In fulfillment of our mandate, of working with other stakeholders towards building a Niger Delta that is free of poverty and sustainable, the SING Foundation put matters of good governance on the front burner of our projects and programmes. In furtherance of our observation mission during the Presidential and National Assembly elections, we deployed observers for the Governorship and State Houses of Assembly elections in the Niger Delta Region. This report is a compilation of our observations of the process.
The team of observers covered assigned areas in the region, while a supervisory team, led by our Executive Director, made a road trip coverage from Akwa Ibom to Bayelsa to get a feel of the process across the region. Our team was able to see first-hand, the challenges and opportunities for improvement of elections in the Niger-Delta region and indeed the whole of Nigeria.
Our engagements, during our “Vote A Must Campaign” for voter education and mobilization, had revealed that the people lack sufficient understanding of the role of the states in development. This, alongside the pervasive feelings of apprehension over threats of violence, perhaps played a major role in the low turnout of voters during the governorship election in the Niger Delta.
The states of the Niger Delta, having been custodians of significant resources, ought to have seen the election as a referendum on their stewardship, but using a combination of manipulation, bribery and violence, these states have come to see elections as a mere opportunities to consolidate their strangleholds on elections. The challenge of illegal arms in the Niger Delta becomes more pronounced during elections and this particular election was no exception as the law enforcement agencies in some cases seemed to be powerless against hoodlums.
While the security agencies use this state of affairs as an excuse to be overzealous in discharge of their duties, there is a need for government at all levels to commit to mopping up the illegal arms buildup in the Niger Delta region, long before elections take place to ensure that law abiding citizens are not intimidated into giving up their franchise. Some locals whom our team members engaged with expressed concerns that the high rate of sophisticated crimes in the Niger Delta is most probably not unconnected to this buildup of arms by politicians for elections.
Going forward all stakeholders must come together to review the entire process, to allow for improvements to be made in future elections, and also to create room for the necessary healing for those who have grievances against the system.