The much-anticipated, or perhaps, the most talked about elections in Rivers State have come and gone but not without its attendant consequences. The 2019 general elections in Rivers sparked fears in the hearts of the residents of the state for its potentialities for the triggering of mass violence. This concern was also a rallying point for the international community with the United States ambassador to Nigeria, Stuart Symington; his British counterpart and other European representatives making quick stops to Rivers to interface with the political gladiators in the state.
However, Rivers did not disappoint as elections in the state left trails of blood and in the end, more than 50 persons perished, especially in Abonnema where a face-off between the locals and soldiers drafted to the area led to the death of 38 persons, including an Army Lieutenant.
Others who perished in that orgy of violence that trailed the elections include Mrs Ibisaki Amachree, a mother of two and an INEC ad-hoc staff who was shot by soldiers in Bakana on the 23rd of February; The killing of a former local government chairman in Andoni, Mr Muwan Owon Etete and his elder brother in their Ataba hometown on the 23rd February by thugs said to be loyal to the Peoples Democratic Party; Dr Ferry Gberegbe, a lecturer at the Ken Saro-Wiwa Polythenic who was shot by operatives of Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS on the 9th of March.
At the centre of the onslaught, killings and snatching of ballot boxes were no other than the Nigerian security personnel; the Army and SARS acting on the instructions of the chieftains of the All Progressives Congress and businessmen who had stakes in the election.
How the Army disrupted the presidential election by snatching ballot boxes
Weeks to the general election in Rivers state, tension between the state government and the GOC of 6 Division rose to an all-time high. The state government was in a running battle between the then commander of SARS in the state, Akin Fakorode over the commander’s role in the 2016 re-run election.
The governor, Nyesom Wike on February 22, accused the GOC, Major-General Jamil Sarham of sending soldiers to assassinate him.
Major-General Jamil Sarham who officially assumed duties as the new General Officer Commanding, 6 Division of the Nigerian Army in Port Harcourt on Monday, September 6 2018, took over from Major-General Musa Yusuf, who was redeployed to 81 Division of the Army in Lagos.
Sarham, before his redeployment to 6 Division, was the Commandant of the Nigerian Army School of Infantry, Jaji, Kaduna State.
Wike, while speaking after a meeting with officials of the British High Commission at the Government House, Port Harcourt said the GOC has been taking very unprofessional measures to silence PDP members.
He said that he has informed the British High Commission and other foreign missions of the anti-democratic actions of the security forces, especially the Nigerian Army.
According to him: “Last night; the General Officer Commanding 6 Division of the Nigerian Army plotted an assassination on my life. Thank God, that was not successful.
“On Friday, 15th of January, a day to the 16th of February, the first date for the elections before it was rescheduled, the GOC sent soldiers to cordon off my private residence.
“Yesterday, I was shocked that when I left Government House to see some political leaders, soldiers were trailing me. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t have military security details.
“Along Abacha road where you have Algate Hotel, to my surprise, I heard my security men shouting that the soldiers are behind us. I have said this severally about the GOC of the 6 Division that nobody should kill because he was promised the position of Chief of Army Staff “.
However, while reacting to Wike’s claims, the GOC threatened to sue the state government.
In the early hours of February 23rd, an Army Captain and the Divisional Police Officer in charge of Okrika, led thugs to snatch materials for wards 7,8 and 9. This was confirmed by the Director of Voters’ Education of INEC in Rivers State, Edwin Irabor who said that the commission will cancel elections in the wards were materials were tampered with.
In Ikwerre Local Area, the local government area of the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, the army went on a rampage. They abducted electoral officers and destroyed electoral materials, forcing collation of results not to take place. This was confirmed by the Mrs Mary Efeture Imawuya, the INEC Electoral Officer of Ikwerre LGA, who 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.
In Emohua, the Returning 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 Collation Officers of the State, Professor Anifiok Essien to present the results from the different 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 results at the Rivers East Collation Centre in the 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.
In Eleme, locals said thugs who were dressed in military uniforms led soldiers to houses of opposition figures to arrest them. A source at the 6 division of the Nigerian Army Port Harcourt said most of the soldiers who led the offensives in Rivers State for the elections were drafted from different units in the country and trained specifically for the roles they played in the election.
Abonnema was perhaps where the army carried out genocide on the people of the area. First, the army killed an an agent of the People Democratic Party in ward 12, Mr Thywill Jumbo. Ward 12 is the ward of Tonye Cole who in a statement explained why what happened in Abonnema happened.
Sadly, the army in a failed choreographed self-appraisal on 26th February, 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 in killing and maim in a democratic setting.
The Nigerian Army continued its denial of its activities in Rivers State. Even when its hands were caught dripping with blood, the army through its acting director of information, Col Sagir Musa would issue statements to deny them.