Wednesday, 6th December 2023

Our role in Bayelsa polls, by military

By Sam Oluwalana (Yenagoa), Leo Sobechi (Lagos) and Kanayo Umeh (Abuja)
14 December 2015   |   3:07 am
The involvement of its officials, the military said, under the aegis of “Operation Safe Conduct” led to several arrests and interceptions which in turn led to the safe conduct of the election in all parts of the state.

army raids

• Says its role was highly professional
• PDP, APC differ on security operatives’ role
• Southern Ijaw rerun may hold Dec 19

DEFENDING itself against harsh criticism it has received in some quarters over the conduct of its officials during the inconclusive Bayelsa governorship election, the Nigerian Military has declared that it maintained the highest level of professionalism during the exercise.

The involvement of its officials, the military said, under the aegis of “Operation Safe Conduct” led to several arrests and interceptions which in turn led to the safe conduct of the election in all parts of the state.

The military and other security agencies have been criticised for their alleged complicity in widespread violence, ballot-snatching and hostage-taking that allegedly characterised the polls.

But as the military defends its position, the two major contending political parties have taken opposing positions on the matter. While the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has accused the military of colluding to rig the election, the All Progressives Congress (APC) has commended it. .

Besides, barring any further unforeseen developments, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) may fix the repeat election for Southern Ijaw council that was cancelled after two attempts eight days ago.

Though the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) Baritor Lenu Kpagih, told The Guardian that the final decision on when the rerun would hold was with the national headquarters, an investigation revealed that efforts were on top gear to ensure that the election would not exceed the 14 days stipulated by the Electoral Act.

A source within the Maitama head office of INEC, confided in The Guardian that the commission was considering December 19, 2015 as the probable date for the repeat election in the troubled Southern Ijaw local government council.

He added that the inter-agency committee put together by the National Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, was working conscientiously to come up with a foolproof strategy that would ensure that election materials would be taken to the wards and polling units under maximum security so that accreditation and voting would take place simultaneously.

“By Tuesday, the commission may send its blueprint for a hitch-free rerun in Southern Ijaw to crucial security agencies. The presidency has expressed misgivings about the ugly tales regarding the conduct of the governorship election; so we are doing everything possible to avert insinuations that the Federal Government was planning a state of emergency in Bayelsa.

“We are trying to strike a balance between the challenges posed by the approaching Yuletide festivities and the stipulations of the Electoral Act. INEC does not want to create a lacuna for a constitutional crisis that could further heat up the polity,” the source declared.

Meanwhile, a group, the National Democratic Front (NDF), has urged the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to resolve all pending issues concerning the Bayelsa State governorship election within 72 hours or face protests from civil rights groups.

At a press conference in Abuja, the National Secretary, Sunnybright Attah, said the group was saddened by the conduct of INEC in all its elections so far which have been marked by inconclusiveness.

According to NDF, such has the potential to take the nation’s progressing democracy back to the dark ages of rigging and other electoral malpractices which were nearly surmounted by the former leadership of the electoral umpire.

Defending its actions, the military claimed its officials arrested 17 suspected political thugs and recovered several arms and ammunition during the governorship election.

Making these disclosures while addressing reporters at its 2 Brigade Headquarters on Otiotio Road, Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State, Commander of the 2 Brigade Nigerian Army, Brig-Gen. Stevenson Olabanji, said the briefing was not only to attest to the high professionalism exhibited by soldiers, but to also create awareness among the public of the arrest of several political thugs with stolen Permanent Voter Cards and recovery of arms and ammunition during the election.

The brigade commander said troops were deployed in all local government areas of the state to support the police and secure INEC materials and officials, as well as to boost the confidence of the civilian population.

He observed that despite the presence of his troops and other security agencies, some thugs, armed with dangerous weapons tried to disrupt the smooth process of the election.

He said at the Clough Creek military checkpoint in Ekeremor area of the state, three youths were apprehended with suspected 30 PVCs and were duly handed over to the police for further investigation.

At Southern Ijaw Local Council that has now become contentious, he said his troops met a highly tense situation caused by members of contending political parties.

Olabanji also disclosed that his outfit had received information on the high influx of arms into the communities, particularly in Oporoma, the headquarters of the council.

He said: “Sporadic gunshots were later heard from Oporoma where it was discovered that unidentified rival gunmen had entered the community in an attempt to storm the INEC collation centre and hijack sensitive materials.

“It was this action that led to the swift response by troops of ‘Operation Safe Conduct’ to track down the miscreants. Consequently, there was an exchange of gunfire which led to the arrest of five suspects and recovery of five AK 47 rifles and some ammunition which were also handed over to the police.”

He recalled that the election in Southern Ijaw was shifted to December 6, 2015 so that the tense atmosphere in the council could be considerably reduced, but regretted that the sudden appearance of one of the candidates, fuelled the already charged atmosphere in Oporoma.

The brigade commander added: “The military officer in charge of the troops deployed in Oporoma also met the candidate and advised him to leave the area because his personal security could not be guaranteed at that time.”

Olabanji noted that on December 6, along Olugbobiri River, a speed boat conveying nine persons was intercepted while carrying five AK 47 rifles and some ammunition. He said the suspects were promptly arrested and handed over to the police, while the weapons and ammunition would be handed over to the police after.”

He assured the general public of the readiness of the military to act in line with the provisions of the Constitution in providing adequate security of lives and property during elections.

But the Bayelsa branch of the PDP disagreed with Olabanji, saying the military was being economical with the truth and that its operatives colluded with others to rig the election and breach the peace of the state.

In a statement titled “Southern Ijaw LGA: Stop telling lies over security lapses,” the Bayelsa Restoration Campaign Organisation (RCO) criticised the Joint Military Task Force (JTF) for exonerating itself from any complicity in the violence and malpractices which marred the recent election in Southern Ijaw LGA.

The RCO, an arm of the PDP, which said the security agency could have done better to forestall the violence that led to the cancelation of the election, also rejected the position of the JTF on being neutral and accused security agencies of colluding with others to rig the election.

RCO’s Director of Publicity, Jonathan Obuebite, blamed the JTF for the security lapse leading to the loss of lives in Southern Ijaw because, according to him, the task force did not heed the advice by the governor and others to postpone the election on account of anticipated violence.

He condemned the JTF for being partisan, stating that some of its officers worked with thugs loyal to the APC to undermine the entire electoral process in Southern Ijaw.

“It is only fit and proper for the JTF to own up to its failures and apologise to the people of Southern Ijaw for the despicable and unprofessional conduct of some of its officers who clearly were more interested in lining their pockets. It failed to give reasons why it withdrew the military security attached to the governor and giving order for them to be detained, thereby compromising the security of the governor,” he stated.

But the APC spokesman in Bayelsa, Egba Nathan, said Dickson should be blamed for the violence in Southern Ijaw and that condemnation of the security outfit by the PDP, was an attempt by Dickson to pull down all the respectable institutions, which had all become fair game to him.

Nathan said: “It is unfortunate that in his desperation to remain in office, Dickson was willing to pull everybody and every institution down with him, such that even highly respectable institutions like the military had become fair game to him.

‘‘We have watched in horror how Dickson has continuously denigrated the military by calling them all sorts of names and whipped up public sentiments against them by calling them an army of occupation, who must leave Ijawland.

‘‘We in the APC thank the military for speaking up and clarifying the situation, which has clearly vindicated our position. We wish, however, to assure all, that unlike Governor Dickson and the PDP, we will continue to remain peaceful, law-abiding even as we pursue the actualisation of our mandate with the announcement of the Southern Ijaw results.”