With two days to go to the federal and state assemblies rerun elections holding in Rivers State, tension has reached fever pitch and palpable fear has enveloped the state as the candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) led by Governor Nyesom Wike and the All Progressives Congress (APC) led by the Minister of Transportation, Mr. Chibuike Amaechi, prepare to do battle for the soul of Rivers State.
The war of attrition between Wike and Ameachi, which started under the Goodluck Jonathan administration for the control of the oil-rich state, has led to bloodshed and the loss of many lives, with both sides accusing each other of sponsoring the violence and mayhem that has turned the once-peaceful Rivers State into a political war zone.
Preparatory to Saturday’s elections, Wike yesterday declared today and tomorrow work free days to enable workers fully participate in the polls.
In a statewide broadcast, Wike said the workfree days would enable workers in the private and public sectors to fully participate in the rerun polls.
The governor also expressed confidence that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) would conduct free, fair and credible elections based on the assurance he had received from the electoral body.
He stated that security agencies had also been given clear instructions to enforce the restriction order on human and vehicular movements on election day.
The governor directed the security agencies to: “Arrest any person or group of persons, including government vehicles, that violate this order and or attempt to act in any way to undermine the peaceful conduct of the rerun elections in the state.”
While urging the people of the state to turn out in their numbers to participate in the elections, Wike said he had been assured by the armed forces that they would not deviate from their constitutional role of safeguarding law and order before, during and after the elections.
“In line with the ongoing security operations to rid the state of cult-induced violence and criminality, I have requested the armed forces to increase security surveillance around some identified flashpoints of cultism and banditry in Abua/Odual, Andoni, Akuku Toru, Ahoada-East, Ahoada-West, Emohua, Ikwerre, Opobo/Nkoro, and Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Areas of the state.
“There is really nothing to fear for every law-abiding citizen of the state while exercising our rights to vote. On election day, simply take your permanent voters cards (PVCs), walk to your polling units to be accredited, peacefully cast your vote and, wait at a reasonable distance as allowed by law until the results are counted, announced and documented.
“Do not submit to any intimidation by those who seek to scare you away from voting with the military. Take note that no person is allowed to go to the voting areas with uniformed security personnel or thugs,” he warned.
Wike urged the people of the state to take advantage of the court-ordered rerun elections to exercise their democratic rights to vote candidates of their choice.
He said: “You will also be electing worthy representatives to the state House of Assembly to join me in delivering our developmental agenda and help chart the future of our state through effective legislation and oversight.
“Now that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is set to conduct the court-ordered National and State Assemblies’ rerun elections in Rivers State, it is imperative that we take full advantage of the opportunity to, once again, exercise our democratic rights to vote for the candidates of our choice.”
Also, the Deputy Inspector-General of Police (DIG) (Operations), Sotonye Wakama, also affirmed that the Nigeria Police Force was prepared to take on any person that might truncate the polls.
Wakama spoke yesterday at the police officers’ mess, Port Harcourt, while addressing leaders of political parties and candidates in the rerun elections.
The DIG, who was in the meeting with the Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Zone Six, Calabar, and service chiefs, as well as heads of other agencies, stressed that the security agencies would confront any person, irrespective of status in the state, that would cause problems.
He frowned on the recent killings in the state, adding that as a Rivers man, he would bring an end to the violence, adding that there would be heavy deployment of police personnel and equipment ahead of the elections.
“In other words, if volatility should arise, we are going to stretch, and I repeat, we are going to stretch the law to the fullest elasticity. Let me explain it, if it would require us to use a mortar pestle to kill a mosquito – I am not saying we are killing anybody – we are going to bring any erring person to book.
“We are not here to plead; we are not here to beg; we are not here to beseech or to request. We are here to tell you that, should there be any problem, wherever it rises from, we will deal with that problem with the full weight of the law,” he promised.
Reinforcing its position, the state Police Command also warned very important persons (VIPs) not to go to polling stations with armed or uniformed escorts.
A statement issued by the state Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Mr. Ahmad Muhammad (DSP), said: “The Rivers State Police Command, after due consultation with stakeholders, has placed outright ban on the use of tricycles, motorcycles and motorised speed boats with capacities of 200 horsepower and above from Friday 18 to Sunday 20.
“Total restriction of movements would commence between 6.00 am and 6.00 pm on Saturday, March 19, 2016.
“The command further emphasises that very important personalities are barred from going to any voting centre with their security escorts except with an unarmed orderly. They are also to desist from moving about from one place to another on election day, as provided for by the Electoral Act.
“Note that monitoring teams will be moving to ensure strict compliance and will arrest security men accompanying any dignitary in such unauthorised manner.”
He also appealed to the public for cooperation to ensure peaceful elections.
Also warning residents in Rivers State, the Inspector General of Police (IG), Mr. Solomon Arase, said that the police intelligence unit was in possession of comprehensive security data on the state, including the identities of individuals and political thugs likely to pose a threat to the peaceful conduct of Saturday’s elections.
Speaking at a joint press conference by the police and INEC at the commission’s headquarters in Abuja yesterday, the IG asked all political actors in Rivers to avoid statements and actions capable of breaching public peace and threatened to deal decisively with offenders.
“I must state with maximum emphasis that while the security framework to be emplaced will be civil enough to protect all political actors across party divides, it will also be potent enough to deal firmly, swiftly and professionally with any individual regardless of his or her political leaning or status,” he said.
Arase warned anyone who might want to test the will of the law enforcement agents by “threatening public order, endangering the lives of the electorate, or engaging in any act that is capable of threatening the electoral commission to have a rethink”.
The IG, who recently got marching orders from President Muhammadu Buhari to deal with the security situation in Rivers State, said on the whole, a total of 6,000 police personnel would be deployed to reinforce security across the three senatorial districts of the state.
According to him, the deployment would comprise eight units from visiting PMF squadrons, and 46 units from the three existing PMF squadrons in the state.
He said conventional policemen had also been drawn from 13 states of the federation to complement the manpower.
He said that detachments of the anti-robbery squad, anti-bomb squad, anti-terrorist team and a special marine force with helicopter surveillance are to be deployed to complement the security arrangements.
Regarding preparations for the conduct of the elections, the Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, said every measure and precaution had been taken to ensure free and fair elections.
He assured Nigerians that INEC would never allow itself to be compromised or subscribe to any form of conduct that would portray it in a partisan manner.
According to him, there would be a simultaneous accreditation and voting between 8.00 am and 2 .00 pm, adding that the commission would assign three national commissioners and six resident electoral commissioners for election duty in the state on Saturday.
“Sensitive materials will arrive Port Harcourt today and will be shared to the local government areas and registration area centres tomorrow. All our sensitive materials are customised by local government areas and the type of election.
“The breakdown of the list of the Saturday’s elections in Rivers State shows that the rerun elections will take place in the senatorial districts, 12 federal constituencies and 22 state constituencies in 23 LGAs.
“Also, the elections are to hold in all the 23 local government areas of the state comprising 319 wards or registration areas and a total of 5,942 polling units and voting points,” he said.
Yakubu explained that, for the successful conduct of the elections, INEC had engaged 24,930 adhoc staff drawn from the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and students of federal tertiary institutions, specifically the University of Port Harcourt, Federal College of Education (Technical), Omoku, and the Federal University in Otuoke, Bayelsa State.
Speaking further, the INEC boss said that the youth corps members would serve as presiding officers and assistant presiding officers while there would be 379 collation officers and 37 returning officers from the three tertiary institutions.
Yakubu used the opportunity to dismiss allegations that one of its electoral officers was colluding with politicians of the APC to ensure that the election goes in their favour.
Meanwhile, the national leadership of the APC has expressed concern over what it described as a reckless statement made by Wike against officials of INEC, especially on the person of Mrs. Amina Zakari.
The party said contrary to the allegations of partisanship levelled against her, the INEC national commissioner has a record of supervising some of the most credible, free and fair elections conducted by INEC in the past.
A statement by the party’s National Secretary, Mai Mala Buni, also said it viewed Wike’s petition to the United Nations (UN), European Union (EU), African Union (AU) and the governments of about 50 countries demanding “global surveillance” for the Rivers rerun elections as an affront on the constitution, INEC and sovereignty of the Federal Government of Nigeria.
“Nyesom Wike has been in the forefront of inciting the people of Rivers State against INEC and the Nigerian Army. On Tuesday, Nyesom Wike accused INEC Commissioner, Mrs. Amina Zakari, of an unsubstantiated and cooked up plot to swap election result sheets in the yet-to-be-conducted election.
“He went ahead to issue a death threat on the INEC commissioner over the unsubstantiated and cooked up plot.
“The APC takes Nyesom Wike’s death threats and campaign of calumny against critical national institutions including the Nigerian Army very seriously.
“Under Nyesom Wike’s watch, the country and indeed the international community has been traumatised by the daily lynching, maiming, killing and beheading of APC members and supporters in Rivers State.
“The APC believes that Nyesom Wike’s repeated threats to INEC to ‘write their will’ before coming to conduct elections in the state is real and must be looked into by relevant security agencies.
“The APC calls on the relevant security agencies to hold Nyesom Wike responsible for any breakdown of law and order before, during and after the March 19, 2016 Rivers State rerun elections.
“The party also welcomes President Muhammadu Buhari’s directive to security services to deal decisively with sponsors and perpetrators of political violence in Rivers State.
“The police and other security agencies must ensure that the murderers and their sponsors are brought to book and must face the full wrath of the law,” it said.
The ruling party reiterated that the politically-motivated killings in Rivers State were a real emergency that should not be treated with kid’s gloves.
“The situation is distressing, tragic and a huge source of worry to the party. We are already actively collecting evidence of the politically-motivated killings which have taken genocidal dimensions under Nyesom Wike’s watch.
“The APC will present evidence to national and international law enforcement agencies.
“The APC hereby calls on security agencies to be on high alert over the dangerous threats and actions by the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike and by extension the PDP in the lead-up to the Rivers rerun election.
“While we call on INEC and security operatives to be mindful of the dangerous threats by the Rivers State governor, the APC is confident in INEC and security agencies’ ability to deliver peaceful, free and credible supplementary elections come March 19, 2016,” APC stated.
In the same regard, the candidate vying in the Rivers South East senatorial rerun election, Senator Magnus Abe, yesterday called on youths from the Ogoni area of the state not to attend a meeting with Wike before the election.
This came as the PDP in the state described as provocative and inciting, a statement credited to Amaechi that he would visit polling stations, especially Wike’s wards during Saturday’s elections.
In a statement he personally signed, Abe said Wike was planning to meet with Ogoni youths where he planned to induce them financially to scuttle the elections.
He said: “Information available to me has also indicated that adequate funds have been provided for that purpose. I am also aware that the agenda of the meeting is to preach hate and incite the youths against APC leaders and their supporters with the intention of fomenting trouble in order to scare the general public to abstain from the venue of the elections.
“The essence is to ensure that areas that have massive support for APC do not vote or return scanty votes.”
He expressed surprise that the governor had not held such a meeting with youths in his own native Ikwerre land and wondered why it had become expedient to hold such meeting in Ogoniland.
“I therefore call on the youths to shun the meeting despite the inducement,” he said.
Despite Abe’s accusation, the PDP yesterday called on the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and the Bori Camp Brigade Commander to respond to Amaechi’s claim on the use of soldiers and his planned tour of some polling units in Wike’s ward during the elections.
The chairman of the Rivers State chapter of the PDP, Felix Obuah, said the planned tour of the electoral units by Amaechi during the elections was not only provocative but also aimed at inciting crisis in the state.
Obuah, in statement by his Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, Jerry Needam, regretted that Amaechi after failing in his bid to orchestrate commotion in some parts of the state through the activities of cultists and compromised military personnel, acting on his orders, had decided to execute his last and final plot through the planned tour.
Describing the tour as unconstitutional and a direct affront on the electoral law, Obuah warned that Amaechi should be held responsible “for the consequences of such a dangerous undertaking”.
He wondered why the leadership of the APC and Buhari were keeping silent on such a condemnable plot by one of their own, alleging that they must be acting in concert with Amaechi.
Obuah also wondered why the Rivers State rerun polls are different from those of other states, adding that the threat to the lives of innocent people by Amaechi’s rascality and desperation appears not to bother the federal government and the APC.
“Are Rivers people sacrificial lambs for the failure of APC in other places or is PDP responsible for the hardship the APC has brought on lamenting Nigerians,” Obuah queried.
He called on the COAS and the Brigade Commander of the Nigerian Army, Bori Camp to respond to Amaechi’s alleged deal with the army to flood the state with soldiers whom he boasted are more loyal to him than the police.
Obuah said the way and manner Amaechi was carrying on and going about intimidating people with his claim of having the army in his pocket calls for caution and a clear cut statement from the army and brigade command disputing or verifying the minister’s claim.
Meanwhile, the new Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Dakuku Peterside, wednesday held discussions with the National Chairman of the APC Chief John Odigie-Oyegun on the elections in the state.
The former APC governorship candidate in Rivers State met behind closed doors with Oyegun at the party’s national secretariat in Abuja, after which he and his delegation left without uttering a word to journalists seeking clarifications on his mission.
Peterside also met with other national officers of the party in their offices in what looked like a thank-you visit for their support.
Although, the agenda of the meeting was not made known, Peterside and others with him were overheard chanting “they will bow, they will bow” as they made their way down the stairs.
A reliable source told THISDAY that the two main reasons for his visit was to thank the party leaders for his appointment as NIMASA DG and perfect plans for the Saturday’s elections in his home state.