The panel set up by the police to investigate the violence that rocked the rerun elections in Rivers State, last week submitted its report, leaving more questions than answers. Davidson Iriekpen writes
Last week, the panel set by the Inspector General of Police (IG), Ibrahim Idris, to probe the crises that characterised the rerun legislative elections in Rivers State last December, submitted its report. At an elaborate ceremony at the Force Headquarters in Abuja, the panel which was inaugurated on December 22, 2016, in its report, alleged that the state government bribed officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) with N360 million to rig the polls in favour of the candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The panel, which comprised 12 officers of the Nigeria Police Force and three from the Department of State Services (DSS), stated that it recovered N111.3million from 23 INEC officials, who confessed to have received the money from the state government officials to manipulate the rerun polls in the state. It also indicted six dismissed police operatives for misconduct and misuse of arms during the polls, contrary to the provisions of Force Order 237.
The officers – ex-Inspector Eyong Victor, ex-Sgts. Peter Ekpo, Oguni Goodluck, Orji Nwoke, Okpe Ezekiel and Tanko Akor – had been dismissed by the Force. The errant operatives were said to have stormed the Port Harcourt City Council Secretariat and prevented the movement of election results of Emouha polling unit to the appropriate collation centre designated by INEC in disobedience to senior officers present.
Speaking during the presentation, the panel chairman, DCP Damian Okoro, added that the committee established cases of misconduct against some electoral officers and law enforcement agents, who, according to him, allowed themselves to be compromised in their line of duties.
Receiving the report, the IG said the panel’s findings and recommendations would be forwarded to the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, for implementation, adding that both the INEC officials and others indicted would be prosecuted.
“I see no reason why a rerun election will lead to the beheading of our officers, who were there to do their lawful duties. I believe that the report will go a long way to put an end to individuals seeing election as a do-or-die affair. We will take appropriate actions in conjunction with the law officer of the federation, the AGF, in order to put an end to most of the abuse and electoral violence in this country.”
Naturally, the state government was the first to react to the allegations. It described the report as a charade, saying the unanswered questions in the document were the reason Governor Ezenwo Nyesom Wike of the state refused to be part of the investigation. It also described the claim by the police panel that it financially induced officials of INEC as shameful, defamatory and reckless.
The state Commissioner for Information and Communications, Dr. Austin Tam-George, challenged the police to prove that Governor Nyesom Wike bribed INEC workers to rig the December 10, 2016 legislative rerun polls. Tam-George, in a statement, also challenged the police to prosecute and imprison the electoral officers indicted by the panel without delay, describing the police investigation as dubious.
He stated: “The attention of the Rivers State Government has been drawn to the melodramatic images of heaps of cash, circulated in the media by the so-called police panel of inquiry into the rerun elections in Rivers State on December 10, 2016. According to the police, the heaps of money were ‘evidence’ of bribes allegedly given to officials of INEC by the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, during the rerun polls.
“We consider the allegations of the police as shameful, defamatory and reckless in the extreme. Never in the annals of infamy have we seen a vital state security institution descend to the lowest depths of blackmail and criminality as the Nigeria Police Force has done in this case. The Rivers State Government challenges the Nigeria Police to show proof that Wike financially induced any official of INEC. Do the Police have bank records of the purported transactions between Governor Wike and the electoral officers?
While the people of the state await the recommendations of the AGF, many analysts worry about the content of the report because they saw it coming. Some have also asked why the INEC officials were not paraded? Why did the money have the same bank rappers, signifying that all the N111million came from one bank? Why were all the denominations in N1000 notes? Do all the 23 INEC officials operate one bank?
If indeed there was a bribe, was it only the PDP that bribed? Didn’t any of the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate or member bribe any INEC official? Was the bribe more important than the life of DSP Mohammed Alkali and his orderly, who were killed during the polls? Why didn’t the police mention or arrest those who killed the officers?
The first anger of those who listened to the Chairman of the panel, Damian Okoro, was the Force’s inadequate provision of security despite deploying 28,000 of its personnel and a large number of soldiers, air force, navy and civil defence officers to maintain law and order in one state due mainly to obvious partisanship.
Recall that after the polls, a coalition of civil society groups commonly known as Situation Room authored a damning report on what it called the “ugly undemocratic” roles played by the police and military. The organisation which is an umbrella of over 70 registered civil society groups, lamented that despite deploying 28,000 police personnel and a large contingent of military, the poll was still flawed. It also came hard on INEC for what it called its lack of neutrality in the elections.
Others wondered where the panel got the N111 million from when the state INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner had a few days to the election disclosed that nobody would know the officials to be used for the polls until the day of the election?
“We are only hearing now that money has been recovered from electoral officers that were trained outside and brought in silently like angels. How can you bribe a man you don’t know? In any case, the APC did not do anything wrong during the elections? Knowing that the state is a PDP-controlled state, couldn’t it have been possible that the APC bribed more than the PDP? Didn’t the bible say that before you can break into a strongman’s house, you must first bind the strongman? Wasn’t that what happened in Rivers State?” queried Nneka Emeh, National President of Women on Top.
Mostly, observers were shocked to see that the report did not say anything about DSP Mohammed Alkali and his orderly, who were gruesomely killed during the polls, wondering if the bribe was more important than the lives of the officers.
After the elections, it was alleged that the suspect who beheaded the Akali and orderly was arrested on election day alongside his colleagues and their alleged sponsor, the former state Commissioner for Power. But an order from above allegedly led to their release. It was further alleged that it was after the illegal release of the suspects that they committed the heinous crime. Till date, no arrest has been made. But deliberately, the panel refused to comment on this because the alleged suspects are believed to have come from the APC.
It is for this reason, a public affairs analysts, Iheanyi Ezinwo, described the report as selective and politically-motivated and cannot be comprehensive and relied upon to provide a credible panacea to curbing the menace of electoral malpractices in the country. He said the conclusions of the report are predetermined to indict certain persons.
While noting that the December 10, 2016 elections did not have only the PDP as participant, Ezinwo said: “There were other parties, including the law enforcement agencies. Going by the outcome of the police investigation, it is only the PDP that did the wrong things. The police and the APC, all conducted themselves in a very decent and lawful manner! In other words, the police were not involved in ballot snatching, as widely recorded and reported; did not kill innocent persons and the APC did not attempt to subvert the electoral process in their favour in some places.”
On his part, the President of Network for Transparency, Equity and Fairness, Dr. Kemakolam Steve Nwofor, described the conclusions in the report against the PDP and the Rivers State Government as not only hasty but mischievous, malicious and politically-motivated. He said from the report, it was obvious that the police have so degenerated.
“It is unfortunate and embarrassingly disgraceful that the police authority will want Nigerians and indeed the world to believe them, that in an election day in this country the government of Rivers State gave bribe to INEC or other officials connected with the election. It is very obvious that the police or the APC-led federal government would need to find some other reasons to vent their anger on Wike, whom they are out to decimate as they have found him unbeatable.
“If they don’t show it in the so-called fight against corruption; they do so in the fight against insecurity. We thought the injustice will stop as selective fight against corruption but we can now see it in all areas, no more borders. So the police want us to believe that only PDP gave bribe if any, and the APC did not? This is arrant nonsense, and the earlier the federal government stops chasing shadows the better for them as that report is dead on arrival,” Nwafor emphasised.
However, because the report did not say anything about the ruling party, the APC and its stakeholders have refused to comment on what many called reckoned is a skewed report. But one is clear from the report, a lot of things were wrong with the rerun polls in Rivers as both parties have the tendency for mischief. The difference, of course, is their propensity for mischief.
Naturally, the state government was the first to react to the allegations. It described the report as a charade, saying the unanswered questions in the document were the reason Governor Ezenwo Nyesom Wike of the state refused to be part of the investigation. It also described the claim by the police panel that it financially induced officials of INEC as shameful, defamatory and reckless