Heading in a New Direction

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Nyesom Wike

Nseobong Okon-Ekong writes that Governor Nyesom Wike’s unexpected change of attitude towards the Independent National Electoral Commission suggests that his previous grave allegations against the electoral umpire may have been targeted at creating alarming consequences in the state

Expectedly, mixed reactions followed announcement of elections result in Rivers State by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The electoral activities in Rivers closed the major balloting cycle for 2019 national elections. Rivers ended like the closing of a very thrilling action movie; coloured with all the anxiety and nerve-racking tension, that highlights action-packed dramas. In Rivers, a bewildered nation experienced the beginning of the end many times over. Of all the predictions made about the politics of 2019, Rivers haboured the thickest cloud of gloom. An enduring season of acrimony involving the major political parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which controls the state and the All Progressives Congress (APC), that is determined to seize power put pressure on the security agencies and all other organs of government in the state. The situation became more complex as intra-party strife within the APC entered a dimension defied every attempt at reconciliation. For the better part of the time, the people of Rivers lived on tenterhooks.

The major actors in the persistent sordid spectacle include Governor Nyesom Wike, Transportation Minister, Rotimi Amaechi and Senator Magnus Abe may have been on individual flight of fantasy, encouraged by throngs of screaming fans and the prospect of a big prize that they were willing to do anything to grab. It may be argued that these men are only seasonal chieftains in the dominion of violence that has held the Niger Delta, particularly Rivers State in the last 16 years. The most severe consequence of the internal crisis within the APC was that the party could not field candidates in the general election, but it endorsed Awara Biokpomabo, candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC).

The 2019 governorship election in Rivers went into an overdrive, that was unlike other states with similar situation. The common spanner that many are used to having in the works is the declaration of an electoral exercise as inconclusive. Another method of preventing a smooth course of balloting was introduced in Rivers when collation of result of the March 9 election was suspended on March 10, by INEC as a result of widespread violence. The commission initially announced a rerun for April 13, then reversed itself, deciding to resume collation of results that was suspended. It was a disreputable novelty that further cast the state in bad light.

Almost one month after, following a lot of quarreling INEC resumed the collation and gave the coveted prize to Wike.  Prior to the gubernatorial election in Rivers state, Wike urged the electoral umpire not to deploy the military in the collation of the governorship and legislative election results. The governor blamed the military for the violence that erupted in Rivers during the March 9 polls that led to suspension of collation of results.

“The only way you can have peaceful election is when soldiers are not made part of it. Let the Army remove their hands from elections. When soldiers go to the collation room, people will resist them and they will shoot the people. That was how violence came about. Was there violence at the polling units?” asked Wike who opponents also accused of invading Obio/Akpor Collation Centre where his CSO and security detail shot an army captain and other soldiers in the process.

Earlier, he demanded for the redeployment of the General Officer Commanding 6 Division, Nigerian Army, Port Harcourt, Maj Gen Jamil Sarham, over his alleged unprofessional conduct during the general elections.

“Throughout my experience politically, I have never seen the Nigerian Army play the kind of role they played during the last general elections. The Nigerian Army purely made political interferences all through. We will show you the visuals of the roles played by the Nigerian Army. If you go to the 6 Division, unless they have moved them out, you will see ballot boxes and electoral materials. The 6 Division served as the take-off base for electoral interference. We formally request that appropriate sanctions be meted out to the GOC of the 6 Division. It has never happened that the Army Division becomes the operational base of a political party. This GOC became actively involved in politics. He has his own government in Rivers State. He has no respect for civil authorities.”

 

Election Day

After casting his vote on March 9, Wike confidently told journalists, “We’ve gotten the victory, I’m quite satisfied and I’m sure we are going to win the elections very well.”

He however warned that the collation of votes is a place that should be watched carefully after acknowledging that the electoral process was peaceful. “We are hoping that the process will continue to be like this. Sometimes the voting will go on very smoothly, it’s at the collation centre we are being very watchful,” he added.

He accused the military causing instigating fear in the people.

“For now, we are satisfied and confident. We are not afraid. We don’t know how many local government areas they (the military) can manipulate, but with reports we are getting, even though they are trying to be funny, we shall win,” he said.

The Governor noted that the turnout during the election was affected by the “illegal activities” of the military.

“The way the military acted discouraged people from turning up. The role of the military is to provide security. But it is unfortunate that they participated directly. The military appears to have taken over police duties,” he added.

A day after, the governor raised an alarm on Twitter, accusing APC of trying to install a puppet.

Without begging the question, polling in any other part of Nigeria did not witness the scale of apprehension and fighting of Rivers. A character who previously played a marginal role in the drama, Biokpomabo Awara, governorship candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC) in Rivers State, was suddenly short to the pinnacle of the spectacle and given a major role. By getting the inferred support of the APC, Awara’s hand was strengthened in the contest. From a lame duck, he assumed the posture of a giant. The political landscape of Rivers changed in an intense manner. If there will be anything like it in the future, the Awara saga has already set a precedence. It’s true that the 2019 national elections has changed the landscape. On account of the political melodrama taking place within its boundaries, Rivers has become the most talked-about state for the last decade, from the 2007 elections in which Amaechi emerged governor after the Supreme Court ruled that he was the rightful candidate of the PDP. Since then there have been dozens of hopeful copycats, angling for the kind of judicial pronouncement that favoured Amaechi. The most optimistic, in recent times, is Senator Magnus Abe who prefers to hold on to one part of a torn APC in Rivers state, rather than be reconciled to Amaechi. The unresolved battle between Amaechi and Abe has benefited Wike, leaving many to wonder if the combined force of Amaechi and Abe could have routed Wike.

To that point, Wike has not totally stayed away from complicity, though it is difficult to trace the troubles in Rivers APC to him. On the surface, he appears to be the underdog, threatened by the fabled ‘federal might’.  “They have begun a war. They want to install a puppet but, it can’t stand. The will of the people of Rivers State cannot be subverted. After emerging victorious, Wike again pledged support to the state, saying, “We will continue to execute projects that will touch the lives of the less privileged.”

On his declaration as the winner of the rerun election, Wike turned a new leaf, extending a handshake to his opponents while dedicating the victory to Rivers People. “I want to thank the people of Rivers State for showing the kind of love we have never seen before. I thank them for showing the kind of support we have never seen before. He thanked PDP members for their show of courage, despite intimidation by security operatives who illegally wanted to change the will of Rivers people.”

Displeasure with INEC

 

Close to the election, Wike and those close to him spared no chance in characterisation of INEC as inept and corrupt, telling those who cared to listen that the commission does not have the capacity to conduct credible elections. Welcoming the German Ambassador to Nigeria. Dr. Bernhard Shlagheck, to Government House in Port Harcourt, the governor said, “INEC does not have the capacity to hold free and fair elections. He pointed out that due to the failure of the APC, the party was planning to use INEC and security agencies to create crisis and manipulate the electoral system.”

At every turn, the Rivers Governor was quick to state his frustrations with INEC, though some of his allegations were personal and may have been targeted at creating alarming consequences in the state. For instance, few days before the scheduled ballot was postponed by one week, Wike accused Amaechi, of plotting to bomb INEC offices, destroy voting materials at registration area centres and disrupt the peaceful conduct of the elections in the state. Wike explained that Amaechi was purportedly in liaison with some military and police officers, planning to carry out the attack on INEC offices. In another instance,Wike alleged that the APC was planning to kidnap the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) of INEC in the state. He said it was part of a plot to ensure that the governorship election on March 9 was postponed. Such wild allegations are frequently issued by Wike, who never bothers to substantiate his bogus claims.

Caught in the crossfire between Wike and Amaechi, INEC and its Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu are bashed on all sides by the gladiators in the Rivers debacle. Denying the charge by Wike, Amaechi said he had never hired militants or thugs for any reason since he joined politics 33 years ago, challenging any politician to show evidence that he had ever been involved in hiring thugs to cause destruction.

The minister alleged Yakubu, was interested in ensuring that Wike got a second term in office as governor of Rivers State. Amaechi pointed out that Yakubu was the Executive Secretary of TETFUND when Wike was the Minister of State for Education.

He said, “INEC is always working for the PDP. For an example, there is a stay of execution granted by the Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt, just because the INEC chairman was a director of TETFUND when Wike was the minister, he has refused to implement the judgment.”

The APC in Rivers State also made a sport of lashing out at INEC, saying it was determined to rig governorship election in the state in favour of Nyesom Wike.

Chris Finebone, the party’s publicity secretary, said, “To the APC, INEC is up to some mischief clearly pointing to a clear determination to rig the overall result of the March 9 elections in favour of Gov. Wike and the PDP.”

“The signs are visible enough to the blind and loud enough to the deaf. All the shenanigans so far exhibited by INEC only go to confirm that fear. INEC has not shown sufficient good faith in the way it brought the collation to an abrupt stop without cogent, verifiable and convincing reasons. Secondly, INEC curiously announced that it has dropped four LGA Collation Officers confirmed to be PDP card-carrying members without the umpire clearing the air about the status of the LGA results the four ad hoc personnel supposedly collated.”

Finebone said several actions of INEC had prepared the minds of many that the entire exercise was skewed to favour Wike and the PDP leaving in the process, several questions without answers. “For example, where and under whose custody were the result sheets and other sensitive materials involved in the collation process kept since they were not returned to the Central Bank of Nigeria for safe-keeping? How come Wike knew about the 17 LGAs whose results had been allegedly collated and had posted same on his official Twitter handle long before INEC made the announcement? Answers to these and other questions will continue to hang on their neck like an albatross,” Finebone said.

As should be expected, the AAC openly accused  INEC of conniving with Wike to manipulate results from the governorship election in Rivers state. Felix Enimini William, AAC’s publicity secretary in the state, said, “We suspect that INEC might be working to surreptitiously bring in cooked up results credited to Obio/Akpor to skew the balance of reality of things in favour of Wike.”

 “It is now clear to all that INEC has become deaf and blind to the fact that Gov. Nyesom Wike invaded the Obio/Akpor collation centre and ordered his security men to shoot an Army Captain and another soldier providing perimeter security to the collation centre. The Captain and his colleague are still in hospital after undergoing serious surgery.”

The party asked the commission to declare Biokpomabo Awara, AAC governorship candidate in the election, the winner.

William added that it was glaring that their candidate was winning until INEC stepped in to halt the process to save Wike from defeat.

“Finally, those (including Gov. Wike) who make the argument that our party and candidate are not popular enough to win the Rivers State governorship election are simply being clever by half. Can the governor and his ilk also say that APC that threw its weight behind us, for obvious reasons, are not popular and on ground in Rivers State?” he said.

Sweet Victory for Wike?

 

When results of the four outstanding local governments were announced, 886,264 votes were recorded for Wike, while Biokpomabo Awara, governorship candidate of the AAC in Rivers State garnered a distant 175,859 votes. The margin was 712,405 votes. Speaking with journalists in the state, Awara said INEC connived with Wike to rig him out of winning the election. He stressed that his party will reclaim the “stolen mandate.” He alleged gross irregularities in the resumed collation of the state governorship election result that saw Wike of the PDP re-elected as governor of the state.

Awara said, “I have the unit by unit results of the March 9, 2019 elections in Rivers State. When they observed that I was leading and they saw the danger coming, they quickly moved on March 10 to save Wike, by suspending the collation of the results, which they resumed on April 1. As at the time the collation was suspended, I had 281,000 votes, as against Wike’s 79,000 votes. So, they (INEC officials) quickly came to his rescue. We have written a petition on the electoral fraud in Rivers State to the INEC chairman, stating the actual results, but Professor Yakubu will not take action. I want Rivers people to be calm. We are going to reclaim the stolen mandate. We should not be troubled and we should never opt for violence.”

However, the PDP described Wike’s victory at the Rivers State Governorship election as a victory for the people of the state and the “triumph of good over evil.” PDP said the victory enforced the confidence of the people’s resoluteness to hold on to democracy and to defend their choice of leaders, despite the alleged desperation of the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi.

Spokesperson for the PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan, said Wike’s record of “700,000 votes margin of victory over the combined anti-people forces of the APC and the AAC and compromised security agencies speaks volume of the resilience of the people of Rivers State in the face of intimidation, harassment and manipulations by oppressive forces.”

Interestingly, Wike who previously condemned INEC started to express confidence in the process despite suspension of collation of results. The governor attributed his optimism to the love he said the people of the state have for the PDP. Wike said, “I know that PDP won the elections squarely. We believe in peace. Therefore, Rivers people should remain calm. In the end, it will be a sweet victory. The will of Rivers people will prevail.”

QUICK FACTS:

* Electoral activities in Rivers closed the major balloting cycle for 2019 national elections

*An enduring season of acrimony involving the major political parties, the PDP and the APC underlines insecurity in Rivers, leading to pressure on security agencies and all other organs of government in the state

*The people of Rivers live on tenterhooks

*The major actors in the persistent sordid spectacle in Rivers include Governor Nyesom Wike, Transportation Minister, Rotimi Amaechi and Senator Magnus Abe

* The most severe consequence of the internal crisis within the APC was that the party could not field candidates in the general election, but it endorsed Awara Biokpomabo, candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC)

*Senator Magnus Abe prefers to hold on to one part of a torn APC in Rivers state, rather than be reconciled to Amaechi

* The unresolved battle between Amaechi and Abe has benefited Wike

* The political landscape of Rivers changed in an intense manner when Awara received the support of the APC

*The 2019 governorship election in Rivers went into an overdrive

*Collation of result of the March 9 election was suspended on March 10, by INEC as a result of widespread violence

*The commission initially announced a rerun for April 13, then reversed itself, deciding to resume collation of results that was suspended

*Since 2007 when the Supreme Court ruled that Amaechi was the rightful candidate of the PDP and therefore, Governor of Rivers State, the state has become the most talked-about for the last decade

*886,264 votes were recorded for Wike, while Biokpomabo Awara, governorship candidate of the AAC in Rivers State garnered a distant 175,859 votes. The margin was 712,405 votes.

*Wike of the PDP was re-elected as governor of Rivers state