Resolving The Southern Ijaw Question
By DENNIS ALEMU
It is no longer news that the governorship election in Bayelsa State, which had been slated for Saturday, December 5, 2015 did not take place in most parts of Southern Ijaw LGA, as election materials could not get to more than 80 percent of the polling units in the area, thereby necessitating the cancellation of the election.
On the eve of the off-cycle gubernatorial election, the media was already awash with reports of pre-election disturbances along the Southern Ijaw waterways leading to Oporoma, the local government headquarters.
The grim security situation on the ground there could not guarantee the conduct of a free, fair and peaceful election in the volatile LGA. At least four persons were said have been killed at Oporoma in election-related violence on Saturday.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) advisedly had to put on hold the election on Saturday and rescheduled it for Sunday, December 6. Then again, the election was marred by violence, hijacking of election materials and kidnapping of INEC staff by armed thugs and taken to unknown destination for massive rigging and manipulation/manufacturing of non-existent results.
Alarming enough, the very members of the Nigerian military deployed in the state to secure the INEC staff and election materials for peaceful conduct of the election reportedly aided the thugs to hijack the materials and engaged in the rigging spree to favour a particular candidate and his party.
This hard fact about the botched election in Southern Ijaw LGA has been corroborated by the INEC officials in the field, party agents, independent election observers and reporters from both the print and electronic media.
The large-scale rigging that reportedly ensued in the aftermath of the hijacking of the election materials may find no parallel in the history of elections in Bayelsa State. According to eye-witness accounts, the scenario was nothing short of a coup to subvert the political will of the people of Southern Ijaw LGA.
It is really ironical that this sad development has reared its ugly head despite the elaborate logistics and security arrangements that had been put in place running into billions of naira, which ordinarily ought not to go wrong the way it has done.
It must be noted that even in the few registration areas like Amassoma where voting actually took place, election materials arrived very late and the people cast their votes in the night!
Since election materials did not get to about 80 percent of the over 3,000 polling units, prudence then dictated that the governorship election in Southern Ijaw LGA should be cancelled. That is exactly what the INEC has done in the interest of democracy in the country, and to preserve its own integrity.
The unrestrained violence that was unleashed on the people Southern Ijaw to deprive them of their constitutional right to vote in the election is to say the least barbaric, preposterous and horrendous. In fact, the issue calls into serious question the role of the Nigerian armed forces in public elections because allegations are rife about the complicity of the army in the failed flagrant attempt to disenfranchise about 70 thousand legitimate registered voters in the local government.
As preparations are being made to conduct a supplementary election in no distant time in Southern Ijaw LGA, all stakeholders_ including the political parties and their supporters, the INEC, the Police, the army, the electorate, the media and independent observers_must ensure that election materials get to all the polling units in good time and the election is conducted peacefully in the prescribed manner outlined in the Electoral Act. They must also make sure that the election is free, peaceful, fair and credible.
The people of Southern Ijaw LGA should be allowed to vote for their choice of candidates without any form of intimidation.
The Federal Government (FG) should put everything in place to ensure the security of lives and property in every part of Southern Ijaw LGA when the rescheduled election will hold, the date of which is yet to be made public by the INEC. The FG should also carry out a thorough investigation into the killings and the alleged complicity of the military personnel in sabotaging the electoral process. Those directly or vicariously responsible for the criminal acts should be fished out and punished according to the law. For too long, individuals have breached the electoral laws in this country with criminal impunity and got away with it without being prosecuted for their crimes.
Let the good people of Southern Ijaw LGA vote, and let their votes count. Nigerians demand no less.
Mr. Dennis, a public affairs analyst, writes from Yenagoa.
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