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Tension in Bayelsa as election holds today


Tension in Bayelsa over rerun poll
There is tension in Bayelsa State as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) prepare for the rerun governorship poll in Southern Ijaw Local Government. Will the election be peaceful, free and fair? Corrrespondent MIKE ODIEGWU examines the conditions that will quarantee a credible poll.

Last year ended with failed expectations in Bayelsa State. The governorship election was declared inconclusive in controversial circumstances. Therefore, the hope of a new governor-elect will be inaugurated on February 14, was dashed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Now, there are mixed feelings in the state, considering the events that characterised the disputed December 5 and 6 elections. The elections were bloody. Violence swept across the local government areas as brazen public display of brigandage, thuggery, hijack of electoral materials by party loyalists marred the entire process.

Despite the violence, INEC declared results in seven local government areas, but failed to announce the results of the Southern Ijaw Local Government Area, which has 425 polling units and 120,827 voting population, the second largest concentration of voters after Yenagoa Local Government Area.

Though the governor and candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mr. Seriake Dickson, led his closest rival and candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief Timipre Sylva, with 33,150 votes, he was unsettled as the state waited for the results from Southern Ijaw.


On December 6, last year, when the rescheduled poll in Southern Ijaw was billed to hold, the governor, who kicked against the decision of INEC and security officials to go ahead with the polls despite the gun battle that marred the process on December 5, took some steps interpreted to be against the electoral process to register his displeasure.

Dickson, who hails from Sagbama Local Government Area, visited Oporoma, the headquarters of Southern Ijaw, in the morning of the election, a move that was condemned by the Operation Safe Conduct (SFC), a special military squad in charge of monitoring the poll.

The governor was said to have stormed Amassoma, one of the communities in Southern Ijaw with high voting strength. But, he was stopped from entering the community. Dickson summoned residents of the state to protest election in Southern Ijaw and went on live broadcast to condemn the exercise at a time, collation of results was ongoing in Yenagoa.

The PDP defended the action of the governor asserting that, as the Chief Security Officer of the state he reserved the exclusive rights to visit any troubled spot in the state at any time. The party also launched a tirade against the army describing its role in the election as ignoble.

Following pressure on INEC officials especially, the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Mr. Baritor Kpagir, the result of Southern Ijaw, being expected at the collation centre, a day after the election had ended, was cancelled.

The cancellation opened a can of worms with the APC and its candidate threatening fire and brimstone. Allegations and counter allegations of bribery and compromise trailed the cancellation. Against the backdrop of the hullabaloo, INEC held an enlarged stakeholders’ meeting where it was decided that a rerun would hold in Southern Ijaw on January 9.

Curiously, the stakeholders agreed that other polling units where elections could not hold should undergo fresh poll. Therefore, on January 9, there will be elections in Southern Ijaw, which some persons had described as Bayelsa California and other polling units.

Implications of the rerun

Apart from Southern Ijaw, elections will hold in 112 polling units in six out of the seven local government areas where results had already been declared. All the units have a total registered voters of 36,663. This is aside Southern Ijaw that has a total voting population of 120,827.

Therefore, there are about 157,490 votes for grabs on January 9 depending on the number of collected Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) and turnout of voters. Southern Ijaw is said to have about 100,000 collected PVCs following the last continuous voter registration exercise. Pundits believe that the election is not over yet.

The forthcoming poll has positive and negative implications for both Dickson and Sylva. The margin of victory of the governor and the PDP could either be closed or widened. The governor stands a chance of either extending his lead in six out of the seven councils he won or losing some of the local government areas to Sylva and the APC.

Local government indicators

Ogbia: based on results already declared by INEC, Dickson is leading Sylva in Ogbia the local government area of former President Goodluck Jonathan. While Dickson and the PDP polled 13,051 votes, Sylva and the APC scored 9,106, a marginal difference of 3,945 votes.

But, on January 9, the supplementary election will hold in 27 polling units in Ogbia with a voting population of 5,816 votes. Following reports that the units are the stronghold of APC, the reason they elections there were allegedly cancelled in the first place, Sylva stands a chance of reclaiming the council and dislodging it from the grips of Dickson. But pundits argue that it will be difficult since the PDP is also prepared to win votes in the polling units.

Yenagoa: Elections will hold in 16 polling units which have about 8,383 registered voters. Observers’ calculations show that the APC can only narrow the lead of PDP since the number of votes to be contested are less than the margin of difference between the PDP and the APC.

In Yenagoa, PDP scored 24,258 votes against the APC, which got 14,563 votes, a difference of 9,695 votes. So, even if all the voters have PVCs and decide to cast their votes for APC, the party will only succeed in closing the gap of PDP’s lead. It is, therefore, no longer possible for APC to win Yenagoa even if it defeats PDP by landslide in the supplementary poll. But PDP with its determined candidate will also contest seriously for the votes in the polling units.

Ekeremor: This is the home of the Minister of State for Agriculture, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri. Ex-militants and hired thugs from outside the state besieged his house on December 5, held him hostage with gunfire and substantially disrupted elections in the council. His house was riddled with bullets. But he escaped by the whiskers.

The council has the largest concentration of cancelled votes. On January 9, there will be a rerun in 44 polling units which have about 13,910 votes. APC stands a greater chance of reclaiming the council from PDP and closing overall vote difference if it could win by landslide.

In the results already declared, the PDP scored 14,602 votes to defeat the APC which polled 7,918, a difference of 6,684 votes. Therefore, APC will be gunning to grab substantial number of the votes to topple the PDP which is also not resting in its oars.

Nembe: Elections will hold in 13 polling units in Nembe which has about 4,294 votes. The outcome of the December election showed that PDP scored 10,764 votes to win the APC which got 6,974 votes, a difference of 3,790 votes.

It will, however, be difficult for APC to claim the council since the deputy Governor of the state, Rear Admiral John Jonah (retd) hails from the area. But the APC members said the polling units are their stronghold in the council.

Brass and Sagbama: these are two extreme cases. While the APC won Brass, the Local Government Area of Sylva by landslide polling 21,755 to defeat the PDP which scored only 6,512; the PDP won Sagbama, the local government area of Dickson, with whopping 28,934 votes to win the APC which could only boast of 5,382 votes.

While the APC will be aiming to secure more votes in the six polling units with 2255 registered voters, where elections will hold in Brass; the PDP will be struggling to secure the remaining 2005 votes in six polling units where the poll will also hold in Sagbama.

Kolokuma/Opokuma: There will be no election in Kolokuma/Opokuma because the election in the area where the PDP won the APC with only 700 votes was adjudged peaceful. No polling unit was cancelled.

Southern Ijaw: This the deciding local government area. It is more crucial to the APC than the PDP. It is the reason why the election in the state was declared inconclusive. The APC claims that the area is its strongest zone. The running mate to Sylva, Elder Wilberforce Igiri and the party’s Chairman, Chief Tiwe Oruminighe hail from Southern Ijaw.

Therefore, the APC believes that the area will produce the number of votes it needs to defeat the governor. The party contended that if the result of the December 6 election it got from the area had been announced, it would have won the PDP.

But, the PDP also boasts that the zone is its stronghold. It contends that nothing will stop it from winning the council since the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Mr. Kombowei Benson, is from there. Besides, the party said other members of the House of Assembly from the area and all the appointees of the governor in the area will helps it to secure victory in the council. So, it is a battle royale in the council on January 9.

Party strategies

Analysts believe that the APC will, misfire if it concentrates only on Southern Ijaw and ignores other polling units where election will hold. For APC to make an impact, every vote, no matter where it is located, matters. Therefore, the party may be exploring strategies of denying PDP votes not just in Southern Ijaw but also in other local government areas.

On the other hand, PDP does not need additional votes to win Sylva. If the status quo ante remains, the PDP will definitely cruise home to victory. So, the party may also be exploring possible ways of discouraging voters from coming out on January 9. Other pundits also argue that the PDP should use everything it has to contest for votes and extend its lead on January 9.

Tension

The APC and PDP have been living like cat and mouse, ahead of the supplementary poll. Their utterances have heightened tension. For instance, the APC raised the alarm on alleged importation of thugs by the PDP.

The APC said it was disheartening that the PDP and Dickson, were still disposed to violence after using over 5000 imported thugs to disorganise the December 5 and 6 poll.

The party in a statement signed by the Director, Media and Publicity, the Sylva-Igiri Campaign Organisation (SICO), Chief Nathan Egba, called on the people of the state to hold Dickson accountable for any breakdown of law and order.

Egba insisted that Dickson allegedly brought large numbers of non-Bayelsans into the state ahead of the poll.

He said: “Already, we have it on good authority that Governor Dickson and his PDP agents have again started bringing these thugs into the State ahead of the January 9th 2016 re-run in Southern Ijaw LGA and other polling units in six local government areas to repeat what they did on December 5 and 6.

“We have been informed that some strange-looking faces are being seen in some rural communities of Southern Ijaw, while some have been camped in different hotels in Amarata, Swali and Tombia areas of Yenagoa”.

“We wish to call on the security agencies in the state to step up their intelligence and track down all those plotting to cause mayhem in the re-run with a view to compromising the election through massive rigging.”

Egba urged Dickson to live up to the expectation of the Bayelsa by performing his most basic responsibility of ensuring the security of lives and property instead of hounding perceived political enemies.

But, the PDP denied the allegations and accused the APC of making fresh plans to rig the rescheduled election in Southern Ijaw LGA. The PDP also reiterated its earlier position that the same desperation resulted in abuse respectable federal institutions during the aborted election.

The party through a statement issued by the Director of Publicity, Restoration Campaign Organisation, Jonathan Obuebite, said the APC had still not learnt any lessons from the last incident.

Obuebite claimed that the PDP uncovered fresh plans to rig at all cost even when it was glaring that there is no way the APC could possibly win the poll.

He said: “APC have still not learnt their lessons as they are hell-bent on using the same federal institutions to rig the rescheduled Southern Ijaw election even when it is so glaring that there is no way the APC could possibly win. Sylva’s desperation to win at all cost even when the odds are clearly against him having been roundly rejected by the people is curious”.

Also, ahead of the poll, the police summoned ex-militant leaders and supporters of the APC to their command in Yenagoa, the state capital. The summon generated tension in the state especially as the ex-militants refused to honour the invitation.

The police in a copy of the invitation letter dated December 31, 2015 and sent to one of the ex-militant leaders, Eris Paul, popularly known as Ogunboss, asked the former agitators to appear on January 4.

The meeting was summoned by the police command through the office of the State Intelligence Bureau led by Deputy Superitendent of Police (DSP), Ondo Gbekumo. The letter emphasized that the attendance to the meeting was compulsory.

It said: “?The attendance to the meeting by ex-militant leaders is mandatory as issues bothering on threat to security on the January 9 election will be discussed.”

The letter was also sent to Africanus Ukparisia popularly called General Africa who was known to have supported President Muhammadu Buhari in the region during the 2015 Presidential election.

But, the ex-militant leaders accused the state police command of bias and partisan loyalty to the PDP. They called for the overhaul of the present structure of the state police insisting that as presently constituted the state police lacked the discipline to ensure a free and fair election in Southern Ijaw Local Government Council.

Besides they argued that Gbekumo who signed the invitation letter is an apologist and relation of the PDP candidate and governor of the state, Mr. Seriake Dickson.

“When did we become members of the state security agencies to be invited to security meeting? Nothing annoys me so much as receiving the invitation from a relative of Governor Seriake,Ondo Gbekumo”, Oguboss said.

Stakeholders demand redeployment of REC, others

Following allegations of partisanship and bribery against the Kpagir and other state INEC officials who conducted the botched elections, some stakeholders have called for their redeployment before the supplementary election. A group of lawyers, after conducting a legal clinic presented a strong argument while Kpagir and his team should not be allowed to conduct the election.

The lawyers said INEC would fail neutrality test if it allowed personnel that conducted the December 5 inconclusive election to carry out the rerun poll on January 9.

They said their findings revealed that the current composition of INEC in Bayelsa would not guarantee a free and fair rerun poll. The report of the clinic was signed by the General Counsel, Legal Clinic for Development and Democracy (LCDD), B. B. Bamigboye.

The lawyers urged the commission to redeploy Kpagir and other principal officers since they were no longer neutral as required by the Electoral Act.

Bamigboye observed that the two leading candidates, Sylva and Dickson publicly disputed the results in local government areas where they allegedly lost.

He said despite the dispute, INEC declared winners in seven out of the eight local government areas but aligned with the PDP to cancel the results in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area citing violence.

He said while the APC and a group of observers opposed the reason for canceling the election, the PDP had continued to defend the INEC officials responsible for the cancellation. Bamigboye also recalled that the REC allegedly issued a statement claiming he was offered money to rig the election and that his life was under threat.

He said though the party that offered the REC money had been a subject of speculation, INEC leadership had yet to uphold the neutrality contained in its enabling statute following plethora of petitions, allegations and counter allegations involving its officials.

He said the statute required INEC to redeploy politically exposed officials and to detail new personnel to conduct the supplementary elections in Southern Ijaw and other units across the state.

He said: “Whilst Electoral Act does not confer locus standi on voters in election tribunal, the right to vote and be voted for is now under threat due to INEC’s inability to demonstrate commitment to neutrality.

“When we juxtapose the foregoing facts with section 28 of the electoral Act 2010, we must of necessity demand a reasonable degree of legal rectitude from INEC.”

Quoting section 18.28 of the Electoral Act, he said: “(1) All staff appointed by the Commission taking part in the conduct of anelection shall affirm or swear before the High Court an Oath of neutrality asin the Second Schedule to this Act.

“(2) All Electoral Officers, PresidingOfficers, Returning Officers and all staff appointed by the Commission takingpart in the conduct of an election shall affirm or swear an oath of loyalty andneutrality indicating that they would not accept bribe or gratification fromany person, and shall perform their functions and duties impartially and in theinterest of the Federal Republic of Nigeria without fear or favor.”

He averred that based on admittance of the REC, the neutrality of INEC in Bayelsa was legally questionable.

He said: “Can it be said that in the exercise of its discretion, INEC officials complied with Section 28of the Electoral Act 2010 (as Amended)? Are we supposed to embark upon a voyage of discovery in order to ascertain the culprits cited by the REC from the outcome of the results so far and that of January 9th, 2016?

“Does the controversy surrounding allegation of the REC amounts to INEC’s descent into the arena of dispute? What is the rule when an arbiter such as INEC is publicly challenged on its acts or omissions occasioning its decent to the arena of dispute?

“If the complainants accuse one another as culprits are we not bound by rule of law to give fair hearing to the complainants through neutral parties? Are there no neutral persons in INEC whose decisions will not be fettered by the current encumbrances of bias, prejudice, mistrust and ill-will?

“Is INEC itself conscious of the principles upon which its functions are weighed – whether in the court of public opinion or in courts of justice?

“Where instruments of human rights and democracy which flow from international comity are violated, are citizens entitled to redress through the respective agencies of government?

“We have a pending case in this area at the Federal High Court Abuja (Bamigboye Vs INEC, PDP and APC FHC/ABJ/CS/234/2015).”

He added: “The foregoing questions point to one fundamental principle, to wit neutrality. It is settled law that: where the same reasons exist, the same laws prevail, and of things similar, the judgment is similar. (Ubi eadem ratio, ibi eadem lex; et de similibus idem est judicium).

“Applying this principle of law, INEC must conduct its business with the same level of observable neutrality as we have in all adjudicatory processes. A judge who has his reputation to protect does not hesitate to recuse himself.

“INEC as constituted in Bayelsa can no longer apply section 28 of the Electoral Act given the public declaration of the REC and the attendant dispute in which, as of his legal right, he is now a proper party.

“The parties including the concerned INEC officials are now entitled to reliefs that can only be afforded by submission to good offices of neutral persons and officials at this stage.”
 
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