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Rivers rerun: Tempers still running wild


Rotimi Amaechi

Rotimi Amaechi

A political tremor is brewing in Rivers State between the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) ahead of the December 10, 2016 supplementary rerun national and state legislative elections.

The stakes are very high for both contending parties, as each is hell bent on grabbing three senatorial, eight House of Representatives and 10 House of Assembly seats being contested.

The political temperature, which had initially simmered after the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) postponed the rerun polls slated for July 30, 2016 following the arson attack on its office in Bori, is gradually rising to a crescendo, due to unfolding political intrigues.

Barely two days after INEC announced a new date for the polls, security operatives, accompanied by PDP chieftains, stormed a printing press in Port Harcourt and arrested an APC chieftain and some of his workers for allegedly printing fake INEC election result sheets and other sensitive materials.

Governor Nyesom Wike observed following the National Assembly’s directive to INEC to conclude all elections in Rivers State by December thus “Even now, there is nothing inspiring from INEC and the security agencies that the supplementary elections will be free and fair.

“Certainly, there is more to INEC’s tepid reaction to the arrest of some members of the ruling APC, who were awarded the job of printing original result sheets to be used to rig the re-run elections in Rivers State. INEC even supplied the security codes to the electoral cheats to insert in the copies they were printing.

“Instead of swiftly investigating and charging the suspects to court, the police high command had forcibly blocked the local police and ordered that the matter be transferred to the zonal office in Calabar, where it will be deliberately bungled and eventually consigned to the waste bin. Our worry is that the recurrent incidents of undue compromises in the election process by INEC and the security agencies generate social tensions, with the attendant risk of erupting into physical resistance on election days and consequences for peace, safety and development.”

With no sign of cessation on both sides, APC governorship candidate in the 2015 general election, Dukuku Peterside, whose cousin, Atonyesia Peterside, is alleged to own the printing press, has described as preposterous, attempt by the governor to link him and others to a phantom printing of fake INEC result sheets.

“Why is Wike so desperate to cause chaos and apprehension before the rerun election scheduled for December 10, by framing up leaders of APC in the state,” he queried. “Why is Wike always crying and shouting before every election?”

On his part, Rivers APC Chairman, Davies Ikanya, has implored President Buhari, for the sake of peace and security of the state, to prevail on the governor to allow peace to reign, by stopping to intimidate, frame and arrest members of APC on trumped-up charges.

The APC has accused the PDP of planting incriminating materials in homes and offices belonging to notable APC leaders in Rivers State to have them incarcerated, with the connivance of hired security officers.

While the issue of printing of fake INEC result sheets was yet to fizzle out, the Rivers State executive council directed the state Attorney General to commence the prosecution of two staunch pillars of the APC in the state. These are Asita Okorie, former APC deputy governorship candidate and Barry Mpigi, APC House of Representatives candidate for Tai, Eleme and Oyigbo Federal Constituency in the December 10 polls.

Citing the report of a judicial commission of inquiry chaired by Justice Monima Danagogo, which was set up by Governor Wike, to probe incidents of killings and wanton destruction of property that characterised the March19, 2016 rerun election, the state government, through the Commissioner for Information, Dr. Austin Tams-George, accused Okorie of the murder of Samuel Okonta, a National Youth Service Corps member, who died during the March election at Akinima community in Ahoada West Local Government Area of the state.

Barry Mpigi, who is a major pillar of APC in Tai Local Government Area, has also been accused of the murder of a pregnant woman, Mrs. Baby Nzuuga in Kpite Tai.

Already, the PDP and APC have commenced intense campaign with an unusual mix of the tirade that characterised the 2015 general election. The new political battle between the parties, which is traceable to the political differences between Governor Wike and his predecessor, now minister of transportation, Chibuike Amaechi, if not checked, might warrant another postponement of polls by INEC.

The upcoming rerun election, which has continued to stoke tension, raises the question as to whether the relatively quiet state of affairs in the state could give way to renewed political conflict.

Speaking at an APC rally in Bera community, where Magnus Abe, the party’s senatorial candidate for the Rivers South East, hails from, Amaechi had boasted that the PDP will lose woefully in the district.

He said: “If there is one place that APC should win, it is Ogoni. But Wike says he must win here. He is not God and since he is not, he will fail. The battle is not here at all. The battle is in Ikwerre and Ahoada axis. So, he had better forget here.”

The minister castigated the governor for granting amnesty to repentant militants and cultists, whom he alleged helped to rig the 2015 general elections that ushered in the PDP-led government headed by Wike to power.

To woo voters in areas considered to be strategically important to the PDP, such as, Etche in Rivers State East senatorial district, Wike has flagged off the construction of road projects at Ulakwo II-Afara to Nihi, which is due for completion in the next four months.

During the ceremony, Wike alleged that the APC has concluded plans with Federal security agencies to arrest the chairmen of Etche Local Government Area, Ikwerre Local Government Area and other leaders of the party to create room for the rigging of the rerun elections.

“While we are working for the people of Rivers State to convince them to vote for us, the APC is busy working with INEC to rig the rerun elections.

“On December 10, monitor your results bumper to bumper. Don’t allow anyone to swap results. I urge the Etche people to follow the results…Tell them, INEC; you cannot rig election in Etche. Tell INEC, you cannot support another party to rig the election,” he urged.

With the House of Representatives, senatorial and House of Assembly seats at stake in Etche, the APC has taken a swipe at the governor by describing the flag off of the road construction in the area, as a grand deception, just like the Sakpenwa-Bori-Kono Road in Ogoni a few days before the flag off of Ogoni cleanup by the Federal Government.

APC mouthpiece, Chris Finebone, has observed that the first test of the dishonesty of Wike’s road project flag-off is that the governor did not announce the important elements of a road project, such as, length or distance, costs and phases of the projects.

“The solemn truth is that the governor simply embarks on his flag-off journey to nowhere, just to deceive the people, especially as the rerun elections draw near,” he said. “Etche is big and has over 100 oil wells, with some centres of high population density. If the governor is serious, he should go and flag off and execute several dilapidated internal roads that litter the Etche heartland begging for attention and not deceive the people with his politically motivated road project flag-offs, especially whenever an election draws near,” he said.

In a new twist, the APC candidate for Rivers South East Senatorial District, Magnus Abe, has raised alarm that the National Assembly leadership is being used to thwart his ambition to return to the Senate.

In a letter written to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara, Abe said the issue of public hearing by the House of Representatives Committee on Army on the recent disturbances in Yeghe and other Ogoni communities at this time smacks of political mischief.

He wondered why a petition against Nigerian army’s operations in Ogoni land, which was written by the Civil Liberties Organisation in Rivers State, would require the invitation of himself and Dr. Barinaadaa Mpigi, also an APC candidate in the re-run elections. He queried whether they were soldiers.

He claimed the petition was a propaganda stunt to lend credence to the PDP’s propaganda to link APC to the activities of soldiers. He said it was regrettable that the House had been recruited as willing tool to provide visual images for the PDP campaign in Rivers State.

He said: “It is clear that the petition sponsored through your office is nothing but an ill-disguised attempt by the Peoples Democratic Party to manipulate federal agencies and influence public opinion in order to secure undue advantage for the PDP in the coming re-run elections. There has been a clear and consistent pattern of the PDP, which ordinarily should have been the minority party, using the National Assembly to tilt the political scales in Rivers State in their favour at decisive moments.”

As at press time, there has not been any major clash between the APC and PDP, but that can obviously not been ruled out as the rerun elections approach, given Rivers’ chequered history of political violence.

The police in Port Harcourt recently averted what would have turned out a bloody clash between APC and PDP supporters. Tempers are high and if unchecked, will burst on election day.

APC former governorship candidate, Peterside, has called on APC members in the state to remain unshaken in their support and vote for all candidates of the party in the forthcoming rerun, assuring that adequate security would be provided to enable them freely vote for candidates of their choice.

Both the PDP and APC have accused each other of planning to scuttle the December 10, 2016 rerun national and state legislative elections.

PDP State chairman, Felix Obuah, has accused the APC of attempting to frame up unfounded charges against PDP leaders considered as stumbling blocks in the wards, where the rerun elections will hold, with a view to getting them arrested and detained by security operatives, before the December 10, 2016 date, and that such persons would not be released until after the elections.

He claimed that the State PDP leadership is in possession of the list of the names of all its members and leaders labeled and marked for arrest. He, however, warned that the plot would be resisted with the last drop of their blood.

The pioneer General Officer Commanding 6 Division of the Nigerian Army, Major General Kasimu Abdulkarim, has given assurance that the military will provide a very conductive environment for INEC and the political parties to conduct the election.

He said: “Nigeria army remains apolitical. None of us belongs to any political party. And we must respect our leaders. We will not allow our troops to be involved in politics. We will give them the right orders and whoever preys on that, there is consequence for that. If that has been the practise, I am assuring you that it is not going to happen. We will give them the right orders.”

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