Bayelsa: Election at Gunpoint

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SUNDAY PERSPECTIVE 

Daniel Iworiso-Markson

In the sordid history of political chicanery and election malfeasance in our nation few episodes can come near the electoral heist and brigandage that took place in Bayelsa on November 16.

But the outside observer will hardly know this from the clearly orchestrated reporting and commentaries that have come in the wake of the governorship election. There is a massive programme to befuddle the people who may not have a sufficient understanding of the issues.

This intervention is not being made from my standpoint as a member of the state government or, for that matter as its spokesman but as a witness to the debacle called election of November 16. My aim here is simply to try to situate the issues and set the record straight, if nothing else, for the sake of posterity.

And two issues with multiple strands are of interest here: the so-called election as yardstick for the various commentaries and the barrage of criticisms and vilifications of Governor Seriake Dickson as the villain of the piece.

Such commentators and opinion writers have based their commentaries on the premise that an election took place in Bayelsa State on November 16. The fact of the matter is simply that there was actually no election in Batelsa State on November 16. What happened here as many independent observers have pointed out was nothing but a military coup dressed in tattered electoral garb.

Said a coalition of 400 civil rights organizations under the aegis of Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room (NCSSR) in a report by its reputable convener, Clement Nwankwo, a long standing crusader for human rights and democratic advancement in Nigeria, “Situation Room is disappointed with the conduct of the two elections in Kogi and Bayelsa State. The elections fall below the standard expected of a free, fair and credible election. Accordingly, Situation Room is calling for cancellation of the entirety of the outcome”.

Similarly, the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) in its report noted that what happened in Bayelsa on November 16 was an assault on democratic order in the country.  In a report, CDD Director, Ms Idayat Hassan, stated that “the observations in the polls were a call to action and became imperative in order to save Nigeria’s democracy”. Interestingly, the CDD report was titled “Gunpoint Democracy”, appropriately putting in context what they actually saw as a coup against the good people of Bayelsa.

This is a huge concern for our nation. The future of democracy is really bleak because it is gradually becoming a norm that the military and allied security agencies would, on election-day, take over the entire conduct of elections and steamroller the process towards a pre-determined outcome. If what took place in Bayelsa could  pass for an election then we can as well surrender to the military and return to full scale military rule. Let’s know we are under military rule and forget about democracy in Nigeria, sparing ourselves the humongous expenditure and all the angst that have come to highlight elections in these parts.

The military took over the election as a pre-determined exercise and from every local government, polling unit after poling unit, to all the wards, results were already prepared. They were prepared in such a way that clearly showed that it was all pre- determined. It is really sad to know that the security agencies were part of it all and that the electoral umpire, the so-called Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was recruited to be in active  connivance.

It was so brazen that in most of the polling units, they had results where the number of votes exceeded the number of registered voters, Surprisingly, INEC accepted those results as though the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the supporters and indeed the generality of the people who came out to vote didn’t matter.

For instance, how can anyone explain the result in Ogbia, my local government, which did not reflect the voting strength of the people compared to all the results we have had since 1999, simply because the military disallowed the people from voting, thereby suppressing their inalienable right to determine their leader?

This is the basis for my disagreement with those commentators who, cynically, have pretended there was an election and accordingly premised such views and analyses on what never held.

Is this the way we want to remember and honour the sacrifice and blood of those who fought for this democracy? In which case, those martyrs of democracy like Chief M.K.O Abiola, his wife, Kudirat, Pa Alfred Rewane, Bagudu Kaltho and many unsung heroes died in vain?

I have also heard as part of the commentaries that if the outcome had favoured the PDP, they will not be complaining and therefore, since it’s the “turn” of the APC today, we should move on. How cynical can you get? As if the people’s right to choose their own leaders does not matter? There is no way of tweaking what is blatantly wrong to make it right.

Indeed, the incident in Nembe (now aptly referred to as the Nembe Massacre) two days to the election was an eye opener. If we are a serious country that values human lives, INEC had no business conducting election in Nembe because it was clear to the whole world that the place was unsafe to have an election. The mayhem in Nembe had claimed over 30 lives but official report recorded the number of deaths as 12 and 93 persons were lying critically in hospitals with different degrees of injuries.  Among those who died was one of my staff and kinsman, Simon Onu, an Outside Broadcast (OB) Van driver working with Radio Bayelsa. So is the Nigerian state saying those lives do not matter, that those sordid atrocities in Nembe didn’t matter? That INEC brazenly said elections were held in Nembe even with the evidence that no election took place but results were merely awarded? So where is the future of our democracy?

As part of the premeditated evil done in Bayelsa, the atmosphere has been suffused with propaganda that seeks to hold Governor Dickson responsible for the APC’s heist.

The real culprits are both the elite conspirators and our national institutions, those elements  who sacrificed patriotism and national well-being for temporary convenience and validation of their prejudices and animosities.

It is easy to criticise the governor because as many have said, he picked a wrong candidate, he was arrogant, he was high-handed etc. But let me say it without equivocation that no matter who the PDP fielded as candidate  the result would still not have been different going by the APC pre-determined script.

For us, not just as Bayelsans but as Nigerians, we must begin to think seriously about our electoral process and the way forward. I do not think any election should claim the life of anyone. But when you start counting lives lost in an election in multiple numbers as in the case of Bayelsa and Kogi then the future of democracy is bleak indeed. I am aware of the current effort in the senate to reform the electoral laws but without the necessary cultivation of democratic culture by allowing the will of the people to prevail at elections rather than resort to procuring mandates through the  jackboot no amount of electoral reform will work.

Having worked closely with Governor Dickson, I can attest to his passionate commitment to the cause of the Ijaw people, their development and well-being. Believe me I’m yet to see a leader with so much passion for the Ijaw people like the governor. A man who has given his all to serve his people and done more that any leader in same position as record tells us, reaching out to both high and low, he certainly deserves some credit.

On his relationship with former President, Goodluck Jonathan, history will also bear him out (in spite of all the negative commentaries) as one person who stood by the former President through and through over years especially when he lost the presidency. When those now around the former president deserted him, Governor Dickson stood firm, mobilized support across the country and mobilized resources to support him.

So let’s not be carried away that because the man is leaving office and therefore we must vilify him just to satisfy personal grudges.  Our people must stop such tendency of personalizing issues to the extent of casting aspersions on the governor which I think is unfair. The  the legacies of the man are everywhere no matter what his traducers say.

From education revolution to infrastructure to health, empowerment and a new sense of leadership with vision, Governor Dickson made a lasting difference. Over 10,000 students who enjoy free qualitative education in those thirteen modern model boarding schools (including free feeding, uniform, books and sandals) in the state will remember him in due time. Also some of those who benefited from his foreign scholarships now working with Apple, Google and top tech companies in the United States aside those at Lincoln University and elsewhere will think highly of him as a visionary who, like others, gave them rare life changing opportunities.  No one can deny the fact that he reformed the governance structure, brought creativity into the system and created opportunities for youth and women. He also democratised the political space where people were free once again unlike the past where cultists and criminal gangs reigned in the state. Which Bayelsan wants to return the era of Famutangbe?

For the record, let me say that Governor Dickson is a consensus builder, who has done very well in the proper integration of our people across the state and beyond in the onerous quest for a united and prosperous Bayelsa and the Ijaw nation.

Many of his latter day critics who have arisen  because it is convenient for them (and they know themselves) were ironically some of the biggest beneficiaries of the Dickson administration. They know what he has done for them and their children, even ensuring some of them are still alive today by virtue of the quick medical intervention. I believe that at a point in the nearest future, their conscience will judge them.

As with leaders like him, history suggests that Governor Seriake Dickson’s true worth will be properly celebrated when he is long gone from the scene.

He remains a true hero of Bayelsa and posterity will be kind to him.

––Iworiso-Markson, Commissioner for Information and Orientation in Bayelsa sent in this piece from Yenagoa