Bayelsa Decides: Election of blood

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As predicted, last Saturday’s governorship election in Bayelsa State lived up to its billing. It was not only volatile. It was bloody. Violence erupted in almost all the local government areas and allegations and counter allegations of rigging, ballot box snatching and other irregularities characterised the process. It was an election that was far from being free, fair and peaceful The Nation report.

Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) captured what transpired on the day of election in its preliminary report on Monday, when its chairman, Ibrahim Zikirullahi, told reporters that the governorship election failed credibility test.

The election which took officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) two days to conduct, produced no winner when the results were announced. As it did in Kogi State, INEC declared the Bayelsa election inconclusive.

Before the polls, expectations were high. For the first time, all the parties, especially the two gladiators, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC), signed a peace accord, pledging to keep the peace before, during and after the election.

The Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Solomon Arase, relocated to the state to reassure residents of adequate security. He lived up to his promise with the deployment of 14, 000 personnel to guarantee safety of electoral materials, INEC ad-hoc staff and Youth corps members during and after the poll.

IGP Arase ensured his men locked down the waterways and that police helicopters provided aerial surveillance in the creeks during the poll. But, the officers were no match for the political warlords, who were battling for the soul of the Southsouth state.

Although the police chief did his best to forestall any threat to peaceful conduct of the poll, the best was not good enough as the TMG said in its report that the security agencies involved in the election disappointed Nigerians by their conduct.

“The Bayelsa State governorship election, no doubt, was a very bad election and didn’t have the minimum test of any credible election”, Zikirullahi said in Abuja on Tuesday.

Arase assembled his officers and men and warned them against compromising the process. He also held a stakeholders meeting where he announced his plans and reassured residents of a peaceful poll.

Besides the deployment of 14, 000 police officers, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) also arranged a robust security plans. According to it, 15 trained sniffer dogs and 10,000 personnel were deployed in different parts of the state.

Its Acting Commandant-General in charge of Operation, Nnamdi Nwaniyi, relocated to the state to supervise the deployment of the personnel with the State Commandant, Desmond Agu. Nwaniyi said all arrangments had been made to lock down the state and ensure adequate protection of lives and properties.

The army also had a similar arrangement. Operatives of the Operation Pulo Shield (OPS), formerly known as the Joint Task Force (JTF) were also drafted into the electoral process. So, with about 40,000, security operatives on ground to monitor election in eight local government areas, residents were reassured of a hitch-free election.

However, developments during and after the election have made a mess of the security arrangements. There were allegations of connivance between operatives and do-or-die politicians, who did everything to violently rig the poll and compromise its integrity. Trouble started on the eve of the election. Thugs besieged various INEC local government offices in Sagbama and other council areas, beating up party agents and carting away materials.

Ekeremor, the local government area of the Minister of State for Agriculture, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, was a flashpoint. Early in the morning of the election day, the council was like a battlefield.

Militants, who were armed with rifles, sporadically shot at the minister’s country home. As they advanced towards the house for undisclosed reasons, soldiers engaged them in a gun duel. They retreated but returned in the evening with reinforcement when results were being collated. They were again repelled by soldiers.

Similar incidents of shooting, physical assaults were recorded in parts of Nembe, Ogbia, Yenagoa and Brass. Voters were induced with cash in most parts of the state. So, it was the case of votes-for-cash and many people voted for the highest bidder and not according to their conscience. The TMG and other observers said the election, in almost all the local government areas, were fraught with irregularities.


The Southern Ijaw debacle

Southern Ijaw was significantly deadliest. Rival militant groups engaged in shooting spree on Saturday morning. Staccato of gunshots continued to rent the air, sending voters back to their homes and electoral officers scampering for safety. It was obvious that election could not hold and INEC promptly shifted the poll to Sunday.

The decision to hold the election on Sunday did not go down well with the PDP and its candidate, incumbent Governor Seriake Dickson. At a news conference jointly addressed by the local chapter chairman of the party, Serena Dokubo-Spiff, Southsouth Zonal Chairman, Cairo Ojuigbo and Senator Foster Ogola, warned against going ahead with the poll in Southern Ijaw. They said security concerns in the area should be tackled first.

But the security agencies, at a meeting chaired by a Deputy Inspector-General (DIG) of Police, Hashimu Arugugun, said the election should. According to them, be concluded adding that they adequate security to ensure a hitch-free poll had been provided in Southern Ijaw. Arugugun said 10 persons involved in the violence that disrupted the electoral process on Saturday had been arrested. He also said that contrary to reports, nobody was killed in the area.

He said: “The INEC officials and security agencies met and agreed that the only local government, Southern Ijaw where the election could not take place due to logistic problems and other few areas where the election could not take place, the election will take place on Sunday, December 6th, 2015.

“The report that some people were killed cannot be confirmed as corpses of the purported dead persons cannot be traced and their particulars could not be obtained from any source. Information at my disposal is that there was no death in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area.”

The DIG said they had deployed two commissioners of police, two Brigade commanders, five Battalion commanders and deputy commissioner of the NSCDC to Southern Ijaw to ensure safety of lives and property during the rescheduled poll.

He urged the electorate not to entertain any fear, but to go out and exercise their franchise. “Nobody should entertain fear as security is guaranteed as the security agencies are ready and nobody should take us for granted”, he said.

So, the security agencies were ready for the election and were fully deployed to conclude the Southern Ijaw case. So, as the election was going on, collation of results began at the Collation Centre.

It therefore came a s a surprise to many that the state Collation Centre at the Multi-Purpose Hall located within in the Yenagoa Secretariat complex opened on Sunday. No a few residents thought that having been inundated with complaints of irregularities and widespread violence, INEC would cancel the entire process. But the commission went ahead with the collation of results.

The PDP immediately established a lead with the announcement of the first result from Kolokuma/Oporoma Local Government Area. The lead became clearer when results from Sagbama, Yenagoa, Ekeremor, Nembe and Ogbia were announced. But the APC tried to close the gap with Brass result. At the end PDP led its closest rival, APC with 33,154 votes. The PDP polled 105,745 votes against APC’s 72,594 as announced by the Chief Returning Officer and Vice Chancellor of the University of Calabar, Prof. Zena Akpogu.

Then came the logjam, the PDP and its candidate were not comfortable with their lead as INEC awaited results from Southern Ijaw. Dickson first stormed Oporoma, the headquarters of Southern Ijaw on Sunday morning before voting started, perhaps to stress why the poll should not hold. There was tension in the council, but he was later persuaded to leave.

Following reports of malpractices in Amassoma, a community in the council with largest voting population, the governor reportedly made efforts to enter the community but he was also advised against it. As the results from Southern Ijaw results were being awaited, the governor went on air to condemn the electoral process in the council. He also called on residents of the state to come out for a rally to protest the development in Southern Ijaw.

Earlier, women and youths of the PDP had trooped to the streets and headed towards the Collation Centre to register their misgivings against the Southern Ijaw election. They were stopped by security agencies. Sensing a disruption of public peace, Arugugun banned street protests.

Two Toyota Hilux vans, loaded with unaccounted ballot papers, one of them bearing a Bayelsa State Government House number plate, were driven into the premises of the Collation Centre by persons suspected to be ex-militants. After appealing for calm, INEC and its officials, relocated temporarily to their head office and held a meeting with security commanders in close doors.

When they returned, the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Mr. Baritor Kpagir, announced the cancellation of election in Southern Ijaw, thus making the governorship election inconclusive.

Making the announcement, Kpagir said he was acting on behalf of the national commission. The REC said the election was cancelled following disturbing reports that the election in Southern Ijaw was substantially marred by violence, ballot box snatching, intimidation and other irregularities.

He said the cancellation of the election became necessary in the interest of compliance to international best practices. According to him, a new date would be chosen and communicated to all parties for the supplementary election.

Why the fuss about Southern Ijaw

Southern Ijaw is the largest local government area in the state with over 120,000 registered voters. Haul of votes from the council is capable of upturning a clear lead established by any party in an election. With Dickson and Sylva satisfying the condition of securing 25 per cent votes in two third of the council areas, the duo stand equal a chance of securing the highest number of votes cast to emerge winner.

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