Though the re-run elections in Rivers State have been conducted and concluded with winners announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), alleged electoral fraud and violence by the major political parties in the exercise refused to abate ever since.
The state seemed too far from being peaceful as is the culture of the Garden City owing to endless allegations of killing, violence, ballot snatching and even outright rigging, still trailing the exercise.
The re-run elections, postponed twice, owing to threats to cause massive mayhem especially by the two leading parties in the contest – People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) – was eventually held on December 10.
The elections, chiefly tied to the aprons of the leading personalities on both divides – Governor Nyesom Wike and Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, who is the Minister for Transportation and former governor of Rivers State – have registered the state as one of the most volatile states where violence still accompanies conduct of elections.
However, some pundits have blamed the growing culture of violence in the state on the decision of Amaechi to leave PDP at the expiration of his tenure as two-term governor of the oil-rich state. Others have put the blames at the doorsteps of the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, whom they claimed did not handle the delicate defection issue of Amaechi with the tender touch it deserved then.
While either side could be right, one thing remains incontrovertible, Rivers State is considered too strategic not only to the politics of the nation, but also its economy, just like Lagos State. A win in Rivers State is seen by the leading political parties – PDP and APC – as offering a leeway to penetrate the rest of the South-South states.
In the latter days of Amaechi at the saddle in the state, it would be recalled that alleged ‘federal might’ with the aid of one Commissioner of Police – Joseph Mbu, enabled Wike, a hitherto political pal to Amaechi to become governor of the state in 2015. Also, Amaechi and Wike are said to hail from the same Senatorial District, Rivers East, where the two were practically involved strategizing to enthrone their selected candidates. Their strategies and counter strategies surged tensions from street corners that awed every watcher of the political grandstanding in the state.
Though PDP maintained an uneasy lead ahead of its arch-rival – APC, both parties are seen protesting the outcome of the election while pointing accusing fingers at each other over who was responsible for the large scale violence that greeted the conduct of the election.
Protests by aggrieved parties in the election have since taken over the streets of Port Harcourt, the state capital. Governor Nyesom Wike led a group of protesters to register his grievances over the re-run poll and the role played by Nigerian Police among other security apparatuses alleged to have worked to the advantage of APC.
The voting exercise – and later counting of votes and collation of results – took place amid widespread violence that claimed lives, including police officers, irregularities and overt bias by security operatives and electoral personnel, reports by the media and observer groups said.
PDP won senatorial elections in the Rivers East and Rivers West districts, leaving one, Rivers South East senatorial district, for the APC.
In Rivers South East, APC’s Magnus Abe won to earn a second term in the Senate. He polled 125,938 votes to defeat Olaka Nwogu of the PDP who garnered 25,394 votes.
The district witnessed cases of violence and irregularities with security operatives caught on video snatching election materials in Bodo, Gokana Local Government Area and two persons died in Luwii, Tai Local Government Area amid heavy gun-duel.
Rivers East result was declared after confrontation between PDP members led by Wike and security operatives at the collation centre in Port Harcourt. There, PDP’s George Sekibo scored 93,098 votes to defeat APC’s Andrew Uchendu who had 34,193 votes. Wike and his predecessor, Rotimi Amaechi, APC leader and Minister for Transport, are from Rivers East.
Meanwhile, Wike has accused the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Police for killing those who died during the exercise. The governor also accused APC governors of Kano, Bauchi, Plateau and Benue states of allegedly bankrolling the rerun poll with N4 billion chiefly to twist the outcome in favour of their party.
Despite the fact that the APC has denied this allegation of electoral fraud, Wike, in a statewide broadcast, also alleged that a senior officer of the security body was allegedly caught on camera molesting a female official of the INEC at the Port Harcourt City Local Government Area.
Inspector General of Police has set up a panel to look into allegation of gross misconducts leveled against Nigerian Police during the exercise, though Governor Nyesome Wike has declared that he has no confidence in such panel.
“The police cannot deliberately murder Rivers people in cold blood and turn around to investigate.
“We are not a party to their so called panel. We have passed that stage and we cannot fall into that trap of a panel of inquiry. After killing our people you want us to assist you to unravel what? It is the police that killed our people.”
Wike noted that the probe into the rerun elections had a predetermined goal to indict the PDP, and to commence a politically motivated prosecution of some members.
Amid all these, a controversial audio recording purportedly of Wike, threatening staff of INEC over the exercise, has gone viral after being posted in the Internet by SaharaReporters.
Another recorded voice of Wike and the Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose, also got to the public, with the duo heard laughing at INEC and its inability to conduct an error-free poll.
While Rivers State Government dismissed it as cheap blackmail, the recorded voice purportedly of Wike, the APC claimed the leaked audio recording had allegedly confirmed the fears raised by the party ahead of the re-run elections.
On its part, the Police told Wike that the Nigerian Police was not a vigilante component of any state that could be controlled by state governments.
The Rivers State Government, speaking through the Commissioner for Information, Dr. Austin Tam George, said it was an audio impersonation of the governor allegedly by the opposition APC in connivance with an online medium.
“We categorically deny these latest allegations as a sick fabrication, an outright lie. Governor Wike never made any contact with INEC officials in person or by telephone. It is the online propaganda bullhorn of APC. Their publications are typically false and the writers are professional hawkers of fiction.
“The voice changer technology is often used by teenagers mainly in South Korea and Japan to launch innocent technological pranks at each other, mainly for laughs. The APC and the online medium are inmates in the prison of their own lies. We reject the latest blackmail by the APC.”
Reacting, APC through its Spokesman, Bolaji Abdullahi, said “Going by the revelations from the leaked audio recordings, it is obvious that Governor Wike may have engaged in unwholesome conducts that might have compromised the integrity of the electoral process and undermined his office as the Chief Security Officer of a state. The only logical conclusion from this, therefore, is that the electoral victories of the PDP may have been achieved through underhand dealings and intimidation of officials.”
Similarly, Rivers APC said the governor had been caught pants down. The party added that there was no way he could wriggle out of it.
Publicity Secretary, APC Rivers, Mr. Chris Finebone, said it was usual for the governor to allege blackmail because that was how people caught in such situations responded in time past.
“Having been caught in the web of their own machinations, what do you expect Governor Nyesom Wike and his Commissioner to say? Often, when anyone is caught pants down the most convenient response is to blame and blackmail others.
“Governor Wike should think of a better response which we doubt he has because the audio recording is clear to everyone that it is the voice of the governor threatening to kill people – a threat that doesn’t come to us as a surprise.”
In his true helmet, Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose, said Nigerians would be disappointed expecting the APC-led government to conduct free, fair and acceptable election. To him, the APC has no sincerity to lead the country to the path of honour, saying propaganda only gave the party a ‘holier than thou’ image.
With the outcome of the poll which saw seven of the contested legislative seats won by APC Wike painted a gloomy picture for 2019 general elections, when he will seek reelection like President Muhammadu Buhari.
“It will be like war. ‘If you don’t agree, we bomb you’. If you can bring 28,000 policemen, three helicopters, 20 gunboats and then train special military all for legislative rerun elections in Rivers, then I have my fear for 2019. You cannot believe it that that Divisional Police Officers, DPOs, were all transferred on the eve of the December 10 elections.”
A senior police officer, Deputy Superintendent of Police, DSP Mohammed Alkali, and his driver were murdered in cold blood by suspected armed thugs and cultists in Ogba-Egbema-Ndoni Local Government Area of the state on the day of the rescheduled re-run elections.
DSP Alkali and his driver were beheaded and their mutilated bodies thrown into the river like chaff. An arrested suspect, Chukwuemela Ekikeme, alias ‘Prince Okoroma,’ who led a nine-member gang that murdered DSP Alkali, has confessed to the crime.
Reacting to the widespread violence that characterised the election Wike said, “We most sincerely sympathize with the families of all those that were deliberately and coldly murdered by the SARS operatives during the ill-fated re-run elections in the state and pray for the peaceful repose of their innocent souls.
“Information available to us indicate that Mr. Akin Fakorede, who was caught on camera physically brutalizing a female electoral officer is currently being debriefed by the police high command in Abuja.”
“If Rivers people could be visited with such a despicably high degree of violence, mayhem and killings by some renegade military and SARS operatives with impunity just to rescue the dying political fortunes of the All Peoples Congress, APC, in a mere legislative re-run elections, then we can now begin to imagine what is likely to happen in the state when the political stakes would be very much higher in 2019.”
Meanwhile, the APC has dismissed as lies allegations by Wike in his broadcast that governors of some states controlled by the party assisted with N4 million for the rerun elections.
APC Publicity Secretary, Chris Finebone, said “The accusations by Wike in his broadcast are mere figments of his wild imagination. No APC governor donated any money for the rerun elections in Rivers State.
“The APC governors merely showed up in solidarity with party members and candidates. APC governors don’t behave like their PDP colleagues. I think the whole obsession with federal might by Governor Wike stems from his use of federal might to rig and kill his way to power in 2015.”
Rivers State has notorious history of electoral violence, and tough talks by opposing political actors helped stoke tension and prepare ground for violence that characterised the electoral exercise.
At least five persons lost their lives, but previous elections recorded greater tragedies. Although there were cases of overt bias, huge deployment of military and security personnel for the Saturday’s elections helped improve the security of exercise.
Force Public Relations Officer, DCP Don Awunah, said “Arising from the aftermath of the conclusive re-run parliamentary election in Rivers State, novel in the political history of the state, the police have received unprecedented verbal attacks from highly placed political office holders in the media, conventional and social.
“The Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS) officers, who the governor kept referring to in his diatribes against the police, were indeed at the scene to arrest hoodlums who were there to cart away ballot papers.
“The video clips trending in the media are obviously skewed and doctored to suit predetermined political agenda.”
However, the Nigeria Police Force is determined to ensure that gangsterism, cultism and sponsored political assassinations become a thing of the past not only in Rivers State but Nigeria at large.”