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.
Theheavy deployment of military and police personnel ostensibly to maintain thepeace and protect both voters and polling personnel could not stop the killingof more than 15 people on the day of election. The military authorities evenadmitted to killing six youths in Abonnema in Akuku Toru Local Government Areaafter the lieutenant that led the military team to the town was gunned down inan alleged ambush.
Apartfrom those killed in Abonnema in the reprisal attack by the military, twopeople, Monwan Etete, a former local government chairman and the candidate ofthe All Progressives Congress, APC, was shot dead along with his brother inAndoni 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 wastravelling to deliver polling results from her polling unit to the collationcentre.
InOkrika, polling materials for four remote island wards were hijacked and takenaway by hoodlums as electoral officials moved them from the local governmentdistribution centre to the local RAC. So election did not take place in thosefour wards.
Thesituation in Bonny Island was like a war zone, where contending actors refusedto allow election officials to move materials from the local governmentsecretariat of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. Thestalemate in the area was compounded by a downpour, for which election did nottake place in the entire local government area.
InKhana and neighbouring Gokana local government areas, there were several casesof ballot snatching and diversion of materials. Gunfire was recorded in Ubimaand other parts of Ikwerre local government area, where Rotimi Amaechi, theTransportation Minister hails from. At the end of the day elections werecancelled in the six local government areas of Ikwerre, Bonny, Akuku Toru,Okrika and Emohua because of violence and disruption of voting.
Thoughpre-election consciousness was high in the state, the final result that wasdeclared showed a drastic drop in the votes cast during the election consideredagainst previous elections, where Rivers State used to account for one of thehighest votes in Nigeria’s general elections. In last Saturday’s election, thetotal votes were 666,585 against the well over two million votes recorded inthe two previous general elections. In the last election, the PDP presidentialcandidate Atiku Abubakar polled 473,971 votes, while Muhammadu Buhari of theAPC got 150,710 votes.
Theviolence that rocked the last election in Rivers State came to many observersas a surprise considering the fact that it was supposed to be a one-wayelection given that the APC, which was the main opposition to the ruling PDPwas 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 awar song at the last APC rally in Port Harcourt before the election, whichevoked sharp reactions from Wike.
Twodays to the February 23 election, the PDP Campaign Committee Chairman,Ferdinand Alabraba, raised the alarm that soldiers had laid siege to his homein Abonnema, the same way he said the homes of many PDP chieftains had beenbesieged by soldiers, whose intention was to whisk off PDP leaders prior to theelection and release them after the elections. On Election Day, the national Presidentof Eleme Youth Council, Brain Gokpa, and a former Vice-Chairman of Eleme LocalGovernment, Franklin Abbey were taken away by soldiers from their homes. Allacross the state, the army made arrests of chieftains of the PDP and even governmentofficials as high as Commissioners for alleged electoral offences.
Thefallouts from the presidential and National Assembly elections are stillreverberating in the state as the turf has moved from the fields to aconfrontation between Governor Wike and the military chief in Port Harcourt,Jamil Sarham, a major general, who is the General Officer Commanding 6Division. Wike accused the GOC of plotting to kill him and for leading his mento commit various crimes against humanity and vowed to report the army chief tothe International Criminal Court. But the army, rather than respond to theaccusations of the governor, accused him of trying to compromise soldiers onduty by offering them bribes on Election Day.
In themeantime, the Federal High Court in Abuja will on March 8th, the day before thegovernorship and state assembly elections give judgment in a suit seeking todisqualify the Rivers State Governor from contesting the March 9th election. Wike’s camp had goneinto jubilation on February 20th whenMahmoud Yakubu, a professor and Chairman of INEC declared without equivocationthat Wike’s main opponent and candidate of the APC, Tonye Cole would not be onthe ballot because of several Supreme Court pronouncements that upheld thenullification of his nomination and those of all the other APC candidates inRivers State.
So itwas an all-out PDP show last Saturday when apart from the presidentialelection, APC did not parade any candidate in the national elections despitethe high-pitch preparation of the party. Though some party enthusiasts believesomething can still happen to return APC to the ballot before the March 9th state elections, the absence of anyoutstanding ruling or judgment before the courts before Election Day rules outany possibility of the APC returning to the ballot. In the event of that, theelection can only go one way – to the benefit of Wike.
Therehave been talks of the APC pulling its massive political structure in the statebehind a candidate from another party to execute the party’s desperate bid todethrone Wike. But that possibility has not yet manifested, given that no majortalks is known to have been held between the party and any other party orcandidate. There have only been speculations that party faithful might be askedat the last minute to support and vote the candidate of Accord Party, DumoLulu-Briggs, who left the APC in anger after he lost the indirect primaryelection in October to Tonye Cole. Lulu-Briggs, himself had despite running ona different platform campaigned for Muhammadu Buhari, the presidentialcandidate of the APC. This could be the scenario if eventually Wike isdisqualified 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?