A combination of intimidation, inducement, and violence spanning the electoral period damaged the freedom, fairness, and credibility of the 2019 Governorship election in Bayelsa State. However, most voters, INEC officials, security services, and civil society organisations are to be commended for their efforts to maintain a peaceful election.
Prior to the election, the main political parties—People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC)—repeatedly accused the Independent National Electoral Committee (INEC) of bias, and credible accounts were reported by observers of attempts by politicians to bribe, influence, or intimidate election officials. This again created an atmosphere in Bayelsa State that made it markedly more difficult for the electoral body to carry out its role, and undermined public confidence in the election.
Reports were received of violent incidents from across the State—including Ogbia, Sagbama, Kolkuma/Opokuma, Southern Ijaw, and Ekeremor. These incidents were contained within specific localised areas, sometimes affecting broader areas because they were focused on Registration Area Centres (RACs) where election materials were to be distributed from. However, in places such as Ekeremor, Nembe and Sagbama, security personnel appeared helpless in repelling non-state actors from carrying out both electoral violence and fraud. The decision of INEC officials to cancel results from some polling units where elections were marred by violence and over-voting should also be acknowledged.
General recommendations for making progress towards free, fair, and credible elections are laid out in SDN’s Building transparent polls report. Recommendations based on the specific experience of the Bayelsa State off-cycle election are:
- INEC should take pro-active steps to cooperate with the election tribunal and the appellate courts to highlight instances were electoral officials were under duress to manipulate the electoral process in favour of a political party.
- Security agencies should investigate incidents of violence during the election and seek prosecution for the culprits, to act as a deterrent to potential election offenders in subsequent election cycles.
- Culpable members of the security services and INEC should be immediately dismissed, and prosecuted accordingly, to serve as a deterrent to would-be perpetrators.
- An investigation should be launched into the alleged insufficient policing of the Bayelsa State election. It should investigate the rationale behind the apparent shortfall of personnel relative to the official deployment figure of 31,041 personnel announced by the Inspector General of Police prior to the election.
- Higher sanctions for sponsors and perpetrators of electoral violence and fraud should be incorporated into the Electoral Act and INEC Guidelines. Higher sanctions could include a 5-10-year ban on any form of political activities.