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Rivers By-election: When Political Parties Disagreed With INEC

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ANAYO ONUKWUGHA, captures the reactions that have trailed the suspension of the by-election in Rivers State and the intrigues therefrom.

It is no longer news that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) suspended the Port Harcourt 3 Constituency by-election held in Rivers State on August 2018, of which four political parties participated in.

The political parties that fielded candidates and participated in the election, including the ruling party in the state, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the main opposition political party in the state, the All Progressives Congress (APC). Others are the Democratic Alternative (DA) and the Masses Movement of Nigeria (MMN).

However, the INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in the state, Obo Effanga, attributed the suspension of the by-election to widespread violence that greeted the exercise.

On his part, Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, did not only collaborate Effanga’s position but went ahead to accuse the Chairman of APC in the state, Hon. Ojukaye Flag-Amachree of personally leading thugs and security operatives to disrupt the by-election in various polling units in Port Harcourt 3 Constituency.

However, the leadership of three, out of the four political parties that participated in the by-election disagreed with the claims by both Effanga and Wike and urged the electoral umpire to conclude the election.

For INEC however, conducting elections in Rivers State, has proven to be a nightmare because of the violence that it has attracted since the buildup to 2015 general elections, where scores were allegedly killed during the polls.

It will be recalled that two years ago, the nation was thrown into national mourning following the gruesome killing of a National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) member, Okonta Samuel Dumebi. He was shot by hoodlums while on election duties in Rivers state rerun parliamentary elections on March 19, 2016.

INEC, angered by the situation had vowed not to conclude the polls, but after much pressure it conducted the election under a tense atmosphere.

However, the political actors seem less sober as recent by-election was also marred with violence. Leading the argument over what transpired on August 18 was the chairman of the APC in the state, Flag-Amachree, who denied involvement in the alleged use of political thugs and security operatives to disrupt the by-election.

The APC chairman however accused the chief security officer (CSO) to the governor, of allegedly using policemen attached to Government House, Port Harcourt to chase away voters.

He stated that some hours after the voting process commenced across the 142 units of the constituency, “word came out through the agents of both parties that the APC candidate was winning comfortably in most of the units.”

He however said that it was encouraging that despite what he called the massive violence unleashed during the process, “most of the voters in the constituency stood their ground and resisted the spate of shootings, assault, battery and intimidation by the armed policemen.”

The APC chieftain further faulted Governor Nyesom Wike’s claim in a state broadcast hours after the by-election, about the APC and the police especially F-SARS and its commander, Akin Fakorede.

But beyond his diatribe against the governor, Flag-Amachree said the APC may consider dragging INEC to court if it fails to announce the result of last Saturday’s by-election. He said that results collected by the party’s Situation Room from its agents at the 142 polling units in the constituency indicate that the party’s candidate was leading comfortably.

He said: “We believe that INEC is quite informed about the scope and dimensions of its powers with regard to conduct of elections. We call on the commission to immediately conclude the process by announcing the winner of the by-election without delay.

“Results collated by the APC Situation Room from APC agents at the 142 units in PHALGA Constituency 3 indicate that the APC candidate was leading comfortably.

“INEC has no option than to announce the results immediately or meet our party in court. It does not lie in this hands of INEC to determine the outcome of elections; it is for INEC to announce the outcome of elections as determined by the people.”

Interestingly the narrative of the leading opposition party was corroborated by the leaderships of DA and MMN in the state, under the Coalition of Opposition Political Parties (COPP).

Addressing a joint press conference in Port Harcourt, COPP called on INEC to conclude the suspended by-election into the Port Harcourt 3 Constituency seat in the Rivers State House of Assembly and announce the result of the election.

Speaking on behalf of the opposition political parties, Chairman of DA in the state, Hon. Obrasua Johnbull, declared that it was wrong for INEC to suspend an election that was ongoing.

Johnbull said: “Leaders and members of opposition political parties in Rivers state, we find the news of suspension of the PHALGA Constituency 3 By-Elections by the Resident Electoral Commissioner of INEC Rivers state as astonishing, unnecessary and against the provisions of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended.

“We recall that the election process had begun on Saturday August 18 with minimal delays. We also noticed that elections in the most of the 142 units in PHALGA Constituency 3 had been concluded and results announced at the different units in compliance with relevant provision of the Electoral Act.”

They noted that in spite of some pockets of disruptions occasioned by thugs and armed security men the situation was brought under control and elections continued smoothly.

They added that the collation process commenced at the St. Andrews Primary School at about 2pm.

“As stakeholders in the process, our party agents confirmed at various times between 2pm and 6pm that collation of results (as declared in several units) was in progress. At about 6:20pm INEC Officials directed that collation would commence at the State INEC head-office.

“Subsequently, Security Agents successfully escorted all required materials to the INEC Office. Surprisingly, party agents were later informed of suspension of collation while everyone else woke up to shocking news of election suspension hinged on electoral violence. This is a white lie that must not stand!

“We must state clearly that this is unacceptable, and a disgrace to our democracy. We call on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to immediately make public the results as declared in the units and wards that were collated.

“It behooves on INEC to conclude every election process that has already started and such results declared. It is only the tribunal that can intervene thereafter.”

The Nigerian Police however refused to be caught in the web of the election controversy as it denied involvement in the alleged widespread violence that greeted the exercise.

Addressing newsmen at the Police headquarters, Moscow Road, Port Harcourt, the Commissioner of Police, Zaki Mohammed Ahmed, said that its operatives repelled thugs that wanted to disrupt the exercise in Mile 2 and Mile 3 areas of the Port Harcourt 3 Constituency.

The police chief assured that the force is working with relevant stakeholders including INEC to identify and arrest perpetrators of violence during the by-election.

Ahmed who said that the Police in conjunction with other sister security agencies stood their grounds and prevented a situation that would have degenerated to wanton destruction of lives and property, added “I wish to reiterate that the Police did not at anytime collude with any political party to discredit the political process as alleged in some quarters.”

He added that the timely action of the Police in checkmating political thugs prevented the loss of lives.

“Unlike all previous elections in the State, no life was lost in the Saturday election and no property was burnt. Meanwhile, we are consulting with all stakeholders, including INEC to determine inter alia:

“The perpetrators of the disruption carried out on 18/8/18 during the Bye-Election and to arrest all persons fingered to have played any negative role that led to the termination and suspension of the electoral process.

“To charge all persons found culpable in the infamous act, to court, no matter how highly placed as revealed through our diligent investigation process and to identify any loopholes that may have been occasioned, as a result of the conduct of the by-election.

“To re-visit the issue of Very Important Personalities (VIPs) and politicians moving around with their security details and accordingly treat such violators, including their orderlies as having flagrantly violated the clear provisions of the Electoral Act and will be dealt with accordingly,” Ahmed said.

However, a political pressure group, the Forward Rivers Movement (FRM) has joined the debate. The group has called on the Federal Government to carry out a full-scale investigation into the violence that greeted the August 18, 2018 by-election into the Port Harcourt 3 Constituency seat in the Rivers House of Assembly.

FRM, in a statement issued in Port Harcourt, stated that its members in Port Harcourt 3 Constituency, especially those resident in Ward 18, 13 and 10 were disenfranchised by thugs and security personnel allegedly brought in by the APC in the state.

The statement, which was signed by Okocha Njobunwo and Charles Dan-Jumbo, the group’s Secretary and Public Relations Officer (PRO), respectively, lauded the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Obo Effanga, for his courage to act in line with the rules guiding the process of free, fair and credible elections.

It reads in part: “On behalf of our members, WD wish to condemn in strong terms the violence that marred the PHALGA 3 Constituency by-election on Saturday, 18th August 2018.

“Our members who are residents in PHALGA 3 Constituency, particularly Ward 18, 13 and 10, etc, reported that they were disenfranchised by thugs and security personnel brought in by Ojukaye Flag-Amachree, Chris Finebone and others.

“We want to specially thank the INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner, Obo Effanga and other INEC officials for their courage to act in line with the rules guiding the process of free, fair and credible elections.

“We are calling on the government to set up a panel of enquiry for a full-scale investigation into the immediate and remote cause of the violence and bring the culprits to book, this will serve as a deterrent and prevent future occurrence.”

As the debate over who unleashed violence during the polls rage and investigations therefrom commences, the situation puts in full glare the history of violence that surrounds elections in the state, viz a viz the 2019 general elections.

 



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