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Tension as Rivers braces for rerun polls




THE political atmosphere in Rivers State remained tense as it braces up for the National Assembly and State House of Assembly rerun elections scheduled tentatively for this Saturday.

The state was highly, charged in anticipation of a possible nullification of the April 2015 governorship election in which the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared, Governor Nyesom Wike of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) winner. However, the Supreme Court verdict in favour of him last week has helped to douse the tension.

Nonetheless, INEC’s announcement of rerun of National Assembly and House of Assembly polls, which has been followed by accusations and counter accusations especially among the two leading political parties- the PDP and the opposition APC, is indicative that the mood in Rivers State is still volatile as voters prepare to go to the polls this Saturday.

The State chairman of PDP, Felix Obuah, who is also the leader of Inter- Party Advisory Council of Nigeria  (IPAC), expressed dissatisfaction with the short notice given by INEC and accused the electoral body of possible connivance with the APC to manipulate the February 6 polls.

Obuah who was infuriated by the abrupt announcement, said it has never been on record that only one week notice will be given for an election of such magnitude. He observed that there was no way INEC could recruit over 20,000 personnel for the polls within three days and resolve other logistical issues.

According to him, the PDP and other political parties would not appreciate or accept the short notice for the election, particularly as it does not allow the parties time to constitute their campaign teams.

“This is a proof of some allegations that there was a grand conspiracy between INEC and the APC. It had never been done that only one-week notice will be given for election. That date must be revisited. We have to discuss it. We are aware of plans by your office and the APC to recruit ad-hoc staff for the election, which we reject. When can we inspect all these materials? We don’t want people to come and create problem in our state. IPAC will partner with INEC to make sure the election is done peacefully,” he said.

While the PDP and its allies are grumbling about the date of the polls, the APC which sees the election as its last chance to assert itself politically, in the state, has boasted through its former governorship candidate, Dakuku Peterside, that it will win all the 37 elective positions.

He told APC supporters in Port Harcourt at the weekend that the leadership of the party remains totally and unequivocally committed to delivering all the National Assembly and State House of Assembly seats to the APC.

The APC confidence to wrest some of the legislative seats both at the national and state levels from the ruling PDP stemmed from the transfer of Mrs. Khan from Rivers State. Dakuku had told The Guardian that the tribunal and the Court of Appeal, which nullified the election of the lawmakers, have merely confirmed what the party have been saying that INEC officials in Rivers State were not impartial.

“APC has solid candidates that are marketable, united and Rivers people have tested them and they trust them. All we are asking for is a free, fair, credible process,” said Dakuku.

The Supreme Court verdict, which sealed Governor Wike reign, has indisputably wreaked a psychological havoc on APC supporters ahead of Saturday’s polls. The party appears to be on the brink of political obscurity and many fear that it might resort to the use of state apparatus to wrest some seats from the PDP at all cost. APC sees the rerun election as its last straw it needs to clutch onto in the power equation.

The underlying reason for the tension in Rivers states stems from political bloodshed that characterized 2015. Ten months after the last general elections, the mood in Rivers State is still volatile. Rivers state has been a tense place as once political allies have turned into foes.

Since a federal high court in Port Harcourt sacked all APC chairmen elected a few days before former Governor Chibuike Amaechi left office last May, his successor, Governor Wike, has entrenched PDP caretaker committee chairmen, who now preside over the affairs of the twenty-three local government areas of the State.  These PDP chairmen are expected to play significant role in the forthcoming rerun polls. And there is fear that fierce competition for power between the PDP and APC in some local government might spill over into violence particularly in Degema, Asari Toru, Emohua, Omuma, Etche 2, Obio-
Akpor local government areas.

The PDP is likely to retain Rivers West and Rivers East senatorial seats in the rerun, while the APC will most probably take the Rivers South East. The 12 House of Representatives and 22 House of Assembly seats will be keenly contested.

PDP candidate for Rivers East, Senator George Sekibo who hails from Ogu/Bolo local government area, is most certain to win the polls in his local government and Okrika. He will be depending on Governor Wike’s firm political structure in Obio-Akpor, which is the largest constituency in the state, to defeat APC candidate, Mr. Andrew Uchendu.

Similarly, in Rivers West, senator Osinakachukwu Ideozu, who hails from Ahoada may likely defeat former Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Otelemaba Amachree of the APC who hails from Asari Toru council. Ideozu would rely on votes from Ogba/Egbema/ Ndoni, Ahoada East and Ahoada West, Akuku-Toru, Degema and Abua-Odua to retain his seat. APC is most likely to win the Rivers South East senatorial district. Its candidate and former senator, Magnus Abe, would count on the votes from three core Ogoni local government areas; Khana, Tai and Gokana, as well as Opobo/Nkoro to defeat senator Olaka Nwogu, who hails from Eleme, a stronghold of the APC.

Prior to the apex court verdict, there were pockets of defection from the PDP to the APC particularly in Ogoni axis of the state. APC candidate in the Rivers South-East Senatorial District, Magnus Abe, had predicted that members of the PDP will decamp en mass to the APC before the State and National Assembly re-run elections.  But the Supreme Court verdict has halted this anticipated mass movement.

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