Stakeholders in the just concluded Rivers National and State Assembly re-run elections are failed students of history. We all have learnt nothing and are not willing to develop and improve on our democratic space. Expectedly, the re-run election was a theatre of war and of the absurd too. There were uninhibited access to inducements and incidents of ballot box snatching, free for all thumb printing from both sides of the major political parties, intimidation and total war. It was a do-or die affair which expectedly came with so much trouble, irregularities, complaints, accusations and counter- accusations.
In Abonnema, Akuku-Toru Local Government Area, election was postponed to the following day as a result of rampant explosion of dynamite. The Caretaker Committee Chairman of Ikwerre Local Government Area, Olisa Eloka Amadi was molested and dragged out of the collation centre like a common criminal by the military with no one to his rescue. Allegations of polling units moved to hotels and residences of politicians were rife. Armed thugs working for politicians had a field day in overwhelming defiance of over 28,000 policemen and security operatives, 20 police dogs, 28 gun boats; 18 extra Armoured Personnel Carriers and a total of 350 patrol vehicles manned by riot policemen and the Rapid Response Team with a medical team in the event of emergency.
Various checkpoints were mounted to mitigate the movement of arms and fake officers during the election. One Police Commissioner was assigned to each of the three Senatorial Zones in the state, while the Deputy Inspector General of Police in charge of Operations Joshak Habila took charge of the whole operations in the state. Yet INEC will conclude two outstanding state and Federal Assembly rerun elections in Etche next year. A lot of heinous electoral crimes took place including the ruthlessly murder of DSP Mohammed Alkali while six others were said to be missing in spite of the heavy security presence and mobilisation of officers, men and materials. The elections lacked the basic ingredients of a democratic exercise and thus fell below the expected standard of free and fair contest anywhere in the world.
Reported utterances of the national and state leaderships of political parties were reflective and indicative of the brigandage that took place. It was reported that the chairman of APC John Odigie Oyegun at the grand finale of the party’s campaign hosted at the Yakubu Gowon Stadium said, “as you can see, we came in full force; the whole federal might is here and the message is simple, enough is enough, enough is enough. This is the beginning of the rescue mission in Rivers State. “We now have a blood-thirsty regime in Rivers State. I am glad with what I am hearing: if they push you, push them. If they snatch a result sheet, snatch it back.” Also addressing the rally, Rotimi Amaechi was said to have called on members of the APC not to allow members of the PDP to intimidate them during the rerun elections. He said: “This is the election of our lives. Before, I used to tell you, please, don’t fight. What I will tell you today is do not kill anybody but do not get killed. I don’t want to hear that they shot me and took away result sheets. If they take result sheets from you, collect it back from them. These were indications that violence was overtly encouraged. And it was said that a boy sent by his father to steal breaks the door with his leg.
With this, INEC was not expected to perform any magic. The commission was practically overwhelmed by the disposition of major contending political forces. It was apparently hapless and helpless.
In a terse statement issued by INEC on the situation in Rivers, it conceded to the fact that there were serious electoral infractions. “… the elections were generally peaceful and the turn-out was impressive except for Asari-Toru, Gokana, Khana, Andoni and Tai LGA. There were alleged reports of dynamite explosions in Akuku-Toru; INEC officials were attacked in Khana; electoral materials were snatched in Andoni; and our staff were prevented from conducting the elections in Tai state constituency. In a few other areas where hoodlums threatened the conduct of the exercise, the security agencies intervened and ensured that the elections were conducted in a peaceful atmosphere.”
Journalists were deprived of exercising their constitutional of exercising their responsibilities as they were intimidated, harassed and chased out of some collation centres by the security agencies putting a dent on the transparency of the entire process. At Abonnema, security operatives ordered reporters out of the collation center.
There must be a sinister motive and or hidden agenda for sending the media packing at points of collation. It raises suspicion on the credibility and transparency when build up to announcing electoral results are shrouded in secrecy. In some instances, INEC officials were alleged to have taken instructions from security operatives. The security was said to have compromised by allowing issues to degenerate to the level it had only to intervene on those it has vested interest in.
The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) led by one DSP Akin Fakorede was said to have allegedly molested the Emohua L.G.A Collation Officer, Prof. Chukwudi Odekpa; inflicting sever injuries on him for refusing to do his bidding, yet in the pool of his blood Odekpa persevered in his responsibilities as seen in various social media. The police should take note of the sundry allegations against Fakorede, others and apply appropriate sanctions. Prof. Odekpa reserves the right to seek appropriate redress against Fakorede, the police and INEC in the court of law for threat to his life, breach of his fundamental human rights and negligence respectively.
Security agencies especially the military which has no assigned constitutional role in election matters arrogated upon itself a questionable task depending on the party or individuals it was commissioned to work for. The role of the military was roundly condemned by APC in 2015 before the general elections especially as it related to Ekiti elections. However, it was surprisingly reported that some APC stalwarts employed the services of the military in that elections. Pundits suggests that as soldiers become deeply involved in determining who gets what in elections, the institution may be tempted to once again crave to taste the sweet pie of governance.
It would be recalled that the governor of Rivers state Nyesom Wike raised security concerns before the elections without the authorities concerned acting to nip the troubles in the bud. The governor in an interview described the exercise as unfortunate maintaining that PDP will not accept a fraudulent election. “I anticipated it. I tried to let the world know that these are the plans of the security agencies. In my entire political career, I have never experienced this kind of invasion by security agencies. What causes violence is when you give certain persons undue advantage. Be assured that we are resisting it; it may take our lives, but we will resist to the last. That is what is expected when you are fighting for freedom. You must make sacrifices. He said, no matter the use of the Nigerian Army and SARS personnel by the APC government, Rivers state would never be conquered.”
From all intent and purposes, the election results will be contested afterwards. It is no longer easy to steal the peoples mandate and get away with it. Youths were seen escorting electoral materials and even daring the security agencies said to have compromised to try their patience. Electoral offences persist in Nigeria because those who perpetuated them always go scot-free. Some are even occupying exalted public offices in the three arms of government. Stakeholders in elections must submit to peace and ensure conviviality for elections to thrive. The security agencies and INEC must also be seen to be transparent, impartial and neutral in all circumstances to guarantee confidence building in the electoral processes.
There must be a winner and loser in every contest, therefore, candidates should willingly accept defeat in humility. Political party leadership should be civil and also guard their utterances which provides basis for party supporters’ behaviour before, during and after elections. The army of unemployed youths financially induced to deface the electoral process should resist the temptation of being the clogs in the wheel of our electoral processes. Appropriate sanctions should be meted to any officials of all the stakeholders in the electoral process found to have aided and abetted electoral offences to serve as a deterrent to others.
Sunday Onyemaechi Eze, is a Media and Communications Specialist.