturday, they would head to the polls to cast their ballot for who will marshall their affairs up until 2028.
Ahead of the exercise, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has expressed its readiness for the conduct of credible polls in the three states.
“We will continue to ensure free, fair, credible, and inclusive elections but INEC cannot do it alone,” the commission’s chief Mahmood Yakubu said in an address to stakeholders, dispelling fears about the polls in some quarters.
Despite fears over INEC’s readiness for the elections, the electoral umpire maintained that it has learnt lessons “from recent elections” and is in a better state for Saturday.
Hours before the polls, the commission distributed sensitive and non-sensitive voting materials with 137,973 party agents set to feature in the elections. Life jackets were also distributed in the coastal state of Bayelsa.
While insecurity has been a major concern, especially in Imo and Kogi states, security agencies have read the riot act to miscreants, saying it won’t be business as usual.
“My advice to criminals is that they should stay away from these elections because it is not going to be business as usual,” the Inspector General of Police Kayode Egbetokun said during a Channels Television townhall programme.
“They are not going to be given space to operate during these elections and I really mean it.”
On the eve of the elections, police authorities stepped up preparations for the polls. Across the states, there was tight security. In Kogi, for instance, there was a heavy presence of policemen. Men of the Counter-Terrorism Unit of the Police Force, sniffer dogs as well an Armoured Personnel Carrier were spotted in the state capital of Lokoja.
To forestall vote-buying and related crimes, Nigeria’s anti-corruption agency the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has deployed its operatives to the states.
“The Commission’s monitoring operations are to tackle any form of voter inducement through vote buying, vote selling, and other manipulation of the electoral processes at variance with the Electoral Act,” the agency’s spokesperson Dele Oyewale said.
Imo’s Three-Horse Race
Although three states are billed for the polls, Kogi and Imo states seem to be getting the eyeballs. The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) controls both states. In Imo, incumbent Governor Hope Uzodimma is seeking a second term in office while his Kogi State counterpart Yahaya Bello is rounding off his eight-year stay at the Lugard House.
Uzodimma, the chairman of the Progressives Governors’ Forum, has been Imo governor since 2020 following the Supreme Court nullification of Emeka Ihedioha’s election.
But in 2023, he faces stiffer competition from 17 candidates cleared by INEC. His major contenders are the Labour Party (LP)’s Athan Achonu who will fancy his chances of unseating Uzodimma on the back of LP’s outstanding outing in the presidential poll.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)’s Samuel Anyanwu is also another strong contender for the Imo governorship election as the party seeks to reclaim the seat it lost over three years ago.
Kogi: A Confluence Of Heavyweights
The Kogi election has been billed as a contest between candidates, political parties and the major ethnic groups in the state which makes it very difficult to predict where votes will swing
Like Imo, it has also seen its own share of security challenges coupled with perennial flooding. Governed by the APC, 18 candidates will be on the ballot on Saturday when voters queue to elect their governor in the North-Central state.
PDP’s Dino Melaye; Usman Ododo, a former accountant-general of the state (APC); Leke Abejide of the African Democratic Congress (ADC); Social Democratic Party (SDP)’s Murtala Ajaka are the heavyweights going into the election.
Away from Kogi State, INEC cleared 16 candidates for Saturday’s exercise in the coastal state of Bayelsa. But three of them are considered the top challengers. Despite the fierce rivalry, the PDP believes history is on their side having governed the state since the inception of the current democratic dispensation – 1999.
Incumbent Douye Diri, who is flying the party’s flag, has to contend with a former governor of the oil-rich state and Timipre Sylva of the APC. LP’s Udengmobofa Eradiri is also among the heavyweights for the poll.