Monday comment2

The will of the people should be allowed to prevail, writes Emmanuel Onwubiko

For a long time to come, the last governorship poll in the country will be rated as the worst in terms of organizational poverty and in the role of security forces during elections.

Perhaps the governorship poll has contributed in a very significant way to create spectacular public image fiasco and long lasting damage to the Nigerian Army, much more than the ongoing counterterrorism campaigns in the North East of Nigeria.

At no time in the history of Nigeria, with the exception of the three-year civil war of the late 60’s, has the corporate image of the army been this muddied and abused.

The Nigerian Army Is however stridently making claims that fake soldiers were behind this trend of outright criminal hijack of electoral materials. The army has also blamed politicians for these cases of violence during the polls.

 The direct cause of these cocktails of  fiasco for the army are related to the alleged political interferences in the governorship elections in some parts of Nigeria currently controlled by the leading opposition Peoples Democratic Party in the oil rich Niger Delta region such as Rivers, Bayelsa and Akwa Ibom States.

However, the alleged ignominious role of the army has received worldwide bashing with specific reference to what some armed operatives did in Rivers State which resulted in the suspension of the governorship election. The British government has pointedly accused the army of interference.

The Coalition of United Political Parties descended heavily on the army, describing the alleged military interference in the governorship and House of Assembly elections in Rivers State in unprintable words. The coalition’s national spokesman, Imo Ugochinyere, described the soldiers’ action as an assault on democratic institutions.” He said, “We hereby raise the alarm loud enough for all lovers of democracy to hear that an electoral war is looming in states like Rivers over the desperate moves by to announce fake governorship election results in favour of an unknown and non-existence party called AAC…This is an assault on democratic institutions in the country and should be resisted and condemned by all lovers of democracy within and outside the country.”

The Independent National Electoral Commission has also accused the Nigerian Army and the Nigerian Air Force of allowing its personnel to take over its office in Rivers State. However, INEC has lately exonerated the Air Force but had yet to withdraw the accusation against the army. It said the operatives of the two services were preventing those legitimately authorized to be in its office from gaining access. INEC’s head of department of voter education and publicity in Rivers State, Edwin Enabo said, “The INEC office is under siege by men in army uniforms, uniforms of the Air Force and police who have taken over. They are stopping and screening people.

They are clearing results before they enter the office to the extent that up till now no collation has been done. We don’t understand where the people are deployed from. We are not accusing the Nigerian Army or the Nigerian Air Force, but we say the people right now in the office are wearing uniforms of Army and Air Force. If they are not from them, we are calling on them to come and rectify the situation and allow our officers to enter with their results without molestation and harassment.”

The Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC), Rivers State, had also called on the National Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu, to disregard the call by some All Progressives Congress (APC)-sponsored governorship candidates for the transfer of the State Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Mr. Obo Effanga and the administrative secretary of INEC.

State Chairman of IPAC, Precious Baridoo, speaking on the heels of the suspension of Rivers governorship and House of Assembly elections, and the call by AAC for the immediate removal of Effanga, said the call by a few governorship candidates was aimed at creating an ugly atmosphere to rig the last election.

The IPAC, which represents 86 registered political parties and 54 governorship candidates in the state, berated the glaring interference of the Nigerian Army in the recent elections, insisting that from the outcome of the result collated, the PDP candidate, Nyesom Wike was leading. He stated: “We also strongly condemn the criminal use of the Nigerian Army to abduct electoral officers and snatch already-collated results for the purpose of rigging the governorship election in favour of the APC supported candidate. We condemn the military for disrupting the collation process for the governorship election in Rivers State. We call on President Muhammadu Buhari to take immediate steps to punish all the military personnel involved in this coup against democracy.

 “We commend the Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, for his peaceful and calm disposition, despite the provocative actions of the APC and the military in the face of the fact that Rivers people overwhelmingly voted for him,” Baridoo stated.

The PDP had also flayed what it called a subversive act by soldiers, and called on all lovers of democracy, to unite against this brazen attack on our democracy. In a statement issued by the PDP National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, the party said, “Nigerians watched in bewilderment as soldiers, in the company of APC thugs, invaded polling units in Rivers State, unleashed violence on voters, disrupted polling processes and hauled away electoral materials, just because the APC is not in the ballot, following its self-inflicted exclusion from the election.”

The onus is on the army to clear their name. It is good that an investigation is ongoing. The will of the Rivers State people must be sacrosanct. Let no federal institution be used to thwart the will of voters.

Comrade Onwubiko is heads Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria