By Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt
Thousands of people gathered at the Polo Field and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) state headquarters in Port Harcourt Tuesday as INEC presented certificates of return to the re-elected Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike; his Deputy, Dr. Ipalibo Harry Banigo, and members-elect of the State House of Assembly.
In what appeared like a carnival, the people kept vigil on Aba Road around the GRA Junction and moved to the Polo Club after the Certificate of Return was presented to the Governor.
They sang songs of praises to God for the victory of the PDP, despite “the evil machinations of the Nigerian Army” during the elections.
INEC Returning Officer for the March 9 governorship election in the state, Deputy Vice Chancellor of Federal University, Otuoke, Prof. Teddy Adias, had, at the conclusion of collation of results on April 3, declared Wike winner after he polled 886,264 votes to defeat African Alliance Congress candidate, Biokpomabo Awara, who scored 173,859 votes.
Presenting the certificates of return to the elected persons, National Chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, urged the people to change the narrative of violence associated with elections in the state.
Yakubu, who was represented by National Commissioner in charge of Rivers, Bayelsa and Edo States, Mrs May Agbamuche-Mbu, thanked Rivers people for their contributions to the successful conduct of the 2019 General Elections in the State.
INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in the state, Obo Effanga, in his remarks, said despite pressures and attacks INEC conducted credible elections in line with extant laws.
He said: “For us in INEC Rivers State, we stayed focused on conducting a transparent, free, fair and credible election. As I kept promising, on behalf of my team, we were bound by the provisions of the Constitution, the Electoral Act, other laws and guidelines for the elections. We were further bound by the pronouncements and decisions of courts.
“The Present INEC by its conduct, helped to break away from the narrative of violence-tainted victories or elections and results that have limited input and participation of the voters. We can say and confidently too, that many voters in the state had access to polling units and indeed exercised their rights to vote in peace in this election than in previous elections.”
Effanga said that if the momentum was sustained, Rivers State will no longer be a flashpoint of violence during elections.
Speaking after receiving the certificate of return, Rivers State Governor and Governor-elect, Nyesom Wike, dedicated the victory to the people of the State who overwhelmingly voted for him.
He also dedicated the victory to Rivers people allegedly killed by the Nigerian Army in defence of their votes and democracy, stating that their sacrifices would never be forgotten.
“Today, I dedicate this victory to the people of Rivers State. I also dedicate this victory to those killed by the Nigerian Army in defence of votes and democracy. But for their sacrifice, we would not be here,” he said.
He berated the Nigerian Army for what he described as the negative role it played during the 2019 General Election in Rivers State.
His words: “The duty of the Army is not to take over INEC office and carry out Collation. We saw the Army take over INEC functions and that of the police. Go to Bori camp, you will see INEC materials. Is it where it is supposed to be? But for God, we wouldn’t have been here. All powers came, but God intervened and that’s why we are here”,
The governor commended the police and DSS for living up to their responsibilities during the 2019 general election.
He, however, urged INEC to take steps to investigate why Rivers State is only violent during elections. He also advised the commission to work towards the prosecution of the F-SARs Commander indicted for violence during the 2016 Rerun Elections, adding that the same F-SARs Commander allegedly killed a chartered accountant who served as PDP collation agent and must be brought to Justice.
Wike also commended INEC for their steadfast commitment to the logical conclusion of elections in Rivers State, despite the pressure for them to do otherwise.
“I commend INEC for standing firm on the side of the truth. I commend INEC officials for being firm,” he said.
He urged INEC Headquarters to take immediate measures to ensure the total rehabilitation of the INEC Rivers office.
The governor also said that as a matter of state policy, the Rivers State Government would take steps to assist families of victims of election violence, adding that should INEC and the Army permit, the State Government would also reach to their staff affected by the violence.
He urged his opponents to take advantage of his olive branch, saying that it was extended in the interest of Rivers State.
Addressing the people at the Polo Club, PDP National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, described the celebration as historic because it captures the aspirations of Rivers people. He said the election was the longest in the history of the country, spanning from March 9 to April 3.
He said all Rivers leaders were standing with Wike because he was working for the people and promoting Rivers interest.
Secondus thanked Rivers people for standing firm to defend the state from the fangs of her enemies.