Rivers Bloody Election

Presidential election in Rivers State records high casualties raising fears about future elections and safety of the people.

Rivers State was unable to cleanse itself of the tar of bloody elections in the last presidential and National Assembly elections when it recorded the highest number of deaths on Election Day. The state had been dubbed Rivers of Blood since 2015 when every single election conducted there ended in bloodletting.

The heavy deployment of military and police personnel ostensibly to maintain the peace and protect both voters and polling personnel could not stop the killing of more than 15 people on the day of election. The military authorities even admitted to killing six youths in Abonnema in Akuku Toru Local Government Area after the lieutenant that led the military team to the town was gunned down in an alleged ambush.

Apart from those killed in Abonnema in the reprisal attack by the military, two people, Monwan Etete, a former local government chairman and the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, was shot dead along with his brother in Andoni on Election Day. In Degema, a presiding officer and mother of two, Ibisaki Amachree was killed by soldiers who shot at the boat in which she was travelling to deliver polling results from her polling unit to the collation centre.

In Okrika, polling materials for four remote island wards were hijacked and taken away by hoodlums as electoral officials moved them from the local government distribution centre to the local RAC. So election did not take place in those four wards.

The situation in Bonny Island was like a war zone, where contending actors refused to allow election officials to move materials from the local government secretariat of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. The stalemate in the area was compounded by a downpour, for which election did not take place in the entire local government area.

In Khana and neighbouring Gokana local government areas, there were several cases of ballot snatching and diversion of materials. Gunfire was recorded in Ubima and other parts of Ikwerre local government area, where Rotimi Amaechi, the Transportation Minister hails from. At the end of the day elections were cancelled in the six local government areas of Ikwerre, Bonny, Akuku Toru, Okrika and Emohua because of violence and disruption of voting.

Though pre-election consciousness was high in the state, the final result that was declared showed a drastic drop in the votes cast during the election considered against previous elections, where Rivers State used to account for one of the highest votes in Nigeria’s general elections. In last Saturday’s election, the total votes were 666,585 against the well over two million votes recorded in the two previous general elections. In the last election, the PDP presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar polled 473,971 votes, while Muhammadu Buhari of the APC got 150,710 votes.

The violence that rocked the last election in Rivers State came to many observers as a surprise considering the fact that it was supposed to be a one-way election given that the APC, which was the main opposition to the ruling PDP was out of the ballot. Pre-election recriminations between the PDP and APC, particularly Governor Nyesom Wike and Transport Minister, Rotimi Amaechi had, however, given a premonition of Election Day tension. Amaechi had danced to a war song at the last APC rally in Port Harcourt before the election, which evoked sharp reactions from Wike.

Two days to the February 23 election, the PDP Campaign Committee Chairman, Ferdinand Alabraba, raised the alarm that soldiers had laid siege to his home in Abonnema, the same way he said the homes of many PDP chieftains had been besieged by soldiers, whose intention was to whisk off PDP leaders prior to the election and release them after the elections. On Election Day, the national President of Eleme Youth Council, Brain Gokpa, and a former Vice-Chairman of Eleme Local Government, Franklin Abbey were taken away by soldiers from their homes. All across the state, the army made arrests of chieftains of the PDP and even government officials as high as Commissioners for alleged electoral offences.

The fallouts from the presidential and National Assembly elections are still reverberating in the state as the turf has moved from the fields to a confrontation between Governor Wike and the military chief in Port Harcourt, Jamil Sarham, a major general, who is the General Officer Commanding 6 Division. Wike accused the GOC of plotting to kill him and for leading his men to commit various crimes against humanity and vowed to report the army chief to the International Criminal Court. But the army, rather than respond to the accusations of the governor, accused him of trying to compromise soldiers on duty by offering them bribes on Election Day.

In the meantime, the Federal High Court in Abuja will on March 8th, the day before the governorship and state assembly elections give judgment in a suit seeking to disqualify the Rivers State Governor from contesting the March 9th election.  Wike’s camp had gone into jubilation on February 20th when Mahmoud Yakubu, a professor and Chairman of INEC declared without equivocation that Wike’s main opponent and candidate of the APC, Tonye Cole would not be on the ballot because of several Supreme Court pronouncements that upheld the nullification of his nomination and those of all the other APC candidates in Rivers State.

So it was an all-out PDP show last Saturday when apart from the presidential election, APC did not parade any candidate in the national elections despite the high-pitch preparation of the party. Though some party enthusiasts believe something can still happen to return APC to the ballot before the March 9th state elections, the absence of any outstanding ruling or judgment before the courts before Election Day rules out any possibility of the APC returning to the ballot. In the event of that, the election can only go one way – to the benefit of Wike.

There have been talks of the APC pulling its massive political structure in the state behind a candidate from another party to execute the party’s desperate bid to dethrone Wike. But that possibility has not yet manifested, given that no major talks is known to have been held between the party and any other party or candidate. There have only been speculations that party faithful might be asked at the last minute to support and vote the candidate of Accord Party, Dumo Lulu-Briggs, who left the APC in anger after he lost the indirect primary election in October to Tonye Cole. Lulu-Briggs, himself had despite running on a different platform campaigned for Muhammadu Buhari, the presidential candidate of the APC. This could be the scenario if eventually Wike is disqualified from contesting the governorship election on March 8th.

But the real question is: Will the court accede to the request of one Elvis Chinda, a kinsman of Wike, that it should declare that Wike forged a certificate of birth (age declaration) in 1986 and therefore and then order that INEC should disqualify him from contesting the governorship election on March 9th?

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