Analysis – 2015 Elections In Rivers State: An Embarrassment?Articles/Opinion, Latest News Sunday, September 13th, 2015
By Ayo Balogun – Echos from Rivers State Governors Tribunal sitting in Abuja, the Nation’s capital has raised a lot of dust. The key issue agitating the minds of many persons is; Is Rivers State retrogressing while the rest of the country is making progress towards free, fair and credible elections? One witness after another that appeared before the tribunal so far says there were no elections in the State on 11th April, 2015. Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and PDP says there were elections in Rivers State which produced PDP as winners. Like the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) series; Echoes from the dead where a mother returns to her childhood home to investigate the disappearance of her son, the tribunal is on a mission to investigate and unravel the truth about what happened on the 11th and 12th of April 2015 in Rivers State. Did elections take place or not? Did the people of Rivers State have opportunity to cast their vote or were they denied that right that makes them Nigerians? Did violence which erupted throughout the State stop the people from voting for candidates of their choice or not? Rivers tribunal and the outcome of its inquiry is of interest to the Nation, civil society, international community and all lovers of democracy. The whole Nation is waiting for the outcome of Rivers Governorship tribunal. It will definitely define the future of election in our country.
Different witnesses who have testified before the Governorship elections in Rivers State say there were no elections. Most of the witnesses APC agents say they did not see materials on election day or where materials arrived the voting centres they were hijacked by well-armed political thugs and hoodlums. One witness from Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni LGA (Chief Oboh) asked under cross examination if collation of results took place in his ward said if a hunter goes hunting and did not see any animal, what is the need shooting, using the analogy to say if there was no election, there cannot be collation of results. No witness was as punchy as the five soldiers who under subpoena testified that there were no elections in Rivers State.
On Wednesday, the Army said there was no voting in Tai Local Government. Captain Sani, who led troops in Tai Local Government Area during the election, testified that election did not hold in the entire area on April 11.
Four other Captains, who led soldiers on election duty in the four Local Government Areas, (Abua/Odual, Ikwerre, Gokana and Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni) testified. The captains said the heavy presence of armed hoodlums at every polling centre in the four local governments prevented officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from conducting the election and the electorates from voting.
The four officers appeared before the tribunal on the strength of the subpoena served on the Chief of Army Staff, Maj.-Gen. Tukur Buratai. The witnesses were Captain Abubakar (leader of the patrol troop in Abual/Odua); Captain Bala (leader of the patrol troop in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni), Al-Makura (leader of the troop in Ikwerre) and Captain Salihu (leader of the troop in Gokana).
Captain Al-Makura told the tribunal how his troops fought to repel attacks from unidentified criminals who attacked polling units repeatedly. He said most of the polling stations in the local government were attacked by armed gangs which took electoral materials and disappeared into the bush.
According to the army captain, corps members who served as INEC adhoc staff were brutalised when they resisted the thugs who carted away electoral materials. He added that electoral materials meant for the election were diverted as they disappeared immediately on arrival at the local government headquarters.
Captain Al-Makura, who patrolled Ikwerre Local Government Area with 30 soldiers, said he visited all parts of the area, such as Omerelu, Ubima, Apani, Alu, Ozuaha and Isiokpo?, the local government headquarters, and never noticed
anywhere voting took place on the election day. He rather saw political thugs everywhere.
He said: “In Ozuaha, roads were barricaded and on sighting our patrol vehicles the hoodlums who mounted the barricade ran into the bush. We received calls and on getting to some polling units, the INEC ad hoc staff told us that some hoodlums came and beat them, collected electoral materials and ran away. I never saw any electioneering taking place in any of the wards.”
Captain Salihu, the second witness, told the tribunal about the breakdown of law and order in Gokana, a situation that necessitated the deployment of Armoured Personnel Carriers from Mopol 56, Sakpenwa to the flashpoints.
“I was at the INEC office in the morning when they brought the election materials and the armed men came and started shooting. I did not respond to the shooting because of collateral damage,” Salihu said.
He recalled how the shooting became so intense, even with the presence of his troops. But to avoid unnecessary loss of lives; they decided not to return fire.
The army captain alleged that the situation was so bad that even collation at some point took place at a police station. He added that his patrol also encountered dissatisfied members of a community, who were protesting the absence of electoral materials and their inability to vote during the election.
“In the course of my patrol, I received a call from a primary school in Mogoh. On getting there, there was shooting from across the fence. We responded and the shooters were shooting as they withdrew. We were able to pull out the INEC permanent and ad hoc staff and took them to INEC office,” he said.
Captain Bala said he had been in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni? Local Government Area since January because of incessant cult activities in the area. He said election materials were hijacked from INEC ad-hoc staff shortly after they were disbursed at the INEC office at the council headquarters in Omoku on the day before the election.
“That same day, we started hearing gunshots in Omoku town. I had to move my men to see if we could arrest those who were firing.
“In the morning of the election day, there were still gun shots at the Local Government headquarters. There was distribution of electoral materials at the INEC office, but I can tell you that before they got to their destinations they were hijacked,” Capt. Bala, told the tribunal.
Captain Abubakar said he led a team of 20 soldiers to patrol Abua/Odual during the election. He said he received many calls from people about incidents of election materials theft from various polling units. He pe voting units and can confirm that in the Abua wards nobody voted.
“I received calls from INEC staff that their electoral materials had been hijacked by hoodlums. We kept receiving such calls and we tried our best to retrieve the materials but we could not.
The army captains who were eye witnesses, having served as commanders, were in agreement over uncontrollable violence, snatching of electoral materials, intimidation and absence of proper election in Rivers State.
During cross-examination by counsel for the respondents – Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN) for the Independent National Electoral Commission; Mr. Emmanuel Ukala (SAN) for Wike and Mr. Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN) representing the PDP – the officers insisted that there was no evidence of conduct of election in their various areas on April 11.
Supporting the position of the army, two other DSS detectives who also testified at the tribunal on Friday confirmed that materials meant for Asaritoru LGA were completely burnt at the RAC centre in Buguma and that no elections of any form took place in Asaritoru LGA. The Detective who supervised the election in Okrika said he witnessed hijacking of materials and manhandling of youth corpers in Okrika LGA. That in his presence hoodlums disrupted elections and hijacked materials in Ibaka, Ward 7 and also Ward 3. That armed youths went round most of the units and collected result sheets. He also said no collation of results took place in any ward centre. Perhaps the real testimony that has nailed the election
is the report of the Head of INEC election monitoring unit who described the election in Rivers State as sheer terrorism. Charles Okoye giving testimony under subpoena said no elections in its real sense took place in Rivers State on 11th April, 2015.
It is important to state that the defence is yet to open their case and call their witnesses but revelations so far emanating from Rivers State Governorship tribunal appears very revealing and interesting. Time will tell what will become of the elections in Rivers State if one held.
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