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Army keeps mum over allegations of rights abuses in Rivers State during election

By Ann Godwin, Port Harcourt
07 May 2019   |   4:16 am
The army is not forthcoming with response to allegations of human rights abuses and electoral violence against it during...

Soldiers and policemen stand at the gate of the state headquarters of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, on March 10, 2019. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

*Police absent at reps’ investigative hearing
The army is not forthcoming with response to allegations of human rights abuses and electoral violence against it during the last general elections in Rivers State.

Primary witnesses and victims of the 2019 election violence, who testified yesterday before the House of Representatives panel, accused the army and the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS) of shooting and killing innocent citizens in the state.

The House Committee on Army was in Port Harcourt to investigate the murder of Dr. Ferry Gberegbe and other unarmed civilians during the election.

The police, on their part, neither appeared at the investigative hearing no sent a representative, even after invitation was extended to them, a development that drew the ire the committee.

Allegations against the soldiers included indiscriminately arresting and detaining over 200 leaders, agents and supporters of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) during and after the elections.

The Commissioner for Education, Tamunosisi Jaja, after narrating how the army invaded his home, arrested and detained him alongside his aides and 12 others, identified one of the soldiers involved during the sitting. But representatives of the army on the ground were unable to respond to the allegations.

Even the leader of the army delegation, Brig-Gen. Felix Omorege, was unable to justify the military’s action.

However, having noticed the difficulty to respond to the allegations, chairman of the committee, Rimande Kwelilum, requested that a Port Harcourt-based officer answered the question, since Omorege came in from Abuja.

Surprisingly, one of the officers who rose for the response still failed to give viable reasons for the soldiers’ action.

Omorege could only explain that the nation’s internal security was run by the police, noting that the army was mandated by the Electoral Act to support the police to provide security, especially in difficult terrains like Rivers.

He stated that the army played key roles in most of the states in the Southsouth, but expressed shock that it was only Rivers that was accusing the army of illegalities.

Meanwhile, the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Rivers, Zaccheus Adangor, said what happened in the state was a radical departure from democracy.

He added: “We demand immediate redeployment of the GOC 6 Division Nigeria Army, Major General Jamil Sarham; payment of adequate compensation by the army to all those who suffered injuries from the soldiers in the course of the 2019 general elections; and public apology from the army to Rivers people for the trauma caused by the soldiers’ misconduct.”

Kwelilum and another member of the committee, Sergius Ogun, noted that there was ample evidence of what happened during the elections.

The committee adjourned sitting till today.