Opinion… Bayelsa in the Midst of Electoral Storm

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By Miebi Wilson

The December 5 governorship election in Bayelsa State was scheduled to be conducted as a normal exercise in a democracy. It is through election that the people could decide who they want as their leader, a means which ordinarily opens up the democratic space for the vast majority of the people so that they can control and influence their own destinies. Effectively, therefore, the conception of election and electoral processes is to usher in and guarantee the integrity of democratic rule. In other words, a representative system of government absolutely depends on the integrity of elections.

However, the election turned out to be so controversial on account of alleged malpractices thereby marring the outcome as it was declared inconclusive by the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Although results were declared by INEC in 7 of the 8 local governments in the state that of Southern Ijaw was cancelled in a re-run election on December 6, claiming that election in this particular local government was substantially marred by violence and then followed accusations and counter-accusations.

The results so far declared by INEC showed that the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and governor of the state, Seriake Dickson, was leading as he polled 105,745 votes against that of the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate,Timipre Sylva, who scored 72,594 votes.

But while Sylva has rejected the cancellation of election in Southern Ijaw stating that he had won the election based on purported results he said his party has collated, the PDP hailed the cancellation as inevitable course of action as it believed the election was designed to favour the APC candidate and fraught with violence.

‘So, as far as we are concerned, there is no cancellation. Election has been held in Bayelsa. We will count the votes that had been cast during this election. Our agents have all the forms, relevant forms relating to this election and of course if we are winners, we will go to court and I believe the court is in a position to declare us winners’, Sylva stated .

However, beyond the propriety or otherwise of a court to declare a candidate winner in a botched election, the larger picture of orgy of violence which INEC cited as basis for the cancellation and as attested to by the various observers who monitored the election in Southern Ijaw remains a debacle starring the nation in the face, casting a cloud of uncertainty and fear in the minds of the electorate even when the disputed election is rescheduled.

But more bizarre and a huge dent on our nation before the international community was the cries of collusion by such otherwise respected national institutions like the army, police and INEC in the whole episode as the PDP alleged there was a premeditated plan to rig the election in favour of the APC by these bodies.

According to the Director of Publicity of the Restoration Campaign Organisation, Jonathan Obuebite, PDP said before the election was conducted it had informed the electoral body and security authorities that the whole of Southern Ijaw had been taken over by thugs and criminals elements but its advice was ignored.

Obuebite stated that the PDP was for a free, fair and credible election and as such election in Southern Ijaw must be conducted in an atmosphere that could guarantee the participation of the people without let or hindrance and ensure its credibility.

He noted that as at 4pm last Sunday, the day of the re-run election, election materials were still being distributed and wondered how such process could lead to a transparent election, adding that it was an orchestrated plan to rig the election as voting went on in the dark of the night.

He said the situation also afforded political thugs to infiltrate the polling units snatching ballot boxes and intimidating voters under the close supervision of the military operatives.

He said the whole exercise was marred by apathy.
The PDP accused INEC, the police and army of collusion with the APC to rig the election, stressing that all that happened in Southern Ijaw was co-ordinated by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation,  Engr. Babachir Lawal, with intention to  deflate the majority votes of its candidate, Governor Seriake Dickson and then  announce APC  flagbearer, TimipreSylva, as the winner.

He stated: “Before now, we know that the SGF was coordinating the whole rigging plan and we alerted President Muhammadu Buhari and the public. They know they cannot win without rigging through violence and the whole world have seen what happened on Sunday. It was a rape of democracy. There was a premeditated effort on a multiple level of conspiracy to rig this election involving INEC, army and the police. It is true that a top army officer gave election materials to APC members at three polling units and zoomed off with his team, throwing the whole place into turmoil to allow APC have advantage. Of course, APC leaders have all along been saying it everywhere that they will to use federal might and they tried but failed”.

Obuebite further justified the cancellation thus: “In a situation where so many people had even ran away from home on account of insecurity having been traumatized the previous day and others still seeing a repeat scourge of violence, it ran against good conscience and judgement to say you are conducting election in that kind of atmosphere thereby disenfranchising a lot of people in a crucial election. This is against the spirit and letters of democracy and we accordingly condemn this charade in totality. What the people want is a free, fair and credible election and in this respect, the process must be above board. They had a hidden agenda but the good people of Bayelsa State will continue to resist such evil tendency”.

The PDP called on President Buhari to ensure the rerun election in Southern Ijaw is conducted under a violence-free atmosphere whenever it is rescheduled, stating that his integrity as well known was being damaged by those it said were close to him.

“Except we have a truly secured environment, the situation will continue to be like that and that will not only damage PresidentBuhari’s image locally and internationally but puts democracy and the people at risk”.

In a similar vein, the APC has also claimed PDP thugs unleashed violence on its members citing in particular the case of the invasion of the house of the Minister of Agriculture, Hieneken Lokpobiri and other instances of violence during the election of Saturday, December 5.

But so far, the attention seems to be more on the large scale violence that characterised the election in Southern Ijaw and the alleged roles of federal institutions, making the conduct of the election whenever it may be rescheduled a major concern not only to the stakeholders back home in Bayelsa but the entire country as a national albatross.

It was perhaps against this background that a group of fourteen governorship candidates In the Bayelsa election rose in unison last Thursday giving the Federal Government some conditions for the resumption of the aborted election in Southern Ijaw.
At a Press conference in Yenagoa, the state capital, the governorship candidates under the ageis of United Governorship Forum for Credible Elections, called for the redeployment of Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG), Hassan Argungu and the state Police Commissioner, Nasiru Oki, for allegedly supporting the APC in Southern Ijaw.

The forum’s position which was stated in a communiqué read by Mr. Willy Berezi deplored the role played by INEC officials, Police and the Army.

According to the group, it felt deeply worried that federal institutions whose duty was not only to guarantee security of lives and property in that local government during the election and also ensure a free, fair and credible exercise, displayed bias for a preferred political party.

The group which pointed out that there is no guarantee that the rescheduled election would not be characterised by similar violence, stressed that neutral persons should be posted to supervise the election. It also called on the military high command to completely withdraw all soldiers deployed to provide security in Southern Ijaw.

“We are calling on INEC that all the electoral materials used in the botched Southern Ijaw election should be jettisoned and new materials should be deployed in the rescheduled election. We know for a fact that some of the hijacked materials are still in the hands of APC thugs and if not changed, those same materials will be used to rig the rescheduled election”, it stated.

They also called on President Muhammadu Buhari not to feign ignorance about what was happening in Bayelsa and should therefore order a probe of the alleged involvement of not only the army, police and INEC but also that of other top government functionaries.

The governorship candidates praised the people for their resilience to defend the cause of democracy saying, “We call on all Bayelsans to remain steadfast in the face of provocation, abuse of office and electoral corruption. They should resolve to the time tested value of being strong willed to do the right thing in the interest of the generations coming after them as posterity will record them as people with dignity. Democracy must be allowed to grow and survive this farcical scenario in Bayelsa State.  Our future is at stake”

The raging debate over the election continued last week when a civil society organization, Lawyers in Defence of Democracy (LDD) on Wednesday urged President Muhammadu Buhari to investigate and punish those involved in violence during the Bayelsa governorship polls.

Addressing Newsmen in Lagos on the election, the Lead Advocate of the group, Mr. Ikechukwu Ikeji condemned the violence and expressed concerne over the inability of the military and the Police to arrest the situation.

According to him, as an accredited observer at the poll, the body can posit that the violence at Southern Ijaw Local Government was nothing short of anarchy.

“The allegation that security top command handed electoral materials to members and thugs of a political party to rig the election remains a sour point which must be transparently investigated. It is clearly a dangerous situation which calls for a thorough investigation by the federal government before it becomes a routine in future elections. We believe this may constitute a huge negative on the records of the new administration as the whole shameful episode is now before the international community and must be conclusively looked into’’ he said.

He urged the federal government to do all within its powers to ensure a violence free re-run in the upcoming supplementary election that was inconclusive in the Southern Ijaw.

“FG must ensure that credible personnel from the various security agencies are in charge of security in the entire area. President Buhari certainly cannot afford to fail the nation because the consequence would be disastrous. It is important that the wishes of the people reflect in the eventual results of the elections,” he said.

Ikeji, who urged Buhari to call to order, those who allegedly abused their office in the name of politics, said there was a display of desperation by politicians leading to the manipulation of the electoral process.

“It was a do-or-die kind of politics displayed by politicians aimed at disenfranchising the people to satisfy selfish interest. As much as we blame the political leaders, we also saw worrying cases of seeming collusion among some security agencies and other highly placed individuals. Election becomes a parody of the real thing when the process lacks integrity,” he said.

The lead advocate, who commended INEC for the cancellation of the election in the area, urged the body to remain impartial.

Ikeji, who also lauded the electorate for defending their right to votes, urged the media to assist in ensuring that the wish of the people emerged.

A member of the group, Miss. Uju Okeke said that“every electoral violence, is violence against women.’’

Meanwhile, the Sylva/Igiri Campaign Organisation has insisted on the cancellation of the other elections in the 7 local governments already declared by INEC by also claiming that there were cases of violence in Sagbama,Nembe and Ekeremor. APC’s Timipre Sylva has also declared he won the election as he said the controversial election in Southern Ijaw was won by the APC and he has indicated a possible court action to press for this claim tobe so declared the winner in spite of INEC cancelation of the election.

No doubt, democracy is witnessing a turbulent time in Bayelsa State but the responsibility of INEC is to remain the unbiased umpire that can eventually conduct a free, fair and credible election where in particular the vast majority of the electorate are not disenfranchised.

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