Kano — Penultimate Sunday, the 'Kwankwassiya' faction of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Kano State held celebrations over the party's victory at recent by-elections in Garko and Gaya constituencies, to fill the vacant seats of two state lawmakers that were murdered by gunmen late last year.
The celebrations followed earlier announcement by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) conferring victory on the PDP over its main opposition political parties; All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) rivals, with wide margins.
INEC returning officer in Gaya local government area, Mannir Abdullahi Kamba, said the PDP candidate received 42,696 votes, trouncing his biggest opponents from the ANPP and the CPC with 2,379 and 970 votes respectively.
Similarly, the returning officer for Garko local government area, Professor Habu Muhammad, announced that PDP candidate won 53,895 votes against his rivals in the ANPP and the CPC with 2,168 and 1331 respectively.
Gaya Local Government Area was being represented in the State House of Assembly by a member of the ANPP, Danladi Isa Kademi, before he was murdered by gunmen in December last year. Another victim Ibrahim Abba Garko, who was representing Garko Local Government Area, was a member of the ruling PDP before he was killed by gunmen in November last year.
Before the polls, ANPP members were optimistic about the chance of their candidate in Gaya, being a very popular politician with deep grassroots connections than many other politicians, including federal lawmakers.
Also before the election, there was a seeming unanimous belief in political cycles that Gaya was solely an ANPP territory and that notwithstanding PDP's influence as a ruling party in the State, ANPP was going to sweep the votes.
This belief was hinged on the theory that historically, majority of the electorates are staunch supporters of the ANPP and they have always pulled their weight behind the party to guarantee its victory during elections.
Gaya, for instance, is the only local government in the State under the control of an opposition party before the death of Kademi.
Another factor that was considered as an added advantage for the party in the area was the nature of the murder of Kademi, who was very popular among the electorates and equally revered by other politicians because of his deep grassroots connections.
Sunday Trust gathered that the ANPP had so much relied on perceived electorates' sympathy over the death and had hoped that voters were going to give it a bloc vote.
On the other hand, observers had predicted that PDP was going to win Garko local government, considering the acceptance it received immediately after late Abba Garko defected to the party.
Abba Garko, who won his first assembly election on the platform of the ANPP, later dumped the party for the PDP in the runoff to the 2011 elections, after he was sidelined at primaries.
Winning re-election in his new party confirmed to many that his popularity had followed him to the PDP, and above all, changed the political equation in the local government, thereby guaranteeing the PDP a sound victory to win its seat again.
But, hours after the election results were released, the ANPP which is the strongest opposition party in the state swiftly rejected the outcome, alleging that the elections were fraught with varied forms of irregularities such as rigging, ballot box snatching and intimidation of voters and agents of opposition parties.
The elections which were seen as a tough contest for political supremacy and influence between the incumbent Governor of the State Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso of the PDP and his predecessor and arch-rival Malam Ibrahim Shekarau of the ANPP raised tension and fear of violence in the localities.
Less than five days before the elections, there were violent clashes between supporters of the PDP and their ANPP opponents, during which many people suffered injuries while almost 100 vehicles were vandalized along Wudil road which connects to both Gaya and Garko.
To avert further confrontations, the State police command limited the movement of people and vehicles coming into the localities where the elections were to be held and barred everyone from publicly wearing party outfits, displaying party insignias, posters and banners two days to the elections.
The police also reportedly mobilized about 6,000 of its anti-riot and conventional police officers to maintain peace during the elections. Yet, the political atmosphere in both Gaya and Garko remained highly charged on the election day. Though there was no violence.
ANPP Director of Publicity in Kano, Alhaji Gali Sadik, alleged that PDP had invaded the two local governments with armed thugs in order to guarantee fraudulent victory for itself.
According to him, many of their supporters were chased away from polling stations by the armed thugs on election's day. Sadik noted that Senator Kabiru Ibrahim Gaya of the ANPP was not even allowed to cast his votes, adding that the same situation took place at many other polling units in the two local government areas.
He also claimed that members of his party had reported to the police a particular incident where armed thugs prevented them from voting in Garko local government area, maintaining that the police did not intervene.
Few days after the ANPP had rejected the election's results, INEC released a damning statement on the polls, confirming that voters and election officials were harassed, intimidated and assaulted, in some cases.
The statement, which was issued by the Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman, Kayode R. Idowu, read: "The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has received reports of assault, intimidation and harassment of voters and election officials during the by-elections into Gaya and Garko state assembly constituencies in Kano State held on Saturday, February 2, 2013.
"Field reports available to the Commission revealed that mobs of armed youths disrupted the electoral process in some areas, harassing and intimidating innocent voters. Electoral officials were also intimidated, harassed and threatened, while some INEC supervisory officials were assaulted.
"The Commission is highly disappointed that the culture of thuggery, intolerance and unruly conduct by partisans yet bedevil the electoral process in our country.
"Regrettably, reports also showed that despite the overwhelming show of force by armed youths during the Kano State by-election, security agents failed to intervene. INEC is concerned that under the circumstance, the elections were conducted in an unwholesome atmosphere that interfered with voters' exercise of their freedom of choice.
"The Commission hereby affirms that this sort of situation must not be allowed in our political process because it subverts the fundamental principle of free, fair and credible elections. INEC therefore calls on security agencies to remain vigilant; and to promptly intervene, whenever necessary, against the use of thuggery to intimidate or harass voters, thereby subverting the political process."
Meanwhile, PDP chairman in Kano, Alhaji Adamu Aliyu Sumaila, has denied that weapons were freely used to intimidate voters or attack INEC officials, saying no such incidence was reported in the two local government areas. "INEC should have given names of places where voters were harassed or its officials were assaulted. If armed youths were used to intimidate voters, the police would have recorded some arrests. But because the election was conducted peacefully, no complaints were reported," Sumaila said.
While the allegations continue to trail the elections, it is not yet known if the ANPP will contest the results in court, especially as even INEC has acknowledged the incidents.