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Bayelsa’s Life-and-Death Election – by Olusegun Adeniyi

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Elections in Bayelsa are almost akin to war and the state has been in the news lately because of its inconclusive gubernatorial polls that can be blamed on the desperation of the two gladiators.

Former President Jonathan hails from Bayelsa State

We were being taken through a guided tour inside the building that was obscene in its opulence aside the several billions of Naira (N26 billion at that point) that had been expended on it, when I muttered to both the Chief Security Officer to the President (CSO), Mr Yusuf Tilde and the Aide-de-Camp, Colonel (now Brigadier General) Mustapha Onoyiveta: “This is a monument to waste”.

As it would happen, my voice sounded louder than intended so both the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and his host, then Governor Timipre Silva heard my remark. The obviously embarrassed former Bayelsa State Governor had to explain that it was not his project. He said it was started by the late DSP Alamieyeseigha but was abandoned by Dr. Goodluck Jonathan (who reportedly considered it a big drain) and that he merely completed it so it would not go to waste.

The commissioning of the “Glory Land Castle”, a sprawling Governor’s Lodge in the heart of Yenagoa was the highlight of the late President Yar’Adua’s visit to Bayelsa State on 20th July 2009. Incidentally, it turned out to be his last major official function within the country before the illness that took him to Saudi Arabia and from which he never recovered.

While I sympathized with Governor Silva and agreed that completing the project made sense in the circumstance, I nonetheless thought to myself that a system that could conceive such a grandiose and extravagant project in a state like Bayelsa with so many poor people must be lacking in accountability. That then explains why it is hard to believe that Bayelsa has received trillions of Naira from Federation Account in the last 16 years as a leading oil-producing state, money that can hardly be justified by the level of development on ground. That perhaps also explains why elections in Bayelsa are almost always a matter of life and death since it is usually a struggle about who controls the vast resources.

Incidentally, this particular election in Bayelsa is being contested with so much violence and bile because it is both a grudge and a proxy fight between the two leading candidates. Silva had in 2012 (as incumbent Governor), been displaced as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate by Hon. Seriake Dickson, then a member of the House of Representatives, by virtue of former President Jonathan’s sleight of hand. A victory for Silva on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), come Saturday would therefore be a serious political blow on Jonathan, right in his backyard.

Created from three local government areas excised out of the old Rivers State in 1996, Bayelsa is the least populated state in Nigeria and one of the smallest in size with eight local government areas. It also does not have too many communities even though the terrain is atrocious for development being mostly on water. Aside local governments like Brass with 152 communities and Southern Ijaw comprising Oporoma and Kolo-Ama districts with a combined number of 176 communities, most other local governments have small numbers of communities. Ekeremor has 28; Ogbia, 51; Sagbama, 32; Nembe, 37; Yenagoa, 62 and Kolokoma/Opokuma, 15.

However, as I stated earlier, elections in Bayelsa are almost akin to war and the state has been in the news lately because of its inconclusive gubernatorial polls that can be blamed on the desperation of the two gladiators who are almost evenly matched in all capacities. The incumbent Governor Dickson of the PDP is being challenged by the man he succeeded, former Governor Silva of the APC, the party that is now in power at the centre. With results from seven of the eight local governments in the state already in, Dickson is leading by some 33,000 votes.

However, Southern Ijaw is crucial not only because it has 120,827 registered voters but also because 109,137 of those prospective voters collected their Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs). Aside that, there are also some 38,000 votes across the state that will be at play on Saturday. These are votes from polling stations where elections were either canceled or elections could not hold for various reasons. So, this is different from the Kogi State supplementary election scenario. Saturday will determine who wins the gubernatorial election in Bayelsa State.

A 27th November Risk Map by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) titled “Flashpoints of Electoral Violence in Bayelsa State” is indeed quite revealing. Categorised into High Risk, Medium Risk and Low Risk, there was no local government area within the last category. Two of the local government areas (Sagbama and Opokuma) fall into the medium risk category while the remaining six (Yenagoa, Ogbia, Ekeremor, Nembe, Brass and Southern Ijaw) were listed as high risk areas. Even at that, it is evident INEC could not have anticipated the violence of December 5 polls, especially in Southern Ijaw.

I understand that electoral materials arrived Bayelsa State as scheduled on Wednesday 2nd December. The ballot papers were coded by local government to prevent any sort of diversion from one area to another and were delivered to the INEC offices at the Local Governments by Thursday. By Friday, these sensitive materials were transported to the Registration Area Centres. In some instances, INEC had to hire gunboats to escort the officials and the election materials as they travelled by water with one gunboat stationed in front and another one at the back.

According to INEC sources, everything went smoothly until Friday when Southern Ijaw LGA exploded in sporadic guns shots which lasted throughout the day. By the next day when the gubernatorial election was holding in the other seven LGAs, gunmen had also resumed their activities. It was at that point that INEC office in Bayelsa, acting on instructions from Abuja decided to shift the Southern Ijaw election till Sunday. The idea was that with all the security men mobilized from other local governments in the state for just one local government, it would be easy to conduct the election. They were wrong.

The problem, by my findings, started on that Sunday morning when Governor Dickson led a delegation of PDP politicians to Oporoma, headquarters of Southern Ijaw Local Government Area, on a controversial mission that only heightened tension. That visit also helped to put INEC officials on edge even though, to forestall malpractices, the commission had taken several measures, one of which was to programme the card readers in such a manner that it would stop working by 8pm. But since the unscrupulous politicians who were bent on rigging the polls didn’t know this, they were still thumb printing by midnight of that day in a futile exercise that was not lost on INEC officials in Abuja.

Throughout the election day in Southern Ijaw, according to both INEC and security reports, there were abductions of officials and snatching of ballot papers even as some political mandarins were writing results in places where elections did not take place. It was clear that what happened could not be deemed an election in the true sense of the word. By Monday morning, INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu who followed the developments all night had decided that the election in the local government had to be cancelled. But he also reportedly decided that INEC staff must be out of the local government before such cancellation could be announced. By 4pm of Monday December 7, they were all out. An hour later, the cancellation was announced.

From what transpired in both Kogi and Bayelsa, despite the unfortunate development in the former (the death of APC candidate, Prince Abubakar Audu for which the law made no provision) and the Southern Ijaw violence, INEC under Yakubu has done tremendously well to improve on elections. In Kogi, not a single life was lost and of the 3018 polling units in the state, there were glitches with card readers only in 68 polling units, representing about two percent.

I also have it on good authority that INEC has disaggregated information from card readers from the last general elections with Borno State used as a pilot scheme. INEC now has information about the number of women that voted in Borno State, the number of men, the age groups of voters, their occupations etc. based on the information filled in the process of voter registration. The efforts that Yakubu is trying to put in are designed to improve on the credibility of the elections in such a manner that election manipulators would be put out of business. But it is not going to be easy given the disposition of our politicians to elections.

However, the inconclusive election of Bayelsa has thrown up its own challenge as well as some interesting statistics about voters’ turn out. In Sagbama where there are 84,550 registered voters, only 36,892, representing 43.6 percent exercised their franchise. In Kolokuma/Opokuma where 39,748 people registered, 15,755 ballots, representing 39.6 percent were cast. In Ekeremor where 82,783 people registered, 24,667, representing 29.7 percent voted. In Yenagoa where 135,025 people registered, 44,751 people, representing 33.1 percent voted. In Brass where 55,923 people registered, 30,397 people, representing 54.3 percent voted. In Nembe where 66,384 registered, 18,779 people, representing 28.3 percent voted. In Ogbia where 69,253 people registered, 24,532 people, representing 35.4 percent voted. These percentages appear to be the true reflection of actual voters turn-out compared with the average of 80 percent recorded in the last Governorship election in 2012.

With the results collated so far from the seven local governments, of the 533,666 registered voters, 195,793, representing 36.6 percent voted. That means that about 37 percent of the voters in the state exercised their franchise. But there is nothing to suggest that the turn out in Southern Ijaw would not be higher on Saturday given how crucial the local government has become to who becomes the next governor of Bayelsa.

It is for that reason that I urge President Muhammadu Buhari to show particular interest by urging all federal security institutions to be non-partisan and be alive to their responsibilities. According to security sources, the local government is primed for violence with five kidnapping camps being used by politicians to cause mayhem. These camps, already identified by the security agencies, are Azuzuama camp, Osiama camp, Krokrosei camp, Ikibiri camp and Oyakhiri camp. It is not only important that the entrepreneurs of violence be identified and brought to book, it will be a shame if it turns out that we bungle election in just one local government.

Apparently to underscore the gravity of the situation, a statement from the Police headquarters on Tuesday stated that there has already been a “deployment of plain cloth detectives and surveillance helicopters for aerial patrols, while gunboats and speed boats will complement the Police Marine Unit to convey security personnel and election materials to riverine communities. Armed personnel from Police Mobile Force, Special Protection Unit as well as Counter Terrorism Unit of the Force are on ground to support the ongoing security operations in the State.” 

The statement continues: “In addition, the IGP has deployed a Deputy Inspector-General of Police to supervise security arrangements. He will be assisted by one Assistant Inspector-General of Police and three Commissioners of Police. Over 5000 conventional policemen have also been deployed for the election duty. In the same vein, the IGP has also placed an order banning movements in and out of the LGAs where elections will hold with effect from 6am to 6pm on Saturday 9th January 2016.”

While it is good that the police authorities are not taking any chances, it also says so much about politics in Bayelsa, and perhaps also in our country, that an election to determine who governs a people would require so much logistical layout. However, both Governor Dickson and former Governor Silva bear heavy responsibility. Aspiring to serve the people should not engender bloodshed. The governor particularly should tone down on his rhetoric which smacks of desperation. He should allow INEC and the security agencies to do their work without provocative statements that he cannot substantiate. In the same vein, making damaging allegations against certain INEC officials without any evidence beyond hearsay also does not advance the cause of Silva and his supporters.

All said, notwithstanding the improvements that INEC may have recorded in the overall mastery of its mandate, the fact remains that the election in Kogi and Bayelsa respectively is one state at a time. With regard to the Bayelsa instance, it is important that the process ends with conclusive and credible result on Saturday and that a winner is announced. May the choice of the people of the state prevail.

The Verdict By Olusegun Adeniyi:  olusegun.adeniyi@thisdaylive.com

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