Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt
A combined team of security operatives, led by soldiers, yesterday arrested three chieftains of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) and 62 suspected hoodlums on alleged electoral offences as the conclusive rerun legislative elections took place in Etche and Omuma Local Government Areas of Rivers State.
The PDP chieftains arrested include the Publicity Secretary of the PDP in Rivers State, Hon. Samuel Nwanosike and former caretaker committee chairmen of Akuku-Toru and Asari-Toru local government areas of the state, Hon. Rowland Sekibo and Hon Odiari Princewill respectively.
Nwanosike however lamented that his arrest was stage-managed to pave the way for the All Progressives Congress (APC) to win the election because he was his party’s collation agent for the poll.
These came as the rerun election in Etche and Omuma, which was to elect lawmakers for Etche Constituency 1 in the Rivers State House of Assembly and Etche/Omuma Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, witnessed low voter turn-out and relative peace considering the violence that made elections in the area inconclusive in two previous trials.
Speaking to journalists at Ulakwo II Community in Etche local government area of Rivers State after parading those who were arrested, the Acting Commissioner of Police for Rivers State, Ahmed Magaji (DCP), said the arrests was a result of the security measures put in place for the election.
Magaji, who is also the deputy commissioner of police (Operations), said, “In the course of the on-going rerun elections in Etche and Omuma, adequate security arrangement was put in place involving members of the armed forces, the police and sister agencies.
“At one of the points the army made an arrest of 62 or 63 persons. We are currently screening them. Very soon we will come out with a clear announcement on the whole issue.”
On the arrest of some PDP leaders, he confirmed the arrest of some party leaders but refused to say categorically why they were arrested. “If I say anything now, it may affect the outcome of the investigation. As we go on with our investigation, we will find out if they are involved in electoral malpractice or not,” he said.
After parading the suspects and some cutlasses and drugs recovered from them, and the address by the acting commissioner of police, the 62 suspected thugs were transported by military truck to Port Harcourt while the party chieftains were moved by military Hilux van.
But while he was being forced into an Army Hylux van under the supervision of an army colonel, Nwanosike said his arrest was to pave the way for the All Progressives Congress (APC) to win the election by stopping him from performing his duties as his party’s collation agent.
He kept screaming that he was not a criminal but the collation agent for the PDP in the election as well as the state publicity secretary of the party.
He yelled: “The Zonal INEC Officer has said here that the military has a right to select who will be a party collation officer. This is wrong. “
This is a party affair. The PDP has the right to select who will be its collation agent.
“I was passing here to the collation centre when the army stopped me. You are intimidating me sir (To soldiers who were asking him to go into their Hilux Van). I am not a criminal. I am the collation officer for PDP in this election (Waving his accreditation card). Nigerians listen: This is all a plot to ensure that the PDP is not represented at the collation centre. My name is Nwanosike Samuel. I am the Publicity Secretary of the PDP. I am not a criminal. After the election, you can come and arrest me.”
Meanwhile, while the poll went on peacefully amidst low voter turn-out and high security. There were security checkpoints at strategic junctions across the two local government areas while residents obeyed the movement restrictions.
In his comments on the progress of the elections, the state Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Aniedi Ikoiwak, said the poll had been going on smoothly.
Ikoiwak, who spoke to journalists at Ulakwo II Community, said, “We have asked our officers who are where election materials were hijacked to make a report and such places cannot come in. They stand cancelled. Well, in an environment like this if we look at what has been done and where election has taken place, I think we can say so far so good.
“When it comes to elections, our staff members are always exposed to attacks at all times and we have been complaining to Nigerians. Most of the time, it always looks like the duty of conducting election, is also like the duty of going to war. We have been trying to address the situation and go ahead.”
In his comments on the poll, the APC candidate for the Etche/Omuma Federal Constituency, Hon. Ogbonna Nwuke, said he was satisfied with the conduct of the elections.
Nwuke, a veteran journalist, said, “When you compare the general election in 2015 and all the other ones we have had, this appears to me to be the most peaceful. The other ones were equivalent to war. Now what we do have appears organised; I need to choose my words. I am a candidate and I am in my home base. The law says I can’t go around, although I have been getting information from the field.”