We were supposed to have election, but what we had was a warlike situation. Bullets spattered around and voters supposedly ran for their lives. The homely atmosphere that characterized the campaign periods soon fully swung to rancor during the elections.
Apart from Plateau State and perhaps Kaduna State, Rivers State has always been identified as a flashpoint during elections in Nigeria. And the 2019 elections were not any different.
It was a ceremony of violence and the blood in Rivers, especially the blood. Like I have said many times, everything supposedly make sense from an economic perspective even things like violence. When politics becomes the only game in town, the players would want to win through any means available.
Respect for democracy is gone in Nigeria. This is truer for Rivers State. For the people of the state, democracy and election include violence and rancor. They are used to it. If people had not die, there had been no election and democracy.
Of course, those who carry the guns and cutlasses have different reasons for doing so. These set of people find livelihood in violence and they care less how many people die so far they continue to have food on their table.
The politicians hire them for who they are. For the good jobs they can do. Jobs that involve killing and violence. They help them to gun down their enemies so they can be the Excellency. For Rivers State, the best way to win election is to kill and instigate violence.
Violence in the March 9 elections in Rivers
Like every governorship election in all parts of the country, the 2019 governorship election in Rivers State was slated for March 9, 2019. But the Election could not continue due to violence in some parts of the state. Well, it was not the election that could not continue but the collation of the election results.
According to the INEC Chairman, commenting on the suspension of electoral activities in the state: “In Rivers, the Commission was forced to suspend the election due to violence and threats to life, as a result of which it constituted a Fact Finding Committee to assess the situation and report back within 48 hours”.
Though elections were conducted in many parts of Rivers State during the March 9, 2019, the collation of the elections results could not be completed due to violence. Which led to the suspension of the electoral processes in Rivers State.
The State presented Nigerians with a different form of electoral violence. In Nigeria as we know it, politicians usually induced and unleashed their thugs to disrupt the electoral processes, but in Rivers State, it was those who are expected to keep the peace that disrupted the electoral processes. According to Festus Okoye, INEC`s director of information, it was the Nigerian Army and some thugs that interrupted the electoral processes in Rivers State.
The invasion of the collation centres by soldiers and armed personnel resulted in the intimidation and the unlawful arrest of election officials which led to the suspension of the electoral processes and heightened the already volatile conditions in the state. We are yet to know who sent the army to the INEC collation or whose bidding they were doing. Maybe we would never know. What we do know is that the army were not neutral.
The People’s Democratic Party in the state did accuse the All Progressive Congress of trying to use the Army to dethrone the incumbent governor, Nyesom Wike. The Army on the other hand said they came to protect the INEC’s officials and its personnel and rejected the claim that the military disrupted the electoral processes in Rivers State.
The Army Deputy Director of Public Relations, Colonel Aminu Iliyasu cited the attacks on its personnel by Nyesom Wike’s thugs who stormed the collation centre on Obio/Akpor Local Government Headquarters on March 9.
However, we are sure of one thing. Collation of results were brazenly disrupted by men of the Nigerian Army in retaliation against the attacks on his men by Nyesom Wike`s thugs. Nyesom Wike`s thugs as referred to here, does not mean hoodlums on the street of Port Harcourt, but men of the Nigerian Police Force attached to Nyesom Wike as the governor of the state.
Like I said before now, violence that characterized the March 9 elections in Rivers State were prompted by men who are expected to ensure the security of the state.
Why the APC did not Participate in the Election?
It would be recalled that the name and logo of the All Progressive Congress were not on the ballot papers during the March 9 governorship and state assembly elections in Rivers State. This is due to the judgement of the Supreme Court of Nigeria that decided that due process was not followed during the Primary election in the state.
As a matter of fact, two factions of the APC led by Rotimi Amaechi and Magnus Abe, a serving senator at the Senate held two different congresses after their inability to resolve the internal crises.
The two congresses which produced two different governorship candidates for the APC in Rivers State, that is, Amaechi backed Tonye Cole and Magnus Abe, were however voided by the High Court sitting in Port Harcourt. The Court held that due process was not followed in the conduct of the two separate congresses in line with the APC`s guidelines and constitution.
After the APC accepted her faith following the Supreme Court ruling, that they would not be participating in the elections in Rivers State, they put their weight behind the candidate of the African Action Congress, Engr. Biokpomabo Awara who they hope can challenge the hegemony of the PDP in the State. But he could not.
Resumption of Collation of Election Results and Emergence of Wike
Following the suspension of the collation of election results in Rivers State as result of the violence and attacks on INEC officials during the initial collation of results of the March 9, 2019 elections in River State, INEC resumed and continued with the collation on April 2, 2019.
Before the resumption by INEC, the African Action Congress (AAC) had challenged the decision of INEC to resume the collation of the election results in the state in a Court of law. The AAC argued that the March 9 elections were marred by violence and irregularities.
According to the party, “the credibility of the elections had been impugned in violence, disruption and appointment of the PDP`s members by INEC”. In the light of this, the party prayed the High Court to stop INEC from resuming the collation of the election results and declared a new governorship and state assembly election in Rivers State. The Court of course rejected the prayer of the plaintiff arguing that it does not have the power to cancel the election which can only be done by the Electoral Tribunal.
As far as INEC was concerned, elections had been duly conducted in at least seventeen (17) of the twenty-three (23) local governments of the state which the Commission said would be used to determine the next governor of the state.
This means that no further elections would be conducted in the affected local government and voters in these local governments have been forever disenfranchised as far the 2019 governorship elections in Rivers State were concerned.
This is due to the fact that the margin between the winner of the election, Nyesom Wike and its closest rival in the election was more than the total number of registered voters in the affected local governments. INEC felt that going on to conduct the election in these affected local governments would not in any meaningful way affect the outcome of the election.
It would be recalled that the margin of win between the PDP and AAC was put at 712,405 and the total registered voters where the election did not hold was put at 249,324 which means that the PDP would still have won the election even if all voters in the affected local governments had voted for the AAC.
The Concluding Remarks
Elections have come and gone, but the consequences remain with us. The Rivers State elections have so far revealed that elections in the state is a do or die affair. It is becoming increasingly difficult to conduct a peaceful election in the state. Political gladiators in the state are yet to learn the attitude of free and fair elections. For them, people can die as far as they emerge and their political ambition is intact.
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