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The drama, violence of Bayelsa guber polls



Election ballot box

LAST weekend’s inconclusive governorship election in Bayelsa State has no doubt created an unprecedented stalemate in its politics by creating a huge divide among the players on the political field.

After a contentious electioneering campaign between the two leading political parties, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC), thousands of security personnel were deployed to provide security for the polls.
Despite the heavy security presence however, the election was characterized in some areas, particularly Southern Ijaw, Nembe, Ekeremor, Yenagoa, Sagbama and Brass, by tumultuous violence, ballot box snatching and voter intimidation.

It is worthy to note that the PDP, which has ruled Bayelsa state since 1999 and was in the process of completing an uninterrupted four-term despite alleged failure to fulfill previous promises to develop infrastructural and human capacity of the state, continued to gather considerable support from the political class during former President Goodluck Jonathan’s tenure.

Before the formation of the APC, many had anticipated that the fight over who becomes the next governor of the state would be fought within the PDP but the defeat of Jonathan and the death of the former governor, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, altered the equation.

Early signs that the election will be bitterly disputed emerged shortly after incumbent governor, Seriake Dickson of the PDP, concluded a nerve-wracking accreditation exercise due to the failure of the Card Reader to recognize his fingerprint, those of his wife and mother at Ward 2, Unit 6 polling unit at Toru-Orua community in Sagbama.

After his accreditation, the governor expressed his displeasure with the system, which he insinuated had been manipulated. He lamented that there has been premeditated attacks on his supporters in Ekeremor, Southern Ijaw and other places, resulting in the death of some persons. He explained that the orgy of violence purportedly unleashed on his supporters by this political opponents, was aimed at truncating his victory at the polls.

Meanwhile, prior to the accreditation of voters, gunmen who allegedly overpowered security men deployed to Ekeremor attacked the country home of the Minister of State for Agriculture, Heineken Lokpobiri who is the Director-General of the campaign team of the APC candidate, former governor Timipre Sylva.

The Campaign Organisation accused the PDP of importing over five thousand thugs from neighbouring states of Delta and Rivers to cause violence in Oporoma in Southern Ijaw LGA, where the APC State Chairman, Tiwei Orunimighe, hails from, Nembe, Brass, home of Timipre Sylva, and Ekeremor.

In Nembe-Ogbolomabiri it was alleged that two APC members were shot until the Military Task Force ordered every resident to go into their houses and remain in-doors. While in Sagbama town, one APC supporter was attacked.

Dickson had relied on relative popularity of Jonathan in Ogbia, to comfortably win the council with 13,051 votes to defeat the APC, which polled 9,106 votes.

In Nembe which is the hometown of the state Deputy-Governor, Gboribiogha John-Jonah, it was a fierce battle. The PDP had relied on John-Jonah and some other party bigwigs to poll a total of 10,768 votes while the APC had 6,974.

In Ekeremor, APC got 7, 918 and PDP polled 14, 602; in Brass APC scored 21, 755,and PDP 6,516; In Dickson’s council, Sagbama, APC polled 5,382 and the PDP 28,934; In the State capital Yenagoa APC had 14,563 while PDP got 24,258; and in Kolokuma/Opokuma APC scored 6,896 and PDP 7,619.

The upsurge of violence in Southern Ijaw particularly Oporoma its headquarters, caused tension and locked the electoral process in an impasse that culminated in INEC’s declaration of the polls as inconclusive.

Due to the desperation of both the PDP and APC to win the strategically important council at all cost, there was an upsurge of violence in the early hours of Saturday morning leading to the death of at least four persons. It was gathered that two ex-militant groups sympathetic to the two major contending political parties, engaged in several hours of gun battle. The victims were said to have died in the process of trying to hijack the accreditation and voting materials from the INEC office in the area.

As a result of this unpleasant development, accreditation could not start till well over 3pm. Because of the tensed situation, INEC resolved that it was not safe to distribute electoral materials and conduct elections, thus, the decision to postpone the polls till Sunday.

Concerned about the recourse to violence, Dickson decided to visit Oporoma, when rescheduled election was slated to take place accompanied by the Speaker, Mr. Kombowei Benson. But the governor was accused by the APC of visiting the area to protest against the rescheduled election, an allegation that the state government has refuted.

By Monday, while, the entire state anxiously awaited the result of the contentious local council, INEC released collated results of the other seven councils. Dickson polled 105,748 votes while Sylva trailed behind by 72,594 votes.
But as Dickson appeared to be cruising home to a comfortable victory, information flittered in that the APC had polled 80,000 votes in the awaited council, while the PDP had about 10,000.

Sensing that if the result was allowed, his dream of returning to office would be thwarted, the governor quickly raised alarm of electoral fraud on “industrial scale”, accusing the security agents and officials of election commission of helping to rig the poll at the behest of APC.

He accused soldiers deployed to monitor the rescheduled election of colluding with the APC and INEC to rig election in seven wards in the council and expressed regret that the commission failed to heed to plea by stakeholders for postponement of the election as a result of the security challenges in the area.

The governor complained that electoral materials meant for the election were distributed late in the night and subsequently hijacked by suspected APC thugs aided allegedly by military personnel. He claimed INEC ad hoc staff and corps members were held hostage for failure to accede to the request of some APC chieftains in the affected wards. Worst still, he accused APC members of hiding under the cover of darkness to perpetrate electoral fraud, which includes thumb printing of election materials and filling of the election result sheets.

What the Nigerian government is doing is a coup against democracy and subversion of my authority as governor and even of the peace and security of this state. If you asked, who is creating this mess, it is the APC-led Federal government deploying for the first time the military personnel to humiliate and attack people and forcing them to vote midnight. It has never happened anywhere in this Country. The reason for this avoidable mess in Southern Ijaw is because by the calculation of the APC-led government with tacit support of the military to forcefully hijack some election materials on that Sunday so that they can aid APC to write results without voting,” said Dickson.

It is believed that following the tension created by the governor’s protest and rejection of the impending outcome of the Southern Ijaw rescheduled election, the state Resident Electoral Commissioner, Baritor Kpagih, announced the cancellation of the result and announced that a new date for a fresh poll in the area would be announced in due course.

According to him, “Reports of the election conducted on December 6, 2015 in Southern Ijaw LGA reveals that the election was substantially marred by violence, ballot box snatching, hostage taking of electoral officials including reports from political parties, observers — local and foreign — among others.
“This falls short of internationally accepted standards for credible election. Consequently, the Commission has decided in the interest of the integrity of the commission to cancel the election in Southern Ijaw. A new date for the conduct of the election in Southern Ijaw LGA will be announced in due course”.

But Sylva rejected the cancellation and described the action of INEC as a blatant rape on democracy. He said it was disturbing that INEC failed to cancel election in Ekeremor even when it was aware of the vicious attack on the home of Lokpobiri and others.

While urging INEC to also cancel results declared in Sagbama and Nembe due to reported violence recorded in these areas, Sylva said, “The INEC leadership in Bayelsa State have been around in the state for a while, they have been returning PDP over the years and that has just played out again.”

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