On Saturday, August 18, 2018, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) conducted the by-election into the Port Harcourt 3 Constituency of the Rivers State House of Assembly.
The Port Harcourt 3 Constituency seat in the House of Assembly became vacant in June 2018 following the resignation of the former occupant, Hon. Victor Ihunwo after his election as the Chairman of Port Harcourt City local government area of the state.
Only four political parties indicated interest in the bye-election and fielded their candidates. They are the All Progressives Congress (APC) with Chief Dickens Worlu as its candidate; the Democratic Alternative (DA) with Tonye Gibson as its candidate; the Masses Movement of Nigeria (MMN) with Chigala Eyiba as its candidate and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) with Chimeka Nmerukini as its candidate.
However, INEC on Saturday night announced the suspension of the by-election due to what it described as widespread violence and snatching of ballot boxes that greeted the exercise.
Prior to the by-election, Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Ezenwo Wike had on Friday, August 17, 2018, raised the alarm over alleged plots by some opposition politicians in the state to import political thugs and cultists into the state in order to influence the outcome of the exercise.
In a statewide broadcast, Wike , urged leaders of political parties and their candidates to advise their supporters to conduct themselves peacefully during and after the election. He said the election is not a do-or-die affair.
The governor declared that all those plotting to use political thugs and cultists would be tracked down and make to face the full weight of government and extant laws.
Announcing the suspension of the by-election in statement he personally signed on Saturday night, the INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in Rivers State, Obo Effanga, said: “It would be recalled that the Port Harcourt 3 Constituency bye-election scheduled for today (Saturday), 18th August 2018. The commission in full readiness for the said election deployed personnel and materials to the 142 polling units involved.
Elaborating further on the reasons for the suspension of the by-election during a press conference on Sunday, August 19, 2018, Effanga accused security agents of aiding and abetting the perpetrators of the widespread violence and fraud that trailed the exercise.
The INEC REC said the commission had no alternative to suspend the election because it did not meet the minimum standards because of widespread violence and snatching of card readers and ballot boxes by politicians aided by armed uniformed security personnel.
He reiterated the content of the statement issued by the commission that while the commission deployed enough men and materials for the election, its effort was scuttled by the invasion of polling units by big wig politicians escorted by uniformed armed security personnel.
Effanga said: “In INEC, we are not so much concerned about who wins or loses but in the integrity of the electoral process. What we saw last Saturday was the lowest level of electoral discredit. INEC was ready but the elite aided by the uniformed security personnel spoilt the process.
Speaking also, the INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Mike Igini, said the commission had to suspend the election in order not to put the lives of more people at risk because of the widespread violence that affected voters, INEC officials and journalists.
Igini, who representative of National Electoral Commissioner for Rivers State, expressed dissatisfaction that some politicians would be granted immunity to move around with security personnel in violation of the Electoral Act without being arrested.
He said: “The question we cannot answer is how individuals would be going around with platoons of different arms of security personnel in Hilux vehicles unhindered. The future of Rivers State is in the hands of the elite of the state.”
The position of the electoral umpire on the by-election triggered a war of words between Governor Wike and the leadership of the APC in the state.
First to fire was the opposition political party, which accused the ruling PDP of resorting to violence during the by-election in Port Harcourt 3 Constituency described the development as very unfortunate.
Finebone, in a statement issued in Port Harcourt, said: “The Rivers State Chapter of All Progressives Congress, APC, notes with sadness how the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP) resorted to large-scale violence across the units and wards of Port Harcourt Local Government Area (PHALGA) Constituency 3 during the by-election in the area today.
“It is unfortunate that what should be a mere state constituency bye-election witnessed unprecedented voter intimidation, harassment, vote-buying and shooting activated by the PDP in line with their usual character of rigging elections through killing and maiming of APC members.
“However, it is encouraging that the people of PHALGA 3 State Constituency stood their ground and resisted the intimidation by PDP leaders in the area. It signifies that PDP will no more have its way as was the case in the past years.
“The talk that the APC State Chairman, Hon. Ojukaye Flag-Amachree was engaged in any form of activity in the constituency during the election is mere façade created to mask the evil machinations of the PDP during the bye-election.”
Wike responded almost immediately in a statewide broadcast in less than 42 hours, where he accused the Nigeria Police of declaring war on the people of the state, considering the consistency with which its operatives sabotage the electoral process in Rivers State.
The governor, who charged Rivers people not to succumb to the antics of the police, lest they become slaves in their fatherland, said: “The consistent sabotage of the electoral process by the Police amounts to a declaration of war against the people of Rivers State and their solemn rights to freely and fairly choose their leaders and representatives.
He stated that despite assurances from the Rivers State Commissioner of Police during the last State Security Council meeting that the police will remain neutral and act professionally, the police allegedly joined forces with APC thugs to disrupt elections.
Wike said: “As we had feared, the Police failed us completely once again and negated all that they promised. Instead of providing security for voters and INEC officials the Police brazenly colluded with political thugs of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to subvert the democratic process and denied the people of Port Harcourt Constituency III their rights to free, fair and credible elections.
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