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INEC cancels Southern Ijaw polls

By Azimazi Momoh Jimoh, Terhemba Daka (Abuja), Kelvin Ebiri, Sam Oluwalana and Leo Sobechi (Yenagoa)
08 December 2015   |   3:00 am
AFTER dragging on, beyond the scheduled December 5, 2015 date, the Bayelsa State governorship election was still not concluded yesterday as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) failed to return any of the candidates as winner.


• Cites violence, irregularities
• Dickson, Sylva protest
• PDP, Fayose laud supporters

AFTER dragging on, beyond the scheduled December 5, 2015 date, the Bayelsa State governorship election was still not concluded yesterday as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) failed to return any of the candidates as winner.

The failure to return a winner or declare the election inconclusive like the one in Kogi State followed complaints of ballot box snatching, violence and threat to the lives of electoral officers in the Southern Ijaw local council by suspected thugs and militants allegedly working for the major political parties.

To ensure that the violence does not continue, the Bayelsa State police command has banned rallies, demonstrations and gatherings in public places.

But amid the volatile atmosphere in the state, the All Progressives Congress (APC) Governorship Campaign Organisation has called for the disqualification of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Governor Seriake Dickson, for allegedly breaching the Electoral Act.

The party observed that that Dickson’s desperation to cling to office in the face of imminent outright rejection by the people of Southern Ijaw which is assumed to be APC’s stronghold and coincidentally the council with the largest number of voters, had made the governor to breach so many electoral laws such as the visit to Oporoma on Sunday while a rescheduled election was taking place.

But in its reaction, the national leadership of the PDP has commended the courage of its members in Bayelsa State for curtailing what it called “APC’s rigging machinery, which led to the cancellation of the fabricated elections in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area.”

The party alleged that “but for the bravery of Bayelsans in standing up for their votes against harassment by the military and other security forces working for the APC, their will as a people would have been completely subverted in the election.”

Aso, Ekiti State governor, Ayodele Fayose yesterday raised the alarm that Nigeria under President Muhammadu Buhari was fast becoming a shame, describing the failed attempt by the APC to manipulate the Bayesa elections as a clear invitation to anarchy.

SYLVAThe governor, who said it was shameful that the two elections conducted by INEC under Prof Mahmood Yakubu, were inconclusive, called on well-meaning Nigerians and the international community to rise in condemnation of the APC government’s plot to destroy democracy in the country.

Speaking through his Special Assistant on Public Communications and New Media, Lere Olayinka, Fayose, who said everything under Buhari was becoming inconclusive, added; “If in three days, INEC could not conduct credible election in Bayelsa State of just eight local governments, one wonders what will happen during the general elections in 2019.
The simple reality is that INEC under this Buhari’s kinsman, Prof Yakubu, who is fast becoming the classical example of incompetence, cannot guarantee free and fair elections in this country.”
He saluted the courage of the people of Bayelsa State, describing them as “worthy heroes of democracy that stood their ground against agents of darkness prepared to short-change them by imposing a
governor they do not want.”
Announcing the cancellation of the election in the troubled area, the state Resident Electoral Commissioner, Barito Lenu Kpagih, disclosed that the commission took the decision following widespread ballot box snatching, violence and intimidation of electoral officials.

Kpagih noted that although the leading candidates, incumbent Governor Henry Seriake Dickson of the PDP and Timipre Sylva of the APC scored total votes of 105, 748 and 72, 594 respectively, the number of registered voters in Southern Ijaw stood at 120, 836.

He disclosed that “the election in Southern Ijaw local council was substantially marred by ballot box snatching; this falls below internationally acceptable standards. Consequently the commission cancels the election in Southern Ijaw local government.”

The REC stated that the cancellation was to maintain the integrity of the process pointing out that a new date would be set for the conduct of a fresh election in the council.

However, APC and PDP agents, Dennis Otitio and Fred Agbeni disagreed over the INEC position, stressing that they expected a winner to emerge since according to them, Bayelsa is too small to get into the rigours of a prolonged election.
To Otiotio, instead of cancelling the election, INEC should have accepted the results which he said had APC recording more than 70, 000 votes pointing out that it was the duty of the returning officer and not the REC to cancel any election.



But according to Agbeni, “APC has brought back kidnap, hijack and violence into our political history. Bayelsans are disappointed at it because Southern Ijaw is a stronghold of PDP. We know that we would have won the election by a landslide in the area and APC has drawn us back by not making my governor and my party to be declared as the winners of this election today.

“We really regret what has happened, we are not happy about it. It is so unfortunate and because we are democrats, we are ready to await the next day for the election during which the people of Southern Ijaw would be given the opportunity to cast their votes for the party and the candidate of their choice. We are ready and we will follow the timetable of the INEC.”
The spokesperson of the APC campaign organisation, ‎Nathan Egba, said it was surprising that even when Dickson claimed to be leading in six out of the seven council results so far released, he was still complaining and calling for protests as well as civil disobedience.

Egba said the APC governorship candidate, Timipre Sylva, and his party had noted the results released so far and were willing to accept the outcome of the election in Southern Ijaw as long as the process was credible.

“We, however, wish to condemn in very strong terms the serial breach of all known electoral laws by Governor Seriake Dickson.
First, was his storming of the Yenagoa Local Government Area Collation Centre on Saturday night after the election?

“Next day, Dickson was again at Oporoma, headquarters of Southern Ijaw calling for the postponement of the elections in the Local Government Area before he was chased away by APC supporters. Since then he has been on one radio station or another making inciting statements,” he said.

He urged the people to remain calm and ignore all the inciting statements on radio by Dickson, over an election that was yet to be concluded.

The PDP, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh, yesterday said it was proud of the actions of its members in resisting rigging and impunity.

“We condemn in the strongest possible term, the wanton confiscation and transfer of voting materials by security operatives directly to APC agents for outright allocation of votes.

“For the purposes of the rescheduled Southern Ijaw election, we wish to make it abundantly clear that we are ready, willing and able to defend the choice of the people. Never again will this leadership of the PDP allow our party candidates to be manipulated out of any election at any level. In that regard, we have activated our structures across the country to defend our mandate always, with all force and means available in a democracy.

“Nevertheless, we are indeed concerned about the apparent inability of the present INEC to conduct a credible election in a single state, especially in the light of the fact that very soon they will need to conduct a general election in all the states.

“Finally, for the security forces busy brutalising innocent Nigerians exercising their democratic rights, we declare that they should hide their faces in shame over the flexing of muscles in terror-free zones.” the party said.

At a press briefing yesterday, Chief Sylva alleged that there were widespread cases of violence, but that INEC went ahead to conduct elections in all those place but when it became obvious that he was winning , the electoral body decided to withhold the results.

He said: ’Today, Monday, December 7, 2015 is a black day for democracy in
Nigeria, because we have experienced a dark side of democracy in the state. The leadership of INEC  has been here for a while and it has routinely returned PDP as winner in all elections it has conducted there .”

Also, PDP lawmakers in the House of Representatives yesterday faulted alleged conspiracy by the APC and men of the Joint Task Force (JTF) to rig the election in Southern Ijaw in favour of the APC. They called for the cancellation of the polls in the area.

Briefing reporters in Abuja yesterday, Minority Leader of the House, and Leader of the PDP caucus Leo Ogor, called for a fresh poll in an atmosphere of peace and security where the electorate would be free to make their choice.

The PDP lawmakers also called on President Muhammadu Buhari to urgently step into the crisis in order to save the fledgling democracy, a legacy the members said the APC inherited from the PDP.