URGENT APPEAL FOR INTERVENTION AS THE PEOPLE OF OGONI IN NIGERIABATTLE AGAINST ARMED FORCES SENT TO RIG DEMOCRATIC ELECTIONS IN RIVERS STATE
NIGERIA: AN OPEN LETTER TO UNITED STATES PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA, EUROPEAN UNION LEADERS, UNITED NATIONS SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN KI-MOON, NIGERIA'S PRESIDENT GOODLUCK JONATHAN AND INEC CHAIRMAN, PROF ATHAHIRU JEGA
URGENT APPEAL FOR INTERVENTION AS THE PEOPLE OF OGONI IN NIGERIA BATTLE AGAINST ARMED FORCES SENT TO RIG DEMOCRATIC ELECTIONS IN RIVERS STATE
Today, May 1, 2011 at the end of the third day of broadbased consultation and meetings in Ogoniland:
1. The Ogoni people have resolved not to recognize any government formed in Rivers State by the PDP Candidate Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi. The Ogoni people have reasonable grounds to disbelieve that the Governorship and House of Assembly elections of April 26, 2011 produced any credible result to enable Amaechi to form a legitimate representative government in Rivers State.
2. The Ogoni will take further steps to actualize their rights and freedoms as an indigenous people based upon values, interests and principles set out in the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples that was adopted on September 13, 2007; unless the elections in question are cancelled and fresh polls conducted.
In 1972, Pope John Paul VI said: “If you want peace work for justice.” As a people, the Ogoni have always insisted on good governance based upon the rule of law; to make us realize justice. “Remove justice and what are kingdoms, but gangs of criminals on a large scale,” said St. Augustine.
For the sake of peace, I appeal to people of conscience throughout the world, particularly United States President Barack Obama and leaders of the European Union; well known for their concern for democracy in Nigeria and interest in trading relationship with Nigeria to promptly put pressure on Nigeria, especially President Goodluck Jonathan and INEC Chairman, Prof. Athahiru Jega to immediately take all necessary measures to cancel the phony elections.
During the 26th April Governorship and House of Assembly Elections, the INEC cooperating with the PDP Candidate led-Government of Rivers State sent armed forces in military trucks to invade more than 500 polling stations in Ogoniland. At least 1,000 polling agents that represented Hope Democratic Party (HDP) and the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) were threatened and physically attacked. The forces halted voting, snatched ballot boxes and disallowed counting of votes at polling stations as required by Electoral Act 2010. I was in my village of Teyork (formerly called Teyor Kaani). At the time that the armed forces arrived, I was on the phone with a representative of the E.U. Observer Mission. The E.U. representative heard sounds of intensive shootings by armed forces snatching ballot boxes. It lasted over one hour at that particularly polling station. The armed forces snatched the ballot box at that Unit No. 9 in Ward 6 of Khana Local Government Area, where I had voted. Accreditation ended at about 12.30 pm and was followed by voting until about 3.51pm Nigerian Time. The armed forces had arrived in four military vehicles. The one with registration label PF1907 was blaring siren. Similarly, the combined forces in different and separate groups of soldiers (JTF), Mobile Police Force and Regular police went round Ogoniland to snatch ballot boxes. The forces sort of replaced the socalled militants in past elections. The INEC officers appointed to conduct the elections cooperated with the armed forces. The content of this correspondence should be investigated and verified, for the avoidance of doubt, misinterpretation or misrepresentation.
WHERE IS THE ELECTORAL ACT 2010?
Whereas declaration of result in case of election petition shall be subject to review by a tribunal or court proceedings under the Act, I note that it does not take away the fundamental responsibility of INEC to perform and fulfill its statutory obligations. Otherwise, to merely violate the Act in the conduct of elections as we have seen; and thereafter, simply delays and pass the responsibility to a tribunal or court makes the Commission a stooge for deceit, oppression and tyranny. The unavoidable delay undermines confidence in the democratic process. The Ogoni people were poised to produce the governor of Rivers State for the first time; since the State was created 34 years ago. There is also the Local Government Elections coming attached with Ogoni referendum.
The manner and ways the elections were conducted violated the entire Electoral Act 2010, specifically provisions in sections 42 through section 76. All requirements of the Act were violated. The Act requires election materials before poll, polling stations for voting and counting of votes; publicly announced polling result in the presence of polling agents entitled to witness counting of votes. The day and hours were fixed for elections. The citizens were entitled to vote and be voted for. There were designated locations of polling stations where ballot boxes got displayed in the full view of all that were present before the armed forces stormed. Issuing of ballot papers to voters was forcefully disrupted by the armed forces. This prevented the Open Secret Ballot voting provided in the Act. The invaders destroyed ballot boxes where they could not snatch them.
The elections were totally inconclusive and were never credible to produce any final result. The reason that the Movement for Survival Ogoni People (MOSOP) decided to participate in the 2011 elections was to encourage effort by Nigeria to reshape its self-government or democracy. If INEC is not in a position to guarantee the application of the Electoral Act 2010, then we are now realizing that there are no rules for public participation in Nigeria's elections. The mere existence of INEC would just compound the already complex political tangle in Nigeria. For me, to vote and be voted for; without constraint begins the actual formation of a legitimate representative government.
MOSOP CAN ONLY ACCEPT GENUINE DEMOCRATIC PROCESS
The Ogoni story has been an agonizing episode of struggle for freedom, liberty, equity anf fairness. MOSOP was founded by late Ken Saro-Wiwa to set things right. The body is generally accepted by the Ogoni people as their socio-political and cultural apex body and or, a collective voice of the Ogoni people. Following the 26th April Poll, MOSOP has received nearly six thousand complaints rejecting the outcome of the elections. MOSOP takes very serious the yearnings of the Ogoni people. One of INEC obligations is to verify results before making formal declaration, which was not done in the situation in question. It will be wasteful for INEC to continuously take cover under what it hopes the court and tribunal can achieve; instead to investigate lapses cases requiring mere administrative actions to rectify. MOSOP is poised to pursue its legitimate and constitutional tactics to realize the dreams and aspirations of the Ogoni people; where genuine democratic process has been violated with impunity.
SUGGESTIONS FOR GENUINE CONDUCT OF FRESH POLLS IN RIVERS STATE
1) Conduct these fresh elections with the help of camera monitoring at every polling station as planned for the 2015 elections. Let Rivers State serves as a pilot for this new INEC policy. Explore possibilities of live streaming, at least at collation centers.
2) Organize, enable and encourage international observers to observe those real free and fair elections from accreditation to close of poll to avoid armed forces coming at the close of poll to snatch ballot boxes. This plan should include arrangement not to shift dates so that members of foreign delegations get into difficulty because of other responsibilities, and granting of visa to foreigners who want to travel to the area around the time of election. I learnt that there was an alleged computer problem in Abuja between the 16th and the 26th of April that made it impossible for people to fly in from at least one country, but possibly more.
3) Ask if the ballots were kept in a safe place, so thumb prints can be studied.
4) Record all incoming calls at the election hotlines for future reference. The head of REC simply refused to take incoming calls seriously, immediately dismissing complaints and put down the phone. That attitude was unhelpful and conspiratorial.
5) As the April 26, 2011 poll was largely fraudulent, urgent measures that will apply to Ogoniland in order to prevent heavy shootings and hijacking in the future, should extend to other parts of Rivers State.
1. INEC should re-conduct Governorship and House of Assembly Elections to pave way for formation of legitimate representative government in Rivers State.
2. INEC should condemn the invasion of polling stations by the armed forces in Rivers State.
3. The snatching of ballot boxes should be punished as blatant violation the Electoral Act 2010.
4. INEC should further carry out procedural verification process to publicly explain such violations of the Electoral Act 2010 during the recent polls.
5. INEC should offer immediate apology to the Ogoni people and other citizens in Rivers State for the way the PDP Candidate in Rivers State involved and colluded with armed forces to snatch ballot boxes.
6. INEC should pay compensation to the Ogoni people and other citizens and residents that suffered from gunshots, got beaten and were manhandled on April 26, 2011.
7. INEC should take full responsibility for the elections' failure and to take all necessary measures to prevent further involvement of armed forces in snatching ballot boxes in future fresh elections.
8. More importantly, I urge President Barack Obama, Leaders of European Union, President Goodluck Jonathan and INEC Chairman - Prof. Jega to take swift administrative action to cancel and re-conduct Governorship and House of Assembly Elections in Rivers State. What can be easily corrected by INEC should not be wastefully referred to the Court or Tribunal.
Dr. Goodluck Diigbo
MOSOP President / Spokesman
Governorship Candidate, Hope Democratic Party (HDP)