Thursday, January 14, 2016

The electoral bloodbath in Bayelsa

“Sadly, however, the election was conducted at the price of several lives lost and mayhem visited on many communities by mindless brigands clearly summoned by those who do not respect the democratic process and have equally scant regard for the sanctity of lives and property”
– Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State in a press statement on January 10, 2016
I am saddened, and greatly grieved, by the electoral bloodbath in Bayelsa State last weekend. How come a civil exercise metamorphosed into a war? Are Nigerian politicians ready for democracy? Can it be truly said that politicians contest elections in this clime to serve? How long shall we continue to shed human blood on the altar of elections? Will the victims of electoral war in Nigeria ever get justice? Will the arrowheads and masterminds of the January 9 and 10, 2016 electoral violence in the state ever get caught and prosecuted for this heinous crime against humanity? So many questions begging for answers.
The Independent National Electoral Commission had done the needful by giving a fair chance to the registered voters in Baylesa State to choose their governor for the next four years. It mobilised scarce financial resources to prepare for the election. It sought help from the security agencies including the armed forces to help secure the environment and provide logistical support given the difficult topography of the largely riverine state. The electoral body, aside from conducting extensive voter education and peace education, even rallied the 20 political parties and their candidates to sign a peace accord on November 10, 2015. The political gladiators gladly did but as it turned out, they observed the peace pact in breach.

Ahead of the January 9 supplementary election in Southern Ijaw and about 106 other Polling Units spread across six local governments except Opokuma/Kolokuma, there were cases of kidnappings, bombings, harassment, hate speeches, wild allegations and all forms of underhand tactics by the two dominant political parties and candidates in the race, that is, the Peoples Democratic Party whose candidate is the incumbent governor, Dickson and the All Progressives Congress whose candidate is former governor Timipre Sylva. Among those kidnapped were the centenarian mother of the running mate to Sylva, Elder Wilberforce Igiri and the younger sister to the governor, Nancy Keme Dickson. The younger brother to the deputy governor-elect, Pastor Beinmopre Jonah, was assaulted by unknown gunmen last week and is currently on a danger list in the hospital. In the early hours of Thursday, January 7, there was a bomb attack on the house of the Speaker, Bayelsa State House of Assembly, Mr. Konbowei Benson, in Korokorosie, Southern Ijaw LGA.
About five persons were reportedly murdered in the lead up to and during the inconclusive December 5, 2015 election while this newspaper on January 10, 2016 reported that more than 10 people were allegedly killed in the supplementary election. They include four policemen, two soldiers and about six civilians. Additional six persons were also reportedly shot dead in a post-election gun battle between supporters of the PDP and the APC in Peremabiri community of Southern Ijaw. Also gunned and mortally injured was the Paramount Ruler of the community, Chief Progress Neverdie. Senator Ben Murray Bruce said some of the innocent victims included Nicholas Sampson, Oweiga Clement, Opiriye Iyala, Princewill Takubo.
In its preliminary report on the supplementary election released on January 11, the Transition Monitoring Group observed high levels of violence in many of the polling units. The group said, “Widespread instances of ballot box snatching, damage of ballots and stealing of ballot papers hindered the counting and announcement of results at many PUs in Southern Ijaw.” The madness did not spare the accredited observer groups as the TMG claimed that the high level of harassment and intimidation meted out to its observers made it impossible for them to fully observe elections in Ekeremor, Nembe and Southern Ijaw.
There are several implications of the Bayelsa bloodbath on the electoral process. One of them is the voter apathy it generated. INEC called for supplementary poll in areas where elections could not hold or election results were cancelled due to anomalies on December 5. Southern Ijaw Local Government Area has 17 wards, 425 PUs and 120,827 registered voters. An additional 38,000 registered voters in 106 PUs across six Local Governments of Brass, Ekeremor, Nembe, Sagbama, Yenagoa and Ogbiawere also provided opportunity to participate in the election. Thus, a total of 158, 827 were to take part in the supplementary election of last Saturday. Unfortunately, only about a quarter of that voting population came out to vote in the election.
Even overall, about 30 per cent voter turnout was recorded. According to the Returning Officer, Prof. Zana Akpagu, the total number of registered voters in Bayelsa State is 654,493, while 242,114 voters were accredited for the election. 232,167 votes were cast with 225,520 being the number of valid votes, while a total of 6,647 votes were rejected.
Another implication of the bloody poll is that Governor Seriake Dickson’s victory at the poll is tainted. It’s a pyrrhic victory. It also shows that politicians are not to be trusted. The APC and the PDP that were the major actors in this theatre of electoral war were part of those who signed the peace deal ahead of the election. Were they compelled to do so? The enormous financial cost borne by Nigerian taxpayers who funded INEC and security agents who synergised to conduct the election should also be factored in. Did Bayelsans and indeed Nigerians get the value for the money spent on the election? INEC and other government properties destroyed by political hooligans will still be replaced by public fund. Who then is the loser?
I am of the opinion that the security agents did not live up to expectation in Bayelsa. If indeed after more than a month given it by INEC to perfect its act and provide solid security for the conduct of the supplementary poll, and in spite of deploying about 5,000 security officials for the election, there was still a lot of bloodletting, then their performance leaves much to be desired.
In sum, let me quickly react to the claim of Mr. Dennis Otiotio (APC Bayelsa agent) who alleged that INEC erred by returning Dickson as the winner of the election despite an alleged 53,000 cancelled votes when the difference between the governor and Sylva was 48,146 votes. He quoted Section 26 of the Electoral Act 2010 to back his claim. He was being clever by half. He should go and read sections 26 (4) and 53 (4) of the Act which gives INEC discretionary power to overlook such and order returns to be made. The APC rather than heating up the polity should gather necessary materials and proceed to the Election Petition Tribunal where it can legitimately ventilate its grievances up till the Supreme Court.
One thing that must not be waved off is the need for security agents in collaboration with INEC to identify, arrest and prosecute the masterminds of the electoral mayhem in Bayelsa. If that is not done, impunity will fester and mind you, INEC has 78 court ordered re-runs to conduct this year alone and that is aside the gubernatorial elections in Edo and Ondo later this year. The right signal thus needs to be sent to the perpetrators of violence that it will not go unpunished.
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