Rivers State is on knife’s edge as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) resumes the collation of suspended governorship and State House of Assembly elections results tomorrow, Tuesday, amid fears that the exercise, which will conclude the most protracted elections, will be disrupted.
The abrupt suspension of the collation of governorship election result in particular on March 10 due to military and political thugs’ interference with the process and uncertainty caused by INEC, which claimed it already had results for 17 out of the 23 local government areas in the state and the need to expeditiously conclude the exercise and declare the winner has left Rivers State in political limbo.
Rather than douse tension, the delay to conclude the process has thrown up issues and Rivers State into further turmoil as top chieftains of All Progressives Congress (APC), which was barred from the general elections, and their ally, the African Action Congress (AAC), are said to be pressuring the presidency to prevail on INEC for outright cancellation of the election over allegation of fraud.
But the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state has denounced the fraud rhetoric, as fantasies designed to provoke violence to pave way for declaration of a state of emergency. Hope that the resumption of the collation will dissipate the tensed political atmosphere in the state has been ruptured by unnerving claims by the former deputy governorship candidate of AAC, Mr. Akpo Bomba Yeeh and the party’s state deputy chairman of AAC, Amezhinim Atuma, that all arrangements have been made to disrupt the collation and the announcement of the governorship and House of Assembly elections’ results.
Yeeh, who last week resigned his membership of AAC and defected to PDP said amidst outrage, APC and AAC members are still bent on subverting the manifest will of the people as they intend again to use security personnel to violently attack and attempt to frustrate and possibly prevent INEC from resuming results’ collation process from April 2 through 5, 2019 as already scheduled.
Similarly, Atuma who has also joined PDP hinged his decision to quit AAC on the plot to unleash mayhem on Rivers State if the collation resumes tomorrow.“As at March 27, 2019, every arrangement has been made to disrupt the collation and announcement of the governorship and House of Assembly elections’ results, as scheduled by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) between April 2 and 5, 2019,” he said. “There are plans to cause bloodshed, leading to total breakdown of law and order between April 1 and 5, 2019. This is in furtherance of their plan to create a state of emergency in Rivers State, wherein Governor Wike’s term in office would have expired.”
Following the spate of demonstrations in Port Harcourt by supporters of both PDP and APC/AAC, the state has been on edge since last week. In anticipation of the possibility of confrontation between the contending parties, the state government on Thursday night banned all public protests in the state till further notice.
However, Rivers APC factional publicity secretary, Chris Finebone, said the state government might be unaware that Rivers people and indeed Nigerians have inalienable right to peaceful protest.
According to him, “It is necessary at this point to inform Governor Wike that his ban on protest is simply a waste of time and space. Nigeria Police cannot enforce an illegal ban except the governor intends to deploy his usual gun-toting hoodlums. He should remember that this is not 2015; this is 2019. If the governor tries it, he will not like the outcome and he knows it.”
Barely a few hours after the protest ban, the police had to deploy teargas to disperse both PDP and APC supporters who were planning to demonstrate from Tombia Street at GRA Phase 2 to INEC’s office along Port Harcourt-Aba Expressway which had been cordoned off by security personnel amid threats of possible attack at the resumption of collation of results.
The state’s PDP chairman, Felix Obuah, has accused APC chieftains of organising demonstrations in a bid to scuttle the collation and announcement of the results of March 9, 2019 Governorship and State Assembly elections.“It is clear that the APC is kicking against government’s ban on public protests as the ban will deflate their plans to cause crisis in the state. It is now obvious that APC is angry over the ban on public protests. They had intended to hide under public protests and use it as a weapon to unleash mayhem on the state which will in turn scuttle the collation and declaration of the governorship election results.”
But Action Democratic Party governorship candidate, Victor Fingesi, has bemoaned the incessant demonstrations ahead of resumption of collation of the results. He regretted that one of the key responsibilities of politicians who are elected or appointed into offices which is to create meaningful jobs to better lives has been neglected and that they were hiring crowds for meaningless demonstration for and against the resumption of collation.
“Here in Rivers State, the trending job these politicians create for the teeming youths is to stage meaningless protests,” he lamented. “Today, I would refrain from blaming the politicians. I would rather blame those who gave themselves to be used for selfish purposes. Youths whose wealth is being used up on frivolities still walk under the scorching sun for protests they barely understand. What could be more degrading?”
Irrespective of the anxiety that now pervades the state, INEC has insisted it would still abide by its earlier scheduled activities for the completion of the outstanding electoral process in the state beginning from April 2 through 5. Also, supplementary election may be conducted where necessary on April 13 and results announced between then and 15 April.
INEC said the identified activities for the conclusion of the process flows from the careful auditing by the fact-finding team set up by the commission’s headquarters to review the circumstances that led to the suspension of the process. The commission has declared its commitment to ensuring that the electoral process is free, fair, transparent and credible in order to guarantee that the choice of the electorate prevails at the end of the exercise.
Fifty-six governorship candidates in the March 9 governorship election in Rivers State have urged INEC not to succumb to the blackmail of extraneous forces who want to subvert the outcome of the suspended election. The chairman of Rivers 2019 Governorship Candidates Forum, Mr. Samuel Ihunwor, during the forum’s visit to INEC’s office in Port Harcourt, urged the commission to without further delay resume the collation of the suspended election results so that the people and the state could move on.
“All we, the governorship candidates and Rivers people, are asking is that INEC should go ahead to resume the suspended process, conclude its collation and declare the results and eventual winner without allowing minute enemies of the state to compromise the results already in INEC’s kitty for 17 LGAs,” he said. Ihunwor, who is also the Independent Democratic’s governorship candidate, took a swipe at some elders, groups and political parties who have continued to live in denial of the misdeed of some Nigerian Army personnel who were overly partisan during the general election.
As he put it, “It is sad that a few, who are desperate to destroy Rivers, would pay a rented crowd in the guise of civil groups to praise the same military that was widely caught on videos that went viral and seen by international monitors to have invaded collations centres and caused the death of innocent people.”
Intrigues and verbal salvos over the suspended elections have escalated since INEC announced it would resume the collation on Tuesday. Accord Party’s governorship candidate, Dumo Lulu-Briggs, has recommended that INEC should disqualify both PDP and AAC for violently infringing on the rights of Rivers’ people to a free, fair and transparent elections.
“Accord Party ran descent campaigns and was being voted for across the state and I would ordinarily have asked that Accord be declared winner but would not because the integrity of the electoral processes had been breached by the activities of PDP and AAC and their collaborators,” he said.Similarly, APC’s disqualified governorship candidate, Tonye Cole, is of the view that since the suspension of the election has lasted over three weeks it would be grossly irresponsible to proceed with its conclusion.
According to him, “It is certainly the constitutional responsibility of INEC to conduct elections, collate and announce results in a credible and acceptable manner, open to the participation and scrutiny of the public at all times and within the eyeballs and participation of political parties and their agents throughout voting, collation and declaration. This process has been completely truncated and its sanctity defiled, the result of which I fear greatly can lead to anarchy and possible loss of additional lives.”
Mr. Cole, who wants the governorship election declared null and void, has urged INEC, the Federal Government, the international community, political parties and all those who care deeply about the state to make history by positioning her for a completely new round of proper elections that will allow the people make a true choice on who will lead them. Both PDP and AAC have declared they won the election ahead of the imminent announcement of the official results, thus deepening the political crisis.
It will be recalled that a day after the suspension of Rivers’ governorship election, AAC’s governorship candidate, Mr. Biokpmabo Awara, who is also canvassing for the cancellation of the election, had claimed he won the now contentious polls and had called on INEC to declare him winner. Awara said, “Some of the unit results announced at the polling units in the local government areas where collations were not concluded clearly before the suspension of the processes show that I won over 15 local government areas. This because in the local government areas that were affected, voting had concluded, results declared at the polling units and collation had begun before the abrupt suspension of the process. The commission does not have the power under our Electoral Act to suspend elections that have already been concluded.”
But Governor Wike, who has been unusually quiet, had poured scorn on the opposition AAC/APC alliance for attempting to snatch results at the collation centres all in futile efforts to circumvent the democratic process. According to him, when opposition members who were involved in electoral heist hijacked Form EC 8C, they forgot that there is Form EC 8A. “It is not in doubt that Rivers’ people have shown our party love,” he said. “What is happening is sad. It is a drama. We have 13 House of Representatives seats and PDP clinched all of them. We have three Senate seats; one has been declared and PDP won. When the remaining two seats are declared, PDP will win them. Eighty percent of the seats declared, PDP took all.
“You begin to wonder why any right-thinking person would say that PDP lost the governorship election. Not that they say PDP lost to a party with a known logo, or if you have seen the candidate one day in your life or seen his posters to make people vote for the candidate. For us, it is a drama. PDP won the election squarely.”It is obvious that whoever is declared winner should anticipate lawsuits challenging the outcome of the polls.