From Chris Anucha, Port Harcourt
Those who were pessimistic about the legislative rerun elections in Rivers State were proved right on December 10, 2016. In fact, the politicians, especially, the ‘gladiators’, as they are being referred to currently, the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC), the security agencies, political thugs, ‘serving’ and ex-militants, didn’t disappoint the pessimists at all. They were at their “best”, doing what they know how to do best, playing their separate, disappointing roles to spill the blood of innocent citizens, allegedly commit electoral fraud, with the intention of subverting the will of the people.
Many expressed worry that a mere rerun of legislative elections could turn the state upside down. The exercise was for three senatorial seats, eight out of 13 House of Representatives and 10 out of the 32 seats of the House of Assembly, compelled the Nigeria Police to deploy 28, 000 officers, three helicopters, 28 gunboats, 20 security dogs, 28, 000 security personnel, 26 units of Mobile Police Force and 313 patrol vehicles to the state . Besides, soldiers, members of sister agencies like the Nigerian Immigration, Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps(NSCDC) were also deployed to the oil-rich state for the purpose of the rerun elections.
It didn’t just end there, the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, relocated to Rivers State, 24 hours to the voting exercise, while six Commissioners of Police were also on ground.
On its part, INEC deployed 10, 294 staff, across the three Senatorial Districts, namely, Rivers West, Rivers East and Rivers South East. The electoral umpire disclosed that 14 categories of staffers were deployed for the rerun elections. A breakdown further showed that three Retuning Officers were deployed to the three Senatorial Districts, 18 Returning Officers deployed to the Federal Constituencies, 23 Local Collation Officers, 221 Registration Area Collation(RAC) Officers were deployed to the state.
There were 57 Collation Officers (for collation only) at the Registration Area, 231 Supervisory Residing Officers, 1,840 Presiding Officers, 6,609 Assistant Presiding Officers 1, 2,and 3, 661 Assistant Presiding Officers, 21 Constituency Supervisors, 24 Local Government Area Supervisors and 223 Resident Area Supervisors.
These, among other measures, were aimed at having a hitch-free, violence-free, credible, free and fair legislative rerun elections after the failed March 19, 2016 exercise. But that was not to be!
Few minutes into the voting exercise, it was realised that nothing had changed. Like spots on leopard’s body, it cannot be washed away by the rains and all the measures put in place by the INEC and security agencies could not stop violence, killings, ballot snatching, among other irregularities . The politicians and their hired thugs, the security agencies, who were supposed to be impartial and provided security, started snatching electoral materials, while INEC adhoc workers like, members of the NYSC, were abducted alongside the voting materials they were taking to the Polling Units. Like in the past elections, sounds of gunshots rent the air, while there were detonation of dynamites in Registration Area Centre(RAC) in Abonnema and killing of one person in Ogoni.
For instance, a total of eleven NYSC members were abducted along with electoral materials, though, they were all rescued by some gallant soldiers. Five NYSC members were abducted in Emohua Local Government area alone, alongside the electoral materials in their possession.
Shooting and ballot-snatching became the order of the day in some communities like, Bodo, the home town of Secretary to the State Government, Bidere and Mogho in Gokana LGA, including snatching of ballot boxes. There was a report of ambushing of policemen at Uju community , near Omoku in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area (ONELGA) where a police patrol team was ambushed, and the 10 policemen in the patrol vehicle scampered for safety.
Sadly, when the Mobile Police organised a rescue mission, it was discovered that a Deputy Superintendent of Police(DSP), Alkali Mohammed, of Mobile Police Unit 48, had been beheaded alongside his orderly. According to a statement by the military, five policemen were missing in action.
From Etche Omuma, Asari-Toru/Akuku-Toru, Bonny/Degema, Ikwerre Emohua and Okrika/Ogo/Bolo Federal Constituencies, Andoni constituency, Khana, Gokana, Eleme, Opobo/Nkoro, Bodo-Ogoni, it was all negative reports of either, killings, ballot-snatching , one form of electoral fraud or the other. In the camps of the same politicians were also cries of alleged rigging, intimidation by the security agencies, among others.
The governor, who had expressed his displeasure about the militarization of the state and the role of some senior police officers in the state, once again alleged that soldiers were also neck-deep in the ballot- snatching.
Addressing thousands of PDP supporters, who were on “Victory March” across the streets of Port Harcourt , which terminated at the Government House, Port Harcourt, the governor said he had no confidence in the army, police and DSS.
“I praise you for your courage, in the face of murderous invading security agencies, who killed, maimed and stole ballot boxes, in their bid to subvert the will of the people.
“I have told the security agencies, you come and collect security money from me and use it against Rivers people . Enough is enough. They will now be depending on NDDC for their funding. Let me see where it will take take them to,” he said .
He said the Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi would never win election in the state, and accused the governors of Plateau, Kano, Bauchi and Benue of attempting to re-colonize the state by sponsoring violence and rigging during the December 10 rerun.
Also, on Thursday, December 15, 2016, chief Nyesom Wike led thousands of Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) supporters to protest what he called, mass killings by the police and other security agencies, during the December 10, 2016 legislative rerun elections in the state.
The peaceful protest, which took off from the Government House, Port Harcourt, at about 8am, saw the protesters marching through the Azikiwe Street and Bank Road, and terminated at the Rivers State Police Command headquarters, on Moscow Road, Port Harcourt.
Among the protesters were; the deputy governor, Dr Ipalibo Harry Banigo, the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Dabo Adams, former Minister of Transport, Dr Abiye Sekibo, former UBA Chairman, Chief Ferdinand Alabrabra, former deputy governor to Rotimi Amaechi, Tele Ikuru, chairman, Rivers State chapter of PDP, chief Felix Obuah.
But as soon as the protesters approached the gate of the Rivers State Police Command headquarters, the policemen quickly locked the gates to prevent them from gaining entrance into the Command’s premises.
Governor Wike and other leaders of the party waited patiently for close to 30 minutes, before the Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), Mr. Cyril Okoro came out and spoke to them through the locked gate.
In his speech, Governor Wike said they were at the Police Command to inform the authorities that they were tired of the killing of innocent persons in the state, by the police and other security operatives.
He noted that the people and government of the state were particularly, dissatisfied with the recklessness of two senior policemen, the Assistant Commissioner of Police(ACP) in charge of operations, Steven Hasso and the Commander, Special Anti-Robbery Squad(SARS), Mr. Akin Fakorede, who he accused of leading the sponsored onslaught against the people of Rivers State, and compromising the security architecture of the state.
He accused the Police High Command of refusing to act, despite the overwhelming evidence against the duo, especially the video footage that showed Akin Fakorede and other security operatives, trying to snatch results of the Rivers East Senatorial District.
The governor described as unfortunate, a situation where security officials transformed themselves into politicians in uniform.
In his response, Mr. Cyril Okoro assured the governor that the Rivers State Police Command would pass the message to the Police High Command for necessary action.
But in contrast, former deputy Speaker of House of Representative, Prince Chibudom Nwuche, hailed the security agencies, “for doing a good job in securing the state during the rerun and allowing law abiding citizens to exercise their franchise.”
According to him, a true democracy is where the people are allowed to vote, and their votes translated into election of their preferred candidates.
On his part, chairman of PDP, Rivers State chapter, chief Felix Obuah, rejected the results of the South East senatorial district, which declared APC candidates, Magnus Abe, Barry Mpigi, Friday Nke-Ee, Innocent Barikor and others as winners.
In the same vein, the APC governorship candidate in the state in the April 10, 2015 general elections, Dr Dakuku Peterside, alleged that a member of the State Executive Council, was arrested by the police with pre-filled senatorial results for Emohua Local Government Area.
But the State Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Nnamdi Omoni, a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), denied knowledge of the arrest.
As at Thursday, December 15, INEC was yet to conclude the election in Etche local government area due to widespread violence and irregularities.
In the estimation of many, the truth is that the failure of INEC to conduct violence-free, free, fair and credible elections in Rivers State, could be blamed on the same politicians, who raised the alarm that the commission did not want to conclude the elections. Critical observers argue that the ‘gladiators’ and the two major political parties, PDP and APC cannot be exonerated from the ugly development. What happened in December 10 was a clear case of who could out-rig the other, and also a question of political party members that were more violent than the others. But what is surprising is that despite the preparations for the exercise, the December 10,2016 legislative rerun election in Rivers State was still characterised by bloodletting, ballot- snatching, abduction of INEC staff and other irregularities.