Rivers on knife-edge over rerun polls
•Wike accuses INEC, security of complicity, Amaechi denies
Rivers State is once again on knife-edge ahead of the conduct of supplementary legislative elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) tomorrow.
The electioneering campaigns preceding tomorrow’s poll, which indisputably is the most contentious in recent Rivers political history, have been characterised by heated partisan altercations, mudslinging, and threats.
Although there has not been any recorded clashes between the two dominate political parties in the State, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party and the All Progressives Congress (APC), the bitterness between the leaders, Governor Nyesom Wike (PDP) and his predecessor and Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi, (APC) is causing unease in the State.
It would be recalled that a federal High Court in Abuja had in December 2015 ordered a rerun in 22 State House of Assembly, 12 House of Representatives and three Senatorial seats. INEC’s attempt to conduct the polls on March 19, 2016 was thwarted by widespread violence that forced the Commission to cancel and suspend elections in some areas.
In the March rerun, the PDP had won four federal constituencies, 12 State constituency seats. The remaining positions up for grabs are: Rivers West, Rivers East and Rivers South East senatorial districts seats; eight federal constituency seats namely: Tai/Eleme/Oyigbo, Andoni-Opobo/ Nkoro, Bonny/Degema, Akuku-Toru/Asari-Toru, Khana/Gokana, Ikwerre/Emohua, Etche/Omuma and Okrika/Ogu-Bolo; as well as ten State constituency seats: Andoni, Asari-Toru 1, Asari-Toru 2, Bonny, Degema, Eleme, Etche 2, Gokana, Ikwerre and Khana 2.
Attempt by INEC to conclude the now controversial elections by July 30, was again thwarted as it was forced to suspend the rerun elections indefinitely due to an arson attack on its office in Bori, Khana Local Government Area of the State. INEC eventually fixed the December 10 for the conclusion of the polls after a Senate ultimatum.
Thus for almost two years into the present dispensation of the APC-controlled federal government, the State has lacked legislative representation at the national level with just partial representation at the state level.
The announcement of the December 10 date had ignited a tide of contentious campaign that has heightened political tension in the State apparently because the stakes are high for the two leading parties, particularly for the APC which is gasping for political breathe in the State having lost all elective positions to the PDP in the 2015 general elections and the March 19 rerun polls. On its part, the PDP, which dominates the political landscape of the State, is however determined to thwart APC incursion at all cost.
Governor Wike has said: “We won before and we are going to win again. This state is a PDP state. No amount of manipulation or ‘Federal might’ will take the will of the people from them. For those who are not preparing, who are busy forging result sheets, we will resist them. They cannot use such result sheets because they don’t have the people. If you have the people that will vote for you, you will not look for fake result sheets. The people will cast their votes and their votes will count. Come December 10, PDP will conclude the remaining elections in victory by God’s grace.”
Weeks leading to tomorrow’s polls have been enmeshed in political intrigues. Governor Wike has visited all the three senatorial districts to flag off one road construction or hospital rehabilitation projects amid intense campaign for PDP candidates. The APC on the other hand, has not been involved in any vigorous campaign, save for its candidate in the Rivers South East senatorial district, Magnus Abe.
Governor Wike triggered a flurry of anxiety in the State with his comment this week that security agencies operating in the state were planning mass arrest of PDP supporters as well as to assassinate him.
He also accused INEC of overheating the polity by failing to release the list of collation officers for public scrutiny for transparency and accountability.
On his part, Amaechi dared Wike to present justifiable evidence that INEC and security agencies want to manipulate the polls in favour of the APC. He said before now, he used to tell APC members to vote and protect their votes, but added that there has been complains of indecent attacks from the PDP, so, he has asked them to protect their votes and their lives as well.
Amaechi stressed that tomorrow’s election offers another rare opportunity for APC supporters to exercise their right to vote for candidates of their choices. He alleged that the last time the elections were held, members of the APC were brazenly, crudely and violently prevented from exercising their rights to elect those they wanted.
“Those same characters and forces that stole our votes by violently denying us the right to vote the last time are at it again. In the months and weeks leading to this Saturday’s election, they have employed the use of violence and intimidation and harassment all aimed at preventing us from coming out to vote, they have turned our hitherto peaceful state into a haven of brazen criminality culminating in killings and maiming of innocent citizens ”the Minister stated.
PDP and Wike also accused INEC of partisanship for releasing a result in favour of the APC in Tai Local Government Area four months after it had suspended election there on March 19.
In addition PDP filed suit No: FHC/PH/CS/523/2016 before a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt seeking an order of injunction restraining INEC from announcing or declaring any result in respect of the suspended March 19 elections in the Tai, Khana, Eleme, Bonny, Andoni and Gokana Local Government Areas, except and until after the suspended elections have been duly held.
Justice Mahmoud Liman, while delivering judgment on the suit this week, said: “It is hereby ordered that the result of the rerun election in respect of the National and State House of Assembly election, which the first defendant (INEC) has fixed a date to conduct on Khana, Bonny, Gokana, Andoni, Eleme and Tai Local Government Area or any part thereof must emanate from the said rerun election.”
The State PDP chairman, Felix Obuah, while lauding the court order, noted that it would be illegal, illegitimate and morally wrong for the same INEC to want to release election results either in whole or parts from same election earlier suspended, adding that it has restored the hope of the people of Tai and South East Senatorial District.
But APC spokesperson, Chris Finebone, insisted that at no time did Justice Liman nullify and/or ordered for a fresh rerun election in Tai. His interpretation is that the court order is for the conclusion of the Tai rerun.
INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner in the State, Aniedi Ikoiwak, who had earlier in the week revealed that election will only be held in a few units in Tai, said INEC was yet to receive Justice Liman’s judgment which was delivered on Tuesday.
On allegation that INEC has recruited APC members as ad hoc staff, Ikoiwak said: “We collect them from the NYSC, from federal agencies and to compliment shortfalls, we collect students from the university. All the people who are being trained are either NYSC, or students or staff of federal agencies, including those from INEC. If we find out that there is any student who has affiliation with a political party, and we have the data clearly, such student will be dropped”.
Meanwhile, INEC chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, has accused a few political gladiators of turning Rivers State to a theatre of war ahead of the rerun legislative elections.
Yakubu condemned what he described as provocative and dangerous comments being made by some political actors that are capable of inciting people to commit violent acts and derail peaceful election this Saturday in Rivers State. According to him, INEC will not hesitate to bring the full force of the law on and sanction any person, no matter how highly placed, that commits electoral offence.
“Our plea to political parties and their supporters is that they should eschew violence and the attendant culture of intimidation of electoral officials and the desperate resort to vote buying, ballot box snatching, abduction of electoral officials and other violations of the Electoral Act and INEC guidelines,” said Yakubu.
He warned that the Commission will not tolerate any wilful disregard of the use of the smart card reader or attempts to circumvent it for accreditation, as was reported in the 2015 general elections in the State. According to him, INEC has configured, recharged and deployed sufficient card readers for the elections.
The Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) in charge of Operations, Joshak Habila, observed that previous efforts by security agencies saddled with the responsibility of creating a conductive environment for peaceful elections had been thwarted. He however affirmed that that era was over, as security agencies will ensure that citizens exercise their franchise unhindered this weekend.
The Police disclosed that credible intelligence has revealed that political thugs from other states have infiltrated Rivers State. And to thwart their nefarious activities during the elections, 350 patrol vehicles and 28,000 police personnel are to be deployed across the State.
The DIG warned that those caught involved in electoral offences will be arrested and swiftly arraigned in court next week Monday for prosecution. He further said it would no longer be business as usual for political thugs and their sponsors. According to him, security agencies are prepared to ensure that votes count in Rivers State.