INEC, Security Agencies and Bayelsa Governorship Election



Stanley Nkwazema

In the next 20 days, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will conduct the Bayelsa and Kogi governorship elections to produce the governors for the two states who would be sworn- in February 2020.

The two elections have something in common; they are two of the few states which the courts had ordered fresh elections seven years ago thereby boxing them out of the normal cycle of four years when other states file out for the polls to elect governors.

The last two elections, particularly in Bayelsa, have been deadly. The effects were the killings and the displacement of over 3000 people, now taking refuging in Bassmabari, and the death of several people in the process. Indeed, during the 2019 presidential, national and state Assembly elections in the state, it was a show of shame with the opposition openly unleashing mayhem and engaging in violence that consumed many lives and jeopardised stability. This made many fatherless and motherless.

The most shocking was the abduction and torture of a Deputy Commissioner of Police, Kola Okunola in the Brass area by thugs. Also, the oil industry players are accused of being major players in the electoral violence even as Justice Abang also granted the prayers of the Nigerian police to arrest and prosecute an oil surveillance contractor and others over alleged complicity in the February 23, 2019 attack and abduction of DCP Okunola.

The oil contractors’ name kept coming up during the first week of the sitting as prominent people who have appeared before the commission, including Chief Blessing Ipigasi Izagara who is also the candidate for the Bayelsa East Senatorial District; former Chairman of Nembe Local Government Area, Chief Kurogbofa Walter – Benewari and the Vice Chairman of the local government area, Mr. Aiyebainaemi, exposed culprits.  Walter-Benewari told the panel that APC thugs attacked people in Bassambiri and Okipri areas. The rampaging thugs, according to verifiable reports and eye witness accounts, broke into his house, killing, and destroying and carting away valuable items.

The youths, who are being used to perpetrate electoral violence by the so-called leaders, have never bothered to sit back and ponder what becomes of them after the elections or what roles are being played by the children of the leaders who use them to disrupt the process for their selfish gains. The major actors have never bothered to register their children, wards and relatives to even vote or join in the heinous acts where human lives are wasted.

It may be worthy to note that during such periods as the primaries, electioneering campaigns, voting and collation processes, their families are moved out of circulation, clothed in expensive robes and flown out of the creeks, jungles, villages to the cities and foreign lands where they have their mansions.

The killings were so embarrassing that the former Chairman of Senate Committee on Privatisation, Senator Ben Murray Bruce decried the acts saying  “I wish to state categorically that any further killing in Bayelsa State as a result of the ongoing election where the law enforcement agents are watching, or the leaders of the political parties seem to have instigated such killing, I will personally ensure that they are charged for murder. If government fails to prosecute them, I will drag them before the International Criminal Court in The Hague for crimes against humanity.”

 Bruce, while berating security operatives for failing to protect the electorate from attacks by political thugs and criminals said: “I have observed with dismay, the killings in Bayelsa State in the ongoing governorship election. The military and the Police have been seen to watch with indifference while thugs and criminals kill law abiding citizens who were out to perform their franchise. So far, about four people have been reported killed, many injured, including Youth Corps members serving as adhoc staff to the INEC.

“Citizens have a right to vote for any candidate of their choice in any election without coercion or intimidation. And it is the responsibility of the government to protect these citizens as enshrined in our Constitution. But it is sad to note that these defenseless citizens were killed without being protected by the law enforcement agents even when they were watching.”

The Governor of the state Hon Seriake Dickson was livid with anger when the Government House photographer Reginald Dei, was hacked to death in his house hours after the election. His offence was that he was in possession of evidence in pictures of some of the atrocities committed in the Southern Ijaw area during the elections

He was allegedly shot by men in Army uniform in Oweikorogha, Southern Ijaw Local Government Area during the last Presidential and National Assembly elections. Dei was shot alongside a People’s Democratic Party (PDP) leader in Oweikorogha Community, Seidougha Taribi, in controversial circumstances at his residence.

While Dei was initially feared dead, he, however, survived the attack until two days after the incident, but Taribi was confirmed dead on the spot.

Worried by the mess created and the lives wasted in Bayelsa state, Governor Dickson set up a commission of inquiry into the violence, mayhem and breach of peace during and after the general election.

Even as over 35 witnesses testified with gory pictures that looked more like a massacre, the security agencies were not portrayed in positive terms as their conduct was flayed for turning deaf ears and watching lives being wasted by thugs

The panel led by Justice Iniekade Eradiri invited prominent APC leaders but they failed to turn up.

Again, while lending his voice to a violence-free election, on Tuesday, Senator Douye Diri, the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Bayelsa State, called on the governments of the United Kingdom and the United States to closely monitor the electioneering processes in the state to ensure free and fair governorship poll.

The senator was worried when he spoke to delegations from the British High Commission and the United States Embassy, insisting that the call became imperative in view of the fact that the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) was reportedly plotting to compromise the November 16 poll.  “The APC was not preparing for peaceful election as indicated by their recent alleged boast and threats to the supporters of PDP. Unlike the APC, he said the PDP was firmly rooted in Bayelsa State and would not need to engage in violence and manipulation to win the governorship election.

Diri said, “We don’t want violence. Election is not war; you don’t need guns. We are ready for a peaceful free and fair election unlike our main opponent. APC is not ready for election. They are banking on violence; they want to use federal might, military and police. They are planning to write the results.

“We are also calling on INEC and the security agents to remain neutral in the election. INEC must help Nigeria’s democracy to grow. The Osun and Kano elections are still fresh in our memory. PDP clearly won that election but for the inconclusiveness introduced by INEC to give victory to the APC.

 “Bayelsa is PDP. 19 members out of 24 in the State Assembly are PDP. We have 105 councillors, eight elected Local Government Chairmen. Even the Senate seat APC won in the last election was compromised, we all know what they did. Even the two seats in the House of Representatives in Brass/Nembe and Southern Ijaw were compromised. That is not democracy.”

In their separate remarks, the US Consul-General, Claire Pierangelo and Leader of the British High Commission team, Sarabjit Singh, said they were in the state to advocate peaceful election by meeting with leading candidates in the election.

The US envoy commended Diri’s disposition and commitment to a peaceful electoral process. She said they were in Bayelsa to meet with all the political players to discuss the upcoming election and expressed the hope that the poll would be peaceful.

“It is our sincere hope that we see free, fair, credible and peaceful election. These are important tenets of a successful democracy and this is what the people of Bayelsa want. We will come back as observers in November to help document and hopefully be a positive presence,” she said.

She also disclosed that the US Embassy would raise an election observer team to observe the conduct of the election across the state and also support relevant stakeholders to achieve credible election

Similarly, Mr. Sarabjit Singh said they had been meeting the candidates of the different political parties, talking about how important it is that the election is free, fair and credible and for the people to refrain from engaging in violence.

“We came to Bayelsa to meet you, your main opponent, David Lyon (of the APC) and other candidates as well to get your thoughts and opinions on how and what you think about the election and its process,” he said.

The electoral umpire, INEC is also not left out in the picture, with Chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmud Yakubu promising that his organisation would be an honest broker. INEC has also committed to conducting free, fair, credible, conclusive and acceptable election in Bayelsa.

The INEC boss explained that while INEC was ready for credible election, the attitude of political class remained a source of concern to the commission.

“We are concerned about utterances likely to breach peace during the campaign, on election day, and during the collation of results. Let me remind the candidates that the commission working with the security will not accept attack on your children, the people will engage on election day. We are going to engage over 10,000 young Nigeria across the state. We are concerned on mobilisation of armed persons to the voting and collation centres as we experienced in previous elections,” he said.

Yakubu, who was in Bayelsa for an interactive session with major stakeholders in the November Governorship polls, commended the traditional rulers for their continuous support to INEC, including the mobilisation of their subjects to register and collect their permanent voter cards, as well as advocacy for peaceful elections.

“No one can accuse you of partisanship. You are fathers of all. Your words are laws in communities. So, we appeal to you to continue to speak to your subjects, the political actors and their support for peaceful conduct during the electioneering campaigns, the voting process and beyond,” the INEC boss said.

Yakubu assured that as an umpire, INEC would maintain its neutrality in the electoral process and open poll by 8 a. m. in the state.

“INEC is not a political party; INEC has no candidate in the governorship election. The choice of who becomes next governor rest entire in hands of the people of Bayelsa. We have delivered all the none-sensitive election materials in Bayelsa; they are already in the state. We have secured funding and made funds available to the Resident Electoral Commissioner for the administration of the election. We have no problem whatsoever with that.

“We will deploy straight from our office in Yenegoa to registration area to make it faster for us to open polling units at 8am on election day. We are committed to ensuring that voters don’t wait for INEC and materials to arrive. We should be there waiting for voters to arrive at 8 a.m.”

Yakubu said that out of 14 activities scheduled for the state election, INEC had successful activated 10.

On the part of the Nigeria police, the Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIG) in-charge of zone 5, Mr. Dibal Yakubu, decried the spate of snatching of ballot box during elections while pledging  that the police was making adequate arrangement to checkmate irregularities during the gubernatorial poll. The AIG confirmed that security personnel would be deployed to all the eight local government areas and wards in Bayelsa while calling for the collaboration of traditional rulers to ensure a successful and violence-free election in the state.

The Chairman of Traditional Rulers in the state, His Royal Majesty, King Alfred Diete-Spiff said the council would continue to support INEC activities, especially in the forthcoming gubernatorial election, expressing concern about internally displaced persons in Yenagoa, urging INEC to ensure they vote in the forthcoming election.

The Traditional Ruler and former Military Administrator of the old Rivers State also expressed concern about deployment of a large number of military personnel for election, urging the agency to control its men.