Share The Votes Not The Bullets
The Rivers State electoral re-run was not an election; it was war and the generals on both sides lived up to the billing. Like in wars, manifestoes or programmes were unnecessary. The All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) simply told the voters that they were ready for the expected violence. There were pre-election shootings and bombing. It was a question of how many will be killed or maimed, how many wives will become widows, children that will become orphans, and families that will lose their loved ones. There was no pretense that the gladiators wanted peaceful polls.
It was also quite tough because it is like a messy divorce with both sides drawing blood. The gladiators belonged to one electoral army before splitting right down to the ranks including sharing foot soldiers and enforcers. Both sides had similar tactics and strategy, and, not a few predicted that they will fight themselves to a standstill.
In preparation for the conflict, 16,000 extra policemen and fourteen units of Police Mobile Force were deployed to complement the 10,000 on the ground. Where each state has a Police Commissioner, three were dispatched along with, the AIG Zone 6, Calabar, Adisa Bolanta who had similar experience in Oyo State. The Army, State Security and other security agencies were deployed.
The generals were tested veterans of the political battle field and they performed to expectation. The Right Honourable Rotimi Amaechi, two-term Executive Governor of the State and current Honourable Minister of Transport, flew in from Abuja to take charge of his command. He revved up the battle of words by alleging that his opposite number, His Excellency Nyesom Wike, the Executive Governor, borrowed N45billion in the name of the state to pay himself and his cronies.
Wike, he declared is “grossly irresponsible, repugnant and contemptuous…” and claimed that his relationship with his erstwhile Chief of Staff became sour “because of his violence and corruption” So having realized Wike's proclivities, why, did he retain him? Amaechi said he was begged to manage him. Alright, why did he then recommend a man he claims is bound to violence and corruption to be a Minister of the Federal Republic? Amaechi again claimed that he was begged and “ I accepted so as not to appear stubborn and that's the worse decision I have made in my life”
In the campaign proper, the Minister said “Nyesom Wike is here (as governor) to steal money, he was my Chief of Staff. We will chase Wike's boys out of the water, now we have Dakuku Peterside as DG NIMASA.”
He told the electorate ‘If you see the money stolen by Nyesom Wike in the Ministry of Education you will be shocked. Every day you wake up to find out that Wike has killed somebody.”
Amaechi claimed that “ Wike is so desperate that he can sell his mother. On the day of the re-run, I am ready for Wike, they should come out with their guns, we are ready for them” This is an inference to the claims of Amechi's group, the APC, that Wike has a private army, and an admission that the APC is also armed.
The Minister also hinted at a plan to impose a state of emergency in the state: “If Wike cannot maintain law and order, the Federal Government will not abdicate from its responsibility; we will secure the lives of Rivers people”
Governor Wike was not to be outshined: “His (Amaechi's) antics are a diversionary campaign to evade justice, through the rigging of the rerun legislative polls this weekend, but he will be defeated and brought to account”. To him, “Amaechi lacks proper parental upbringing hence his desperation in the political arena…He is a psychiatric patient… He has vindicated us when he said that he has been given the army to rig the re-run elections. I know the Chief of Army Staff very well. He should not allow a psychiatric patient to use the Army to rig…Only a man with psychiatric disorder will compare his failed eight years in office to just eight months of the new administration.”
Wike turned to the electoral officers “Let me reiterate, if any INEC officer is bent on rigging the re-run elections, let him first tell his wife and children where his Will is located because he will be treated as a political armed robber.” “I will continue to threaten political armed robbers. I will stand firm against those who use guns to steal votes”
In a rather comical tune, he sang “Some people say that I am making inciting statements. I have never made any inciting statement. But I have always said the truth,”
The elections lived up to its billing; some electoral offices were barricaded, ballots seized and violence reigned. People were killed in places like Port Harcourt, Tai, Eleme and Abonema. Perhaps the most tragic being the murder of a Youth Corper, Mr. Samuel Okonta who was carrying out electoral duties. As for the results, only one of 11 House of Representative seats and 9 of 22 State Assembly seats were declared, the rest including the 3 Senatorial seats, in local parlance, entered voice mail. The re-run elections were conclusive.
A major casualty of the elections, was truth. For instance, was the Collation Officer for PHALGA Ward 10, Mrs. Ekwi Adebisa protecting or endangering the ballot, and was she abducted or arrested? Was there an assassination attempt on NIMASA Director General, Dakuku Peterside or is he a murderer? Did the Electoral Commission use fake or genuine result sheets?
The re-run was also a case of massive corruption; people used their power to dishonestly gather votes to their own advantage. Given this type of elections, it will be virtually impossible for honest people who have no armed gangs to win elections.
With this inconclusive elections, there is bound to be another re-run in Rivers State, and, a Senatorial candidate, Senator Magnus Abe on March 23, 2016 issued a shrill warning ahead of the new exercise:
“From today, anywhere any member of the APC is harassed, there will be a response. Anywhere, from today, where fire is opened on members of the APC in this senatorial district, there will be a response…Anybody who has two heads should bring out his second head to do whatever he wants to do within the senatorial district. Whatever affects the lives or threatens the lives of our members, we will no longer tolerate it. We are not women and we are not children too.”
But rather than share bullets in a re-run election, waste resources and lives, I suggest an alternative dispute resolution mechanism in which the APC and PDP would hold peace talks and share the elective posts.
Written by Owei Lakemfa.