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South-South: Fanning embers to destroy democracy

By Kelvin Ebiri (Port Harcourt), Inemesit Akpan-Nsoh (Uyo),  Julius Osahon (Yenagoa) and Sony Neme (Asaba)
02 December 2018   |   3:06 am
Tempers have started running high and a major political conflagration is now brewing between the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the Niger Delta over a perceived plot to use the Nigeria Police Force to subvert the 2019 general elections. Since the violent seizures of power through the barrel of the…

Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly

Tempers have started running high and a major political conflagration is now brewing between the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the Niger Delta over a perceived plot to use the Nigeria Police Force to subvert the 2019 general elections.

Since the violent seizures of power through the barrel of the gun has become an aberration, it appears political elite in this dispensation have devised other ways of usurping power, including the use of the police to coerce opponents and subvert the democratic process.

Ahead of the 2019 general elections, governors of Rivers, Akwa Ibom, and Bayelsa states (all of the PDP, which controls five out of the six states in the region), have raised the alarm, alleging that they are being subjected to an “undeclared state of emergency” following a grand plot by the APC to wield the police as a political weapon, with a view to rigging the 2019 polls.

The violent showdown in the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly last week, and the inconclusive violence ridden Port Harcourt State Constituency 3 election in August, have both demonstrated clearly that as far as elections are concerned, the impartiality of the police has been put to further doubt.

The unfolding political unrest in Akwa Ibom State, considered by political observers as a sad spectacle, is a pointer to the fact that the 2019 elections will be imperiled in the Niger Delta if the Police fail to guarantee neutrality peace and security so that members of the electorate are able to cast their votes for candidates of their choice without any fear or intimidation.

Prior to the unfolding politically-motivated upheaval in Uyo, Governor Udom Emmanuel’s administration had made conscientious efforts to rid the state of kidnappers, armed robbers and sundry agents of the underworld.

But suddenly, the situation according to state operatives began to deteriorate following the incessant deployment of police commissioners in the state.

It would be recalled that during the 80th birthday of former state governor, Obong Victor Attah, Emmanuel told the bewildered audience that within 24 hours, the state has had four police commissioners as part of grand plot to rig the 2019 elections.

What really lent credence to the fears in the state includes the redeployment of former Commissioner of Police, Mr. John Abang, barely one month after he was posted to the state.

Some observers believe that Abang’s sin was professionally bringing under control, the fracas that erupted in the state Assembly on November 20th. He was credited with preventing weapons-wielding political hoodlums from accessing the Assembly complex.

The following day, the National Chairman of APC, Adams Oshiomhole, accused him of taking sides with the PDP. Hence, it is widely believed that his redeployment and the deployment of incumbent commissioner, Mr. Musa Kimo, may not be unconnected with the statement allegation made by Oshiomhole.

Governor Emmanuel while briefing newsmen in the wake of the invasion of the Assembly, accused Kimo of complicity, for allowing five suspended opposition lawmakers access to the state Assembly.

He described the act as a serious rape on democracy intended to precipitate a conflict that will disrupt governorship election in the state on March 2, 2019 to a suitable date, for massive deployment of security agents to the state to rig the elections.

“This is a war that has been declared. I have never heard where the Nigerian Police support illegality. This is the first time where the entire structure is supporting a particular political party. We don’t have the police; we don’t have anything to protect us but we have God. This is in line with their plans.”

He continued: “We have their script and they want to cause mayhem in the state so that governorship election would not be held in Akwa Ibom State the same day that the general election would be held across the country. That is what they are trying to perpetuate now.

So, if we cannot hold election same day with others, they should forget about election in Akwa Ibom State. Which country has this ever happened? We have reported this, yet they ignored our complaints; I have told the AIG Operations who is supposed to call the commissioner to order, he promised to do so, but nothing has been done,” he said.

With the Police High Command taking its time to pay attention to Emmanuel, who is battling to maintain calm in the state, the Akwa Ibom Elders Vanguard, has said that the unfolding political antics points to the fact that the Federal Government was merely “testing the waters” to see the reaction of people of the state towards next year’s general elections.

According to spokesperson of the group, Senator Anietie Okon, plans have been concluded to foist an “imaginary crisis-like” situation in the state so as to declare a-state-of- emergency.
 
“The posting and reposting of police commissioners to the state is because they have not seen the one that will play their cards accordingly.

Enough is enough. They should not dare us; they should allow the state to continue to enjoy the peace it is known for within and outside the country. We strongly reiterate our position that no level of intimidation will be allowed to plunge our state into the anarchical dictates of federal elements, whether EFCC, the Nigerian Police or military.

It is apparent that the current leadership of our nation hasn’t fully come to terms with how democracy works, and is bent on wielding power through the butt of the gun,” he added.

The deployment and redeployment of eight commissioners of police to Bayelsa State in the last six months, is equally fuelling political tensions and anxiety there ahead of the 2019 general election.

The state government is highly suspicious that the police hierarchy may be playing out the scripts written by APC chieftains in the state as they strive to force political power from the ruling party.

Paradoxically, insecurity in the state has continued to deteriorate, while the two contending parties are blaming each other for the frequent changes.

The first salvo was fired by the governor of the state, Seriake Dickson, when the current commissioner, Joseph Mutan, was re-posted to the state for the second time in less than four months. This, in addition to the posting of three new directors of the Department of State Services (DSS) within a short time, many said portends a threat to the prevailing peace of the state.

Consequently, Seriake cautioned the Federal Government against undermining peace and stability in the state and the Niger Delta, using state apparatuses.
 
“A new commissioner of police that they sent to Bayelsa State has been redeployed and they have brought the one they claim to be their party member to police the state so that they can use cult boys to kill and destabilise our state. But my message to President Muhammadu Buhari is that he should not allow the authority of any state to be undermined. He should not also allow the peace and stability of any state to be subverted for flimsy partisan considerations.”

Similarly, the Bayelsa State House of Assembly, which held an emergency session to express concern over the incessant replacement of police chiefs, claimed the trend has destroyed the security architecture of the state, and called on the inspector general to disregard calls for the disbandment of the state’s security outfit, Operation Doo Akpohas.

In same vein, the state PDP Chairman, Moses Cleopas, accused prominent APC leaders of working in tandem with the Federal Government in the CP deployment saga, primarily to instill fear in the citizenry and create a siege mentality ahead of the upcoming elections.

But the APC through its state publicity secretary, Doifie Buokoribo, and Minister for State of Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, described the allegation as spurious, saying the state government and the PDP were trying to score cheap political points.

Buokoribo said while the APC is not in any way perturbed about the PDP crying wolf needlessly, the question it continues to pose is, “why is PDP jittery and unsettled over what is otherwise a purely security matter and seeking to score cheap political point.

“Perhaps, the only way to explain the action of the PDP is to say that the party is already aware of the electoral failure that awaits it in the coming polls in Bayelsa State come next year, and therefore has decided ahead of time, to concoct excuses to justify its coming electoral doom.”

On his part, Lokpobiri’s media aide, Mr. George Oji, said the minister was appalled that elected political office holders instead of facing the serious issues of governance, go about maliciously associating his person with the postings going on in the police, which is entirely the prerogative of the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris.

While the gladiators continue in their war of words, the security situation in the state is deteriorating, the people live in fear, and a worried atmosphere what will happen in 2019 as both parties get ready to battle for the soul of the oil and gas-rich Bayelsa State.

IN Rivers State, it is not unusual for police officers to be used as foot soldiers by powerful cronies of the Federal Government to treacherously undermine a sitting governor and possibly sway outcome of elections.

Between 2013 and 2014, a former Commissioner of Police, Joseph Mbu, triggered public outrage as he, without restraint, attempted severally to undermine the administration of then Governor Chibuiike Amaechi, who was one of the arrowheads of the opposition against then President Goodluck Jonathan’s regime.

As was the case then, there is currently no love lost between Governor, Nyesom Wike and police authorities that have posted about eight commissioners to the state since the governor assumed office in 2015.

The breakdown in relationship between Wike and the police for instance, started during the March and December 2016 rerun legislative elections, as well as the botched Port Harcourt Constituency 3 by-elections.

Wike had accused the police of conducting itself with the mindset of serial foot soldiers of the APC, and as such do pose a danger to both the forthcoming polls and governance in general.

The state government hinged its conviction on the fact that the Federal Government intends to use a Commander of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), Mr. Akin Fakorede, who was caught on tape and seen on national television brutalising an electoral officer at a collation centre in the December 2016 rerun election to rig the 2019 polls.

Since the inception of the Wike-led administration in 2015, the state government has accused SARS operatives of organised election rigging, extra judicial killings, armed robbery, kidnapping, extortion, planting of incriminating evidence on innocent people, or their property, illegal arrest and detention, inhuman and degrading treatment of innocent people and rape.

The state has also declared that it suspects that SARS might be running the armed wing of the APC in Rivers State. Firstly because it assisted the party to rig the last rerun election, and was perfecting another strategy to rig the 2019 general election in the state.

SARS, the state government noted, has been programmed to disorganise its security architecture and foist an atmosphere of crime infestation and continuously cause security disorder until the 2019 elections when the squad will execute its final assignment and deliver APC at all cost during the poll.

Wike’s apprehension about the neutrality of the police also stems from the failure of the police to investigate and prosecute those that were arrested in the D/Line area of Port Harcourt for printing fake ballot papers with INEC’s authentic serial numbers intended for use in the December 2016 re-run election.

The governor, who is seen alongside Governor Emmanuel as being politically vulnerable because of the array of powerful APC henchmen on the offensive against them, last week asserted that the conflict in Akwa Ibom State clearly depicts that the Federal Government was working with security agencies to disrupt 2019 governorship elections in both states.

“When I raised the alarm that the Federal Government is plotting to plant 800 guns in Rivers State to destabilise the state, it is the truth. It is real. The Federal Government working with the security agencies is planning to disrupt the 2019 governorship elections in Rivers and Akwa Ibom states. It wants to ensure that the elections do not hold along side other states so that they can mobilise security agencies to manipulate the results,” he said.

Due to the frosty relationship between the state and the security agencies, Governor Wike decided to set up the Rivers State Neighbourhood Safety Corps Agency as the state owned security outfit.

But the opposition, APC which had kicked against the agency, claimed that the budget of N22b for security this year was a ploy to procure arms and ammunition for the corps, whose members will be used to unleash attack on them during the polls.

Last Thursday, armed troops from the 6 Division of the Nigerian Army stormed the training camp of the outfit at Nonwa in Tai Local Council and dispersed about 3, 000 recruits before shutting down the base.

The army claimed that its preliminary investigations revealed that the camp was an illegal militia training camp similar to those discovered and disbanded in Benue and Taraba states.

But the state government has accused the army of illegally disrupting the further selection and screening of applicants into the state’s security outfit.

In reaction, Wike accused the army of having been transformed into a political weapon, adding that the disruption of the training programme is the worst act of irresponsibility aimed at instigating insecurity in the state.

“Zamfara and Kogi states have vigilante groups. They commissioned them and the Chief of Army Staff did nothing. The House of Assembly passed a law approving the Rivers State Neighbourhood Safety Corps Agency. The Chief of Army did not challenge the law in court, but today he sent troops to invade the training camp,” he said.

Governor Wike said the state government worked with the Police, the DSS and other federal agencies to ensure that only law-abiding citizens were recruited by the agency.

“We did not hire boys for political reasons. This has been a transparent process and that is why the personnel are trained at the NYSC Orientation Camp at Nonwa. We involved the police and the DSS to ensure that the trainees are profiled for the good of the society. The main aim of this agency is to assist security agencies with intelligence and information, since there is a lacuna in this regard,” he said.

AS the race to 2019 general election in Delta State draws closer, daunting security challenges posed by leading and contending candidates are looming large.

In fact, the battle line appears to have been drawn between the PDP and APC.

Already, feelers from the three senatorial districts are not cheery as those who decamped owing to perceived irregularities and glaring injustices during the last primaries are seething with anger and ready to pay their former parties back in their own coins just to prove a point.

As political tension continues to rise, government is conscious of the fact that state apparatuses have remained prisoners of the ruling party.

However, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, has called on those trying to foment crisis in the state using oil surveillance contract as a ploy to desist as such could cause economic challenges to the nation.

Okowa made the call in Asaba when he addressed aggrieved youths from host communities to OML 30 and some ex-agitators from phases one to three of the Presidential Amnesty programme.

“I want to advise that whosoever is plotting against those who are benefiting through the process of surveillance contracts and are being empowered, to allow Delta State to remain peaceful because in peace, we will be able to produce and export more crude oil, and through this, the nation and the state will ultimately gain,” he said.

The governor who addressed the protesters after the state security council meeting, urged them to remain peaceful as his administration would take necessary actions to address their grievances.

“It is our hope that nobody, especially as oil prices are going down, should take any action that will foil the quantity of oil that we are currently producing.”

The manifest deployment of troops in the convoys of politicians in the Niger Delta in the build-up to the general election is bothering many, including the leader of Initative for Credible Election, Ledum Mitee.

“Nowadays how connected a politician is to power is tested by the number of vans of soldiers that guide him and his family members. What this does is that it sends a message of intimidation to the opponents, conveying the impression that the playing field is anything but level.

This can invariably set off a chain reaction by those so intimidated to seek their protection elsewhere, including through self help.

The point here is that any such posturing sends a message of partisanship by the state, which can trigger a feeling of hopelessness and lack of trust in the state security apparatuses on the part of the disadvantaged opponents.

This invariably can lead them to seeking their protection from non-state insecurity forces, and thus violence,” he said.

He warned that when this trend is added to reports of violence against some politically exposed persons being ignored by the police and other security agents, a dangerous cocktail of violence would ensue through what political opponents may see as an inevitable need to resort to self-help.

0.The outcome is usually the violent confrontations that will be seen on election days.