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In Rivers the stakes are high

By Emmanuel Onwubiko
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“The day is done, and the darkness falls from the wings of night, as a feather is wafted downward from an eagle in his flight”; (“The Day is Done,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow).

The first stanza of the aforementioned poem by the American Poet Mr. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow perfectly captures what to expect from the bags of tricks of the unimpressive hierarchy of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) tomorrow March 20th 2019 as regards the suspended Rivers State’s governorship poll in which the untoward activities of some operatives of the Nigerian Army frustrated its completion.

On March 16th 2019, the Independent National Electoral Commission said it would continue collation of results in Rivers State but further kept everyone in suspended animation by saying only that it will unveil what would be done on March 20th.

Although no dates were immediately assigned for the resumption of electoral process, the commission said it would on March 20 make available a detailed plan on how the exercise would continue in earnest.

Recall that the collation of results and other activities for Rivers State governorship and other state parliamentary elections were suspended on March 10 following widespread report of violence and other forms of intimidation that prevented electoral officers from seamlessly performing their roles. Many lives were lost needless including soldiers and civilians.

The electoral commission said Nigerian soldiers and some armed gangs contributed to the confrontation that culminated in the charged atmosphere that made it difficult for electoral officers to continue with collation at the state INEC headquarters in Port Harcourt, the state capital, prompting the suspension of all electoral processes on March 10. This show of shame predictably was captured by the World media thus bringing global opprobrium on Nigeria.

The media reviewers were of the considered opinion that the postponement drove a wedge between major political parties and INEC, with the People’s Democratic Party and the All Progressives Congress warning against subversion of the people’s will at the ballot box.

The media alluded to the fact that even the APC, which does not have a candidate in the race following a legal dispute, said the PDP was already losing the election to the candidate of AAC, a party many state residents weren’t familiar with until days to the election. The man being propped up by Rotimi Amaechi to all intents and purpose is an unknown quantity whose latter day affiliation with APC was rejected by the national executive council of his party- a party founded by the activist Omowole Sowore who sees APC as one of the debilitating leprous fingers of Nigerian politics.

This is how INEC saw what happened:
“On the 10th of March 2019, the commission suspended all electoral processes in Rivers State having determined that there was widespread disruption of collation of results of the elections conducted on the 9th day of March 2019.

Subsequently, the commission set up a fact-finding committee to assess the situation and report back within 48 hours."

"The commission met on the 15th day of March 2019 and considered the report of the committee and established the following: That the governorship and state assembly elections took place in most of the polling units and results were announced; That results from 17 local governments out of 23 were available and are in the commission’s custody; That the declaration and returns for 21 state constituencies out of 32 were made prior to the suspension; That collation centres were invaded by some soldiers and armed gangs resulting in the intimidation and unlawful arrest of election officials thereby disrupting the collation process."

INEC then affirmed thus: "Consequent upon the foregoing, the commission: Expresses its displeasure with the role played by some soldiers and armed gangs in Rivers State disrupting the collation process and attempting to subvert the will of the people; Is committed to expeditious completion of the collation process where results of the elections have been announced; Will engage the security agencies at national level and the inter-agency consultative committee at the state level to demand neutrality and professionalism of security personnel in order to secure a peaceful environment for the completion of the elections; Will also engage with key stakeholders in Rivers State with a view to ensuring a smooth and peaceful completion of the process; Will issue detailed timelines and activities for the completion of the election on Wednesday, March 20th, 2019.”

The truth remains that the stakes are so high because Rivers is the most prosperous of the few crude oil producing states in Nigeria and is administered by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) which is the leading national opposition party.

Besides, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) had defeated the All Progressives Congress in the 2015 governorship poll which resulted in the emergence of the activist minister of education Mr. Nyesom Wike to assume the mantle of governor of Rivers State.

Wike displaced the political godson of the immediate past Governor Mr. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi who is inevitably one of the top most respected leaders and financiers of the All Progressives Congress which went on in 2015 to sweep away the then central government controlled by the PDP.

Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi was the Director General of the Muhammadu Buhari’s presidential campaign in both 2014/2015 and again during this just concluded presidential polls.

But more importantly, the current federal administration has special interest in Rivers State going by its pride of place in the economy of the country even as the state is uniquely positioned as one of the most commercially viable sub-entities in the Federation.

The PDP led administration of Nyesom Wike seems to have tightened its stronghold on the state going by the extensively acknowledged infrastructural milestones achieved in the last four years. Even the Vice President Professor Yemi Osinbanjo called Governor Nyesom Wike Mr. Projects because of the sheer quantum of intensive capital infrastructural projects being implemented by the Rivers State government under the current dispensation.

But the ongoing electoral process in Rivers State has been marred by cocktails of violence occasioned by the unlawful interferences, according to INEC of some armed security forces.

The Minister of Transportation Mr. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi is fingered as having allegedly paraded the streets of Port Harcourt with battalions of armed soldiers on the day of the election but he has denied this allegation.

INEC repeated the indictment of the Army.
Ironically, the Rivers election fiasco has pitted the Army against the Independent National Electoral Commission even as the Army has also got serial bashing from the international community regarding their illegal direct interferences with the collation of the Rivers state’s governorship result.

On another hand, the Rivers election has also opened another battle line between the Army and the Police.

A reading of the reaction of the Army to the indictment made by INEC shows how critical the governorship election in Rivers has become.

Following the unprofessional conduct of some military personnel during the March 9, 2019 governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections, especially the invasion of the collation centre in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has said that it did not request for the deployment of soldiers in its collation centres.

“I am not aware that the commission requested for the deployment of soldiers in collation centres,” INEC National Commissioner and Chairman of Voter Education and Publicity Committee, Mr. Festus Okoye, told the media recently.

He said the commission would, therefore, hold high level meetings with the leadership of security agencies before the conduct of supplementary elections scheduled for Saturday to avoid a repeat of what happened in the earlier elections. That meeting held but the verbal exchanges and acrimonies have not abetted.

In what is the most disturbing institutional confrontation between three central agencies, the Army issued a clear rebuttal on the indictments by INCE hanging on its neck like the sword of Damocles.

Headquarters 6 Division Nigerian Army (NA) said they have observed with dismay and sense of betrayal in the statement made by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) signed by its National Commissioner and Chairman Information and Voter Education Committee Festus Okoye Esq. on 15 March 2019. The statement according to INEC was the findings of its Fact-Finding Committee that assessed the situation in Rivers State.

The Army said: "It is however pertinent to note that, representatives of the 6 Division met with the Fact-Finding Committee on Tuesday 12 March 2019 at the INEC Headquarters in Port Harcourt and had honest discussions and made a written submission to aid the Committee in its task. Regrettably, none of the Division’s input from any of the findings of INEC as made public. This clearly indicates lack of trust by an institution that the NA sacrifices so much to assist in the course of performing their role."

According to the Army, the genesis of the suspension of Governorship/State House of Assembly elections process in Rivers State is unrelated to their action.

Hear the Army: "What INEC failed to mention or even consider is the fact that at about 10:30 pm on Saturday 9th March 2019, troops of 6 Division NA detailed at the outer perimeter of Obio/Akpor Local Government Headquarters Collation Center were brazenly attacked by Governor Wike’s security aides and armed thugs who stormed the collation center with the Governor in a convoy of more than 50 vehicles while collation of results was going on. In the ensuing melee, Captain Adams Salami was shot at close range by the security aides of Governor Wike while Corporal Adeosun Adebayo was matcheted by Governor Wike’s thugs. Both victims are currently receiving treatment at University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital (UPTH) Intensive Care Unit and Military Hospital Port Harcourt respectively with life threatening injuries. Thereafter, election materials were carted away and electoral officials abducted by the Governor’s thugs to an unknown destination. This was made known to the INEC Fact-Finding Committee but INEC does not see it worth condemning or mention in its report."

"Consequently, after due consultations and considerations between 6 Division and the Rivers State Police Command on Sunday the 10th of March 2019, the Rivers State Police Command, on their own, – took the initiative to invite the media to the hospitals where the 2 victims are receiving treatment and thereafter to host a press conference on the matter with the view to dissociate itself from the unprofessional conduct exhibited by their men attached to Wike and tell the public what disciplinary action the command will take or is already taking. However, while the visit to the victims was accomplished and the 2 victims interviewed by the media, the press conference was aborted by the Police after journalists have been assembled."

"Coincidentally, a rescheduled press conference on the matter was also aborted on Thursday the 14th of March 2019. Most disheartening is that while the Rivers State Police Command accepts the involvement of their personnel in the attack at Obio/Akpor LG Headquarters, till date those personnel have not at least been reprimanded."

"To this end, – in the circumstance, – the 6 Division NA as a stakeholder in the 2019 General Elections takes exception to the lopsided and therefore unfair INEC report and is hereby strongly and totally rejected by the NA."

"The Division is equally disappointed with the attitude exhibited by the Nigerian Police in this regard and hereby request the police leadership to commence full scale investigation of those security aides to Governor Wike that attacked troops at the Obio/Akpor LG Headquarters Collation Center and shot at Capt AA Salami with a view to appropriately sanction those found responsible/culpable. Until that is done, Headquarters 6 Division NA will have to review all existing joint activities with the Rivers State Police Command." These statements were made by the Deputy PRO of the Army in Rivers state.

To be honest, this is not how to run a government at the center. The entire scenarios need to be investigated and operatives found to have obstructed the collation of the results be arrested and prosecuted. INEC in matters of election is the direct supervisory agency. The Army which is lawfully conducting its internal security operations cannot lawfully be directly involved in the actual conduct of the election. To even get into confrontation with the police and INEC says a lot regarding why the Army chief of Staff Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai should transparently ensure that indicted armed operatives are named, shamed, prosecuted and sanctioned appropriately. Nobody is above the law. If the Army has valid proofs of its allegation against anyone then let the law take its full course but in this Rivers debacle the Nigerian Army has been indicted severally. The Army should do inward clean up exercise.

The governor of Rivers state Barrister Ezenwo Nyesom Wike through his commissioner for information Barrister Emma Okah flatly denied the allegations of the Army made against the governor and stated that the Army has entangled itself in a web of unprofessional conducts and therefore is frantically searching for whom to transfer their well deserved self inflicted blame on.

*Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko is the head of Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria and blogs @ www.huriwanigeria.com ; www.huriwa.blogspot.com ; www.emmanuelonwubiko.com ; www.thenigerianinsidernews.com .

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Emmanuel Onwubiko and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."