The orgy of violence that characterised the Saturday, February 23 Presidential and National Assembly elections in Rivers State, especially in Abonnema, Akuku-Toru Local Government Area; Bonny Local Government Area and the beheading in Andoni shows that Nigeria has not made any progress in terms of electoral reforms since 2015. If anything, the country is receding instead of progressing.
Rising from the smooth elections of 2015, Nigeria dived back into the abyss in 2019 with open-faced rigging that is reminiscent of the dark ages.
In Rivers State, the shreds of evidence are glaring even to the blind with dead bodies accompanying the results. Yet, it sounds damaging to the ears and blinding to eyes that people have to die for those who would rule them to emerge.
Record of ballot boxes and other electoral materials snatching by thugs aided by security agents as happened in wards 6,7,8 and 9 in Okrika Local Government Area where the DPO of the police station in the area worked hand-in-hand with thugs to disrupt voting processes reinforces this position.
In Ikwerre and Emohua LGAs, the case was a crying shame. The Nigerian Army, acting under the instruction of politicians invaded collation centres of both LGAs and destroyed electoral materials and hence no collation was done.
But has the Army joined politics in Rivers State? Most likely. The confessions by collation officers of these LGAs as reported by this paper in its publication of Tuesday, February 26, 2019, buttress this point.
Mrs Mary Efeture Imawuya, the INEC Electoral Officer of Ikwerre LGA, said in a video that has now gone viral that collation of votes was never done in the entire LGA because the army destroyed ballot papers which had been thumb printed.
She said: “Between 7 and 8 pm on Saturday, February 23, 2019, the military invaded INEC office at Isiokpo and they walked out every ad-hoc staff that was there to present their results to the Collation Officers. The evidence is still there. We took recordings.
“At the end of the day, no Collation was carried out. The results of the Collation Officers, issued to them, was retrieved by me and returned backed to the INEC State Office”.
“We sent messages to all our polling officers that they should report at Isiokpo with their results. As they were coming, one after the other, the Collation Officers were asked to identify their polling units and do their Collation”, she said.
She added that the military disrupted the process by sporadic shootings and snatched the election materials.
Incidentally, Ikwerre LGA is the local government area of the minister of transportation, Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi.
In Emohua, the case was on a new high. The collation officer of the LGA, Steve Adudu turned up with over 72, 000 votes. When the results led to protests, he was asked by the Presidential Electoral Officers of the State, Professor Anifiok Essien to present the results from wards that made up the entire LGA and he said he did not have them. But the INEC Electoral Officer for Emohua Local Government Area, Kenneth Etah disputed the figures.
According to him: As I speak, I do not have any results to present for Emohua Local Government Area because collation did not take place.
“This was due to sporadic shootings that disrupted the process. There was pandemonium and everything was scattered. After one hour of shootings, security officials evacuated us to the council hall.
“We remained there, while materials remained in my office. By 5 am, I discovered my office was burgled. I have not seen my Collation Officer or the materials. I have not seen results. I submit there were no results”.
According to him, “The Returning Officer for Emohua Local Government Area who disappeared with the invading soldiers resurfaced with at the Rivers East Collation Centre in a company of soldiers.”
INEC Electoral Officer of Okrika Local Government Area of Rivers State, Mr Leo Okon who addressed the Rivers East Senatorial District Collation Centre at Elekahia was also unequivocal in his indictments of the soldiers and their criminal activities during the elections.
Sadly, the army in a failed choreographed self-appraisal on Tuesday, organized a press briefing at the Python Mess, 6 Division, Port Harcourt where it had ingloriously thumbed itself up for a job well done.
At the centre of that press briefing was the deputy spokesman of the army, Col Aminu Iliyasu, who found it hard reading his own written statement; a statement that did not contain the atrocities and killing of citizens by its personnel. Yet, what journalists who attended the press briefing failed to ask Col Iliyasu was why the army became a tool to be used to kill and maim in a democratic setting.
The journalists equally failed to ask the army why it engaged in extra-judicial murder of citizens it swore to protect, leading to dozens of deaths in Abonnema, Akuku-Toru LGA.
If there was any iota of credibility in the presidential and national assembly election, that has to be the way the army killed citizens, laid a siege on the whole state, invaded medical facilities and arrested medics attending to the wounded.
But who is to be blamed? The president had in December, blatantly refused to sign an updated version of the electoral act sent to it by the national assembly. His excuse was nothing but self-serving, opting for the bill to be in use after his re-election bid.
Yet if the bill was passed and not arrogantly thrown away like other bills that could have saved the country needless stress and deaths, the issue of ballot box snatching and disruption of voting processes in Eleme and Kpite in Tai Local Government Areas would not have surfaced and invasion of towns and destruction of electoral materials by security agents would not have been the order of the day.
But here is the thrill: politicians employ all means possible to win election and on Saturday, the military and the police were used by political actors in the state not just to suppress and snatch votes but to maim those they were given the constitutional responsibility of protecting and at the end of it all, at least 20 persons were declared dead including a soldier and an ad-hoc staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.