Waiting on the Rivers Rerun Probe

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The rerun elections in Rivers State may have come and gone, but all that transpired during the polls might just be an eye opener when the various panels set up to investigate the electoral malpractices submit their reports. Davidson Iriekpen writes

The remaining legislative rerun elections in Rivers State may have come and gone and winners emerged, but all that transpired during the polls will certainly linger for some time. Considering the tension that characterised the build-up to the elections, the rancour that followed did not come to many as a surprise.

Presently, there are accusations and counter-accusations from all the stakeholders in the polls – Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), All Progressives Congress (APC), Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and security agencies.

As at last count, three panels had been set up to unravel all that went wrong. While the police had long set up its own panel, INEC followed suit last week when it set up a panel to unravel the role played by its officials to make a mockery of the process. The state governor, Nyesom Wike, has also constituted a panel to investigate all that went on during the election that claimed the lives of two police officers and other indigenes.

While Nigerians are particularly anxious and looking forward to the reports of these various panels, many Nigerians are worried over the one set up by the police, describing it as an attempt to cover up their poor conduct during the elections. The Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, last week set up a team of detectives and experts to carry out a thorough investigation of the incidents that marred peaceful conduct of the rerun elections. The police boss said the panel became necessary following statement by the Chairman of INEC Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, that there were about 70 incidents that marred the elections in many parts of the state.

The main job of the panel, according to spokesman of the Force, Don Awunah, is to unravel those who are directly or indirectly responsible for the incidents and bring them to justice. He also said the team would investigate the circulated voice recording of Governor Wike threatening to kill some election officials for failing to deliver on a promise they received graft for.

He also said the panel has been mandated to investigate and conduct a forensic analysis of the audio comments purported to be the voice of Wike as claimed by an online medium, SaharaReporters. The allegation relating to bribe offers and death threat, the online publication claimed was made against an INEC official by the governor.

But the ruling PDP in the state has since debunked the audio report as extremely ridiculous and tissues of lies. The party in a statement said it had unmasked the characters behind the purported audio, accusing an APC senator from the state as the mastermind.

Many analysts are wondering what the police want to investigate in the crisis if not to indict Wike and his government at all cost. This is why they are asking: Did the police participate in rigging the elections? Was the army involved in what went wrong with the polls? Did INEC compromise itself in any way before and during the elections? Answering these questions dispassionately and honestly is an assignment the police and other election experts should answer without any margin of errors.

They are also wondering why those arrested in connection with the gruesome murder of DSP Alkali and his orderly and those caught on tape carting ballot boxes are not in detention or have not been invited for interrogation.

Many of those who followed events are not surprised how the election turned out. Months prior to the polls, alleged impartiality of INEC had become an issue. Wike and other stakeholders in the state complained that INEC had compromised itself by meeting the chairman of the commission and some leaders of the APC in the state.

After the initial denial, the commission owned up that indeed INEC Chairman met with some APC officials. However, it claimed that the meeting was part of efforts to ensure peaceful elections.

For instance, the coalition of civil society groups commonly known as Situation Room, after the rerun elections authored a damning report on what it called the “ugly undemocratic” roles played by the military and police. The organisation which is an umbrella of over 70 registered civil society groups, also came hard on the INEC for what it called its lack of neutrality in the elections.

They equally lamented that despite deploying 28,000 police personnel and a large contingent of soldiers, air force, navy and civil defence officers to maintain law and order during the election, the poll was still flawed due to partisanship.

The climax perhaps was when the national secretariat of the APC inaugurated a special committee of five governors to plan for the election. The Kano State Governor, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, who later headed the committee further exacerbated tension, when a few days to the elections, he disclosed that having won the gubernatorial poll in Ondo State, the APC had fresh ideas and strategies to win the rerun elections in Rivers State.

The Kano governor after meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja, told State House reporters: “It is not normal” to have a free and fair election in Rivers State, vowing that the APC will make it normal this time. He stated: “We’re prepared. We just came out of the Ondo elections. We’ve fresh ideas. Even though both environments are different, we’ve our own strategies. We are making wider consultations with stakeholders and we believe we will succeed.”

Reacting to him, Wike said Ganduje’s comments were unfortunate. He said his state was waiting for the Kano governor and his party to perform a magic in the rerun polls, stressing that Rivers was only asking for free and fair elections.

“It’s unfortunate if he (Ganduje) said so. As far as I’m concerned, elections have been normal in my part of the country. All we are asking for is free and fair election. Is Governor Ganduje speaking on behalf of INEC? Is he the one conducting the elections now? When his friend won the governorship election in Rivers State, the election was normal. The election was also normal in Edo State, where his party won. We are waiting for him to come and perform the magic he did in Kano State,” Wike said.

Many observers, who read the comments and other remarks from party leaders knew that there would trouble which the police and other retinue of security agencies failed to tackle. Instead they became a tool in the hands of both the opposition and the PDP. This is why they are calling on the police and INEC to focus on issues in line with their statutory duties and stop chasing shadows.

Also, before the rerun elections, the APC did not hide how important and strategic winning Rivers State has been to it, the same way PDP knew it was its lifeline. But shortly after the party lost the governorship seat to the PDP at the Supreme Court, the National Chairman of the party, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, had lamented bitterly.

“I still find the judgment on the Rivers State governorship election totally astonishing. There is something fundamentally wrong in the judiciary. We have lost very important resource-rich state to the PDP. No matter how crude oil prices have fallen, it is still the most important revenue earner for the country.”

Some believe that the party saw the rerun elections as an opportunity to make a bold move to recapturing the state.
As events stand today, nobody can claim not to recall that Wike as the chief security officer of the state, a few days to the election, had informed the police high command that the state Commander of Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), Mr. Akin Fakorede, had distributed SARS personnel to APC candidates and chieftains, allegedly for the elections.

The governor, whose contention has always been that if INEC must conduct election in the state must be free and fair, said the SARS personnel were assigned to the APC candidates and chieftains for the purpose of snatching election materials and the intimidation of PDP supporters. He wondered why politicians, who are expected to stay away from the polling units were allocated such SARS officials.

Although some schools did not dismiss the allegations by Wike and his people, they however argued that in the days of former President Goodluck Jonathan and Wike as minister, the minister did worse than he is being treated to. If it is Karma playing its role, then, Wike is now seen as having a feel of the cold meal he had dished out during his days as minister.

Two weeks before the elections, Wike also went public with a discovery of electoral materials and result sheets allegedly at a printing press belonging to a top official of the APC. But the police had quickly said Wike was merely crying wolf.

It was against this background that Wike while reacting to the audio tape allegation stated that it was contrived and sponsored by the APC to divert public attention from the massive electoral fraud by INEC, police and military killings that marred the rerun elections. He said the audio clip was fabricated using audio software and that he never spoke with any electoral officer or anyone for that matter, either in person or over the phone seeking to influence the elections.

The governor stated that rather than bring the SARS Commander, Akin Fakorede, to justice for his criminal activities captured on video during the rerun elections, the police authorities have arrested the policemen, who accompanied him to stop Akin Fakorede from swapping Rivers East senatorial district results sheet.

“Face the reality and stop chasing shadows. Let them show me. What is audio clip? What can’t this government do? I don’t have an orderly, I don’t have a Chief Security Officer, I don’t have a camp Commandant. All were taken away before the election.”

Wike said the suspect who beheaded the DSP Akali in one LGA during the elections was arrested on election day alongside his colleagues and their sponsor, the former Rivers State Commissioner of Power, but an order from above led to their release. He said it was after the illegal release that the suspects committed the heinous crime.

The government said it was because the suspects beheaded a DSP that the authorities, who released them are now interested. He also alleged that a notorious politician in the state was arrested on election day with AK 47 rifles and he also dressed in military uniform, but was released because he is a prominent member of the ruling political party.

“I just read in the newspaper about the arrest of somebody, who beheaded a DSP. In the course of that, the person owned up that he was sponsored by a former Commissioner of Power, who is of course, a member of the other political party.

“I remember on that election day, this boy and four others were arrested and an order came that they should be released immediately. Now, look at the mayhem caused after they released them. They were arrested with the former Commissioner of Power. They were released that same day. When we have descended to this level, you know the implication tomorrow. They are covering things by chasing irrelevant things,” he said.

Ironically, the same way Wike and members of his party have strong reservation over the investigative panel set by the police, so do the APC and its members, particularly its governorship candidate in the 2015 election, Dakuku Peterside as well as the Senator representing the Rivers South East, Magnus Abe, who have all rubbished the panel.

One thing is clear though – both parties are guilty of whatever anomalies that were perpetrated during the elections. However, their propensity for violence and mischief is what defines who had an upper hand. And to establish this, it would mean identifying who is on the ground and where. When this arithmetic is objectively situated, it would not be difficult to determine who did what.

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Many observers, who read the comments and other remarks from party leaders knew that there would trouble which the police and other retinue of security agencies failed to tackle. Instead they became a tool in the hands of both the opposition and the PDP. This is why they are calling on the police and INEC to focus on issues in line with their statutory duties and stop chasing shadows