By Chris O. O. Biose
Authority stealing pass armed robbery.
- Fela Anikulapo-Kuti (1938-1997)
The key test of democratic governance is free and fair election. It affords an opportunity for the electorate to place an individual of its choice in a position of authority, terminate the mandate of an elected person or renew it. Whenever elections are decided by violence or fraud, democracy is to that extent flawed.
In addition to heightened insecurity and economic woes that currently bedevil our beloved country, there has been increasing militarization of elections in the past few years. Almost all elections conducted since 2016 have been decided by resort to violent tactics, supplemented by commercialization of the electoral process. What is more bothersome is the role of security agencies in this anti–democratic practice. The re-run gubernatorial election in Osun State on September 27, 2018 and the governorship election held in Kogi State on November 16, 2019, are cases in point.
The deteriorating electoral process in Nigeria assumed its most dreadful dimension during the 2019 presidential and gubernatorial elections. At a meeting of the National Caucus of the All Progresives Congres, APC, on Monday, February 18, 2019, the President announced that he had issued orders to security personnel to shoot ballot box snatchers. He said, among other things:
“Anybody who decides to snatch ballot boxes or lead thugs to disturb it, maybe this is the last unlawful action you will take.
“I really gave the military and the police (order) to be ruthless. We are not going to be blamed that we want to rig election. I want Nigerians to be respected. Let them vote whoever they want across the parties.
“I am going to warn anybody who thinks he has enough influence in his locality to lead a body of thugs or to disturb the voting system, he will do it at the expense of his own life.” (Anaba, Innocent, Charles Kumolu, Oneiza Ajayi, Johnbosco Agbakwuru, Dirisu Yakubu, Henry Ojelu and Peter Okutu, BALLOT BOX SNATCHERS: I’ve ordered Army, Police to be ruthless – BUHARI, Vanguard, February 19, 2019, front page and page 5)
Responding to charges of unlawful meddling in democratic elections, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai justified military involvement in elections on provisions of the Nigerian Constitution. He told a delegation of EU Observers that visited him in Abuja on March 7, 2019, that the Nigerian Constitution provides for the military to support the civil police for internal security operations when called upon. He alleged that “only those who want to benefit from the violence and insecurity that usually take place during elections are complaining or making such allegations against the military involvement.” (Kingsley Omonobi and Joseph Erunke, BURATAI TO EU OBSERVER DELEGATION: Those asking military to stay off don’t wish Nigeria well, Vanguard, March 8, 2019, p 41).
What was really baffling however, was when a former chieftain of National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) that fought relentlessly to retrieve democracy from military dictators, who is also a former Governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, joined some prominent politicians to supported the Presidential order.
At a stakeholders’ meeting of the APC held at the party’s Secretariat in Ogba, Lagos State on February 20, 2019, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu said that the party in Lagos and the South-West supported President Buhari’s order. He said among other things:
“I stand with President Muhammadu Buhari on his statement on ballot box snatching.
“Ballot box snatching is similar to robbery and even worse, hence, it must be condemned in its entirety by everybody. We must not allow it. Anybody caught snatching ballot boxes must be ruthlessly dealt with.” (Oluwatobi Akindele, Tinubu backs Buhari’s directive on ballot box snatching, PUNCH online, February 21, 2019).
To place it in proper context, Asiwaju Tinubu’s statements must be viewed against the background that the Electoral Act, 2010, as amended, which governed the 2019 general elections, prescribed precise sanctions for anyone proven to have committed the electoral offence of snatching a ballot box. The question then for anyone who subscribes o democratic governance is whether the President’s order should override extant laws made by Parliament.
However, President Buhari was not the first Nigerian Head of State to deploy troops for election duties. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo introduced the dangerous practice during the massively rigged presidential election ofApril 19, 2003, that gave him a second term of office. In an incisive comment on the issue, well-known author, essayist and rights activist, Okey Ndibe wrote in The Guardian newspaper:
“To recruit soldiers and police officers as accomplices in rigging is to further devalue two important, if deeply beleaguered, institutions of the Nigerian state. It makes the country’s law enforcement agency complicit in the most egregious acts of law breaking. Employing soldiers in that exercise is akin to inviting the nation’s professional soldiery to turn their guns, in effect, against the project of democracy itself.” (Okey Ndibe, Election matters, THE GUARDIAN, May 8, 2003, p 63)
Even if soldiers do not directly participate in election malpractice, the presence of a woldier while election is taking place may cause a truly patriotic soldier to lose his faith in the efficacy of electoral process to enthrone genuine political leadership. Power brokers need to know that not all soldiers fit the “zombie” image that the Afro-beat musician, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, cut out for them. A soldier is a rational human beings that reflects on his daily experiences and thereby orients or re-orients action. He listens and observes the social process. Most of them read the daily newspapers and then fashion out personal view or perspectives on the society in which they have their being.
Undoubtedly, deployment of soldiers for election duties is not only illegal; it is antithetic to democratic governance. Election is not a war. It is a civil process and the Armed Forces have no role in it in a democratic state. Nigeria formally exited military dictatorship on May 29, 1999
Moreover, the presence of soldiers during an election instantly compels most eligible and law-abiding citizens to stay away from voting centes. It is a subtle but extremely effective technique of voter suppression, which is generally recognized as a form of election malpractice.
Furthermore, deployment of soldiers for elections encourages some hawkish politicians to conceive of elections as war. For example, at the APC Presidential campaign rally in Port Harcourt attended by President Buhari, the Director-General of the Buhri Campaign Organisation, Mr. Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, who is also the Minister of Transport, vowed to face the Governor of Rivers State, “fire for fire”. To generate requisite popular support for his election strategy, the Campaign Director-General raised an Igbo war chant. He chanted in Igbo:
“Orule mgbe anyi gawa anya onye ujo abiala nge anyi na awanya.” (It is time to go violent and anyone who is a coward should not join us.”
(Egufe Yafugborhi, Nigeria: Rivers Governorship – When Federal Might, War Drums, couldn’t stop Wike, VANGUARD, 6 April, 2019
Massacre at Abonnema
The arrival of soldiers in a peaceful gathering or community almost always instantly raises fear that something must be wrong, that something untoward is about to happen; it heightens tension and apprehension. Citizens cannot insist on their constitutional rights in the presence of soldiers. In the Nigerian experience, contact between soldiers and civilians in conflict situations such as election, almost always results in death of innocent persons. As former President Olusegun Obasanjo told BBC reporter, Dan Isaacs, with wry candour in 2001, “soldiers are trained to kill, and that is what Nigerian soldiers should expct when they are deployed, that is what they will do.” (Dan Isaacs, BBC News. The Death of a Nigerian village, November 5, 2001)
Former President Obasanjo’s statement followed massacre of over 200 unarmed villagers in Zaki Biam, a thriving yam market town located in Ukum Local Government Area of Benue State. Troops had been sent to quell violence between Tiv and Junkun ethnic groups over land ownership. Unfortunately, 16 soldiers fell into the hands of a militia gang. The bodies were later discovered in the grounds of a primary area within Benue State controlled by Tiv militia.
A number of avoidable human tragedies occurred in the Niger Delta during the 2019 presidential and gubernatorial elections. The most horrific of these took place in Abonnema, Akuku-Toru LGA of Rivers State, during the Presidential and National Assembly Election in February 2019. A Lieutenant was killed by unknown persons during the elections. In apparent reprisal, angry soldiers reportedly killed thirty indigenes of the community. On Saturday, March 2, 2019, thousands of protesting play-card carrying women from several communities in the LGA, in black attire, undertook a Save Our Souls (SOS) march to the palace of the Amananyanabo of Abonnema Kingdom, HRM, King Israeli Gbobo Bob-Manuel and told the King that soldiers killed 35 of their sons (Samson Itode, Rivers protesting women allege killing of 35, PUNCH online, March 3, 2019). The women demanded that soldiers be barred from the community during elections.
Some of the playcards read:
- Abonnema not Battle Ground,
- Akuku LGANS desire Peace
- Vote not Kill,
- York City says No to Violence,
- Army, Don’t Kill our Sons
- Let’s stop spilling blood.
A spokesperson for the women, Tonye Briggs Oniyinde told the King:
“We are pained as mothers because of what the military personnel came here to do which had never happened in this community.
“Your children are here to plead with you to tell the Army not to come here again. We have lost over 30 people in the election… Today, many people have become childless because of the election. We do not need killings and we do not need military in our land again for election.”
She added that as at Saturday, March 2. 2019, more dead bodies were still being recovered.
In what appeared to be a response to the killing of over 30 indigenes by security operatives, unknown gunmen on the night of Saturday, March 2, again shot dead two soldiers at a check-point in Obonoma area in the community, raising fears of full-scale military invasion of the community.
On Monday, March 4, 2019, it was reported in the Nigerian print and electronic media that soldiers took over Abonnema community. They locked down Abonnema waterways to prevent residents from moving away from the area.
Several thousand panic-stricken residents however fled their homes in Abonnema and surrounding communities without extra food or clothing to seek refuge in Degema LGA and other area in the state.
King Amanyanabo was shocked and denounced the killing of soldiers. He said that the criminals who attacked the soldiers were not from Abonnema as, according to him, “we have lived with the military for years.” (Emmanuel Amaize, Pandemonium as 5,000 residents flee Rivers community over killing of soldiers, (Soldiers barricade waterways, as monarch begs), Vanguard, March 4, 2019, p 6).
The Chairman of Akuku-Toru LG Council, Mr. Roland Sekibo, who was declared wanted by 6 Division of the Nigerian Army on allegation of masterminding the killing of an Army Lieutenant denied the allegation. He accused the Army of instigating violence by attacking supporters of his party, who resisted a rival party chieftain who came with soldiers to cart away election materials in Abonnema. He said that voters lack capacity to confront a well-armed Army. He told Vanguard reporter about 8 days after the February 23 elections:
“This is genocide against a defenceless people. The siege on Abonnema is still on with over 17 persons killed and more than 300 arrested, with several houses burnt down.” (Egunfe Yafugborhi, Abonnema: LG boss denies masterminding killing of Lieutenant, as PDP condemns incident, Vanguard, March 5, 2015), p 33)
Meanwhile, more bodies of dead persons were said to have been recovered in several pats of Abonnema. (Davies Iheamnachor, SOLDIERS/YOUTHS’ ELECTION DAY MAYHEM: Rivers mothers protest, storm monarch’s palace as death toll rises to 30, Niger Delta Voice, March 5, 2019, p 37)
An INEC ad-hoc staff, Miss Ibisaki Amachree was also shot dead in Degema LGA of Rivers State during the presidential election held on February 23, 2019, while returning from election duty.
At Bori, HQs of Khana LGA of Rivers State, voters who were determined to protect their votes formed a ring to stop security men who arrived in the morning of March 10 to carry away ballots and voting materials. A Senior Lecturer at Ken Saro Wiwa Polytechnic, Bori, Dr. Ferry Gberegbe was later shot in his groins in controversial circumstances. He died in hospital. Those reportedly shot at Bori Collation Centre include Mr. Marvin Lezor Kpea-ue and Mr. Raymond Ledogo.
The Commander of FSARS in Rivers State who led the operation at Bori was Mr. Akin Fakorede.
Soldiers also allegedly shot dead four youths at the collation centre because the youths confronted them. (Daview Iheamnachor, Victim of Rivers political violence dies seven days after gunshot, SUNDAY VANGUARD, March 17, 2919, p 4)
Soldiers Took Over Collation Centres in Rivers State
Voting was conducted and concluded successfully in most polling units in Rivers State. This wasnot without reports of disruption of voting in some LGAs in the state. The core issue that generated intense crisis was widespread attempt to hijack the collation of results in LG headquarters in the state. There were reports in the electronic and print media showing soldiers who took over the Collation Centre in Port Harcourt from INEC officials. The soldiers chased away accredited agents of some political parties, as well as newsmen and accredited monitors from the Collation Centre. Reports were rife of how soldiers seized election materials and altered results in favour of a political party.
Some of these soldiers brought their results to the State Collation Centre in Port-Harcourt and insisted that the results that they brought should be announced as presented by them. The soldiers violently prevented accredited officials and observers from gaining access to the State Collation Centre in Port Harcourt while taking prime position to see their results announced.
On learning abut the siege of the Collation Centre by soldiers, Governor Nyesom Wike rushed to the Collation Centre in Port Harcourt to ensure that only genuine results were announced.
The confusion that arose from the violence visited on INEC officials and others at the Port Collation Centre was broadcast on several Television networks in the country.
By March 10, there were reports that soldiers had taken over collation centres in several local =government area headquarters in the state. In some cases, INEC staff were taken hostage and election materials, including results seized or destroyed by those INEC described as “unauthorized persons”.
According to a Vanguard newspaper report on March 12, 2019, “the stretch between Waterlines and GRA Junctions remained shut to traffic yesterday by a team of military and SARS operatives.” (Egufe Yafugborhi, Tension as INEC speaks today, Vanguard, March 12, 2019, p 42)
The unbearable situation compelled the Mr. Edwin Enabor, head of the Department of Voter Education and Publicity of INEC in Rivers State to cry out on Sunday March 10, a day after the election: He said, among other things:
“Throughout the election we heard so many reports of insecurity, molestation, harassment, assault on our staff and ad-hoc staff and disruption of the electoral process throughout the state in all the local government areas with the consequence that by yesterday evening, we were unable to get any result.
“As at now, the office is under siege by men in military uniform, army uniform, uniforms of air force and police, who have taken over the INEC office and they are stopping and screening people and clearing results before they enter the office to the extent that up till now, no collation has been done.
“We don’t understand where the people are deployed from. We are not accusing the Nigerian army or Air Force but what we say is the people in the office here right now are wearing uniforms of the Army and Air Force.
“If they are not from them, we are calling on them (security officials) to come and rectify the situation and allow our officers to enter with their results without molestation and harassment.
“The commission has suspended all electoral processes in the state as a result of violence and disruption.”
INEC Fact-Finding Panel
There was widespread outcry by stakeholders as well as local and international observers about the role of military personnel during the elections in Rivers State. A statement made public by Mr. Festus Okoye, a national commissioner and Chairman of its Information and Voter Education Committee, stated inter alia:
“At a meeting held today 10th March 2019, the Commission has decided to suspend all electoral processes in the State until further notice. This is in line with Section 26 of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) and Clause 47(e) of the Regulations and Guidelines of the Commission.
“The Commission has also established a Fact-Finding Committee to assess the situation and report back within 48 hours. We appeal to the people of River State, particularly the voters, for their understanding as we look into the circumstances of these disruptions and what further action needs to be taken.”
The Fact Finding Committee met with representatives of 6 Division of the Nigerian Army on March 12, 2019, at INEC Headquarters in Port Harcourt. The The Army also made a written submission to aid the Committee.
A report issued by Mr. Festus Okoye on behalf of INEC on March 15, 2019, clarified that the military was not authorized to participate in collation of results of the elections which they involved themselves. To clarify issues, the Report cited Section 293(3) of the Electoral Act, 2010, as amended on March 27, 2015, provides as follows:
“Notwithstanding the provisions of any other law and for the purpose of securing the vote, the Commission shall be responsible for requesting for the deployment of relevant security personnel necessary for elections or registration of voters and shall assign them in the manner determined by the Commission in consolation with the relevant security agencies:
“Provided that the Commission shall only request for the employment of Nigerian Armed Forces only for the purposes of securing the distribution and delivery of election materials and protection of election officials.”
Military Response to INEC Committee’s Report
Reacting to findings by INEC, a statement by its spokesman, Colonel Aminu Iliyasu, Deputy Director, Army Public Relations, described the INEC report as “lopsided and unfair”. The Army claimed that it sacrificed so much to ensure the success of the election. It asked the Police to investigate what it claimed as attack on its men by security aides of the Governor of Rivers State, who it claimed, attacked its men. The Army further stated:
“About 10.30 am on March 9, 2019, troops of 6 Division NA detailed at the outer perimeter of Obio/Akpor Local Government Headquarters Collation Centre were brazenly attacked by Governor Wike’s security aides and armed thugs who stormed the collation centre with the governor in a convoy of more than 50 vehiles while collation of results was going on.
“In the ensuing melee, Captain Adams Salami was shot at close range by the security aides of Govrnor Wike while Corporal Adeosun Adebayo was machete by the governor’s thugs.
“Both victims are currently receiving treatment at University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital (UPTH) Intensive care Unit and Military Hospital, Port Harcourt, respectively with life threatening injuries.
“Thereafter, election materials were carted away and electoral officials abducted by the governor’s thugs to an unknown destination.
“This was made known to the INEC Fact-Finding Committee but INEC did not see worth condemning or mention in its report.” (Joseph Erunke, Rivers Polls: INEC, Police betrayed us, says Nigerian Army, Vanguard, March 18 2019; Kingsley Omonobi, Army rejects INEC’s Fact Finding report on River polls, Vanguard, March 19, 2019, p 8)
In an article titled Stop Illegal militarization of elections in Nigeria, (Vanguard, March 20, 2019, p 42), the well-known human rights activist, Femi Falana, SAN, reminded Nigerians that in 2014, the Court of Appeal condemned illegal militarization of elections in Ekiti State when voters were subjected to “horrendous harassment by armed troops”. The judicial indictment of the Army on that occasion compelled the military authorities to institute a probe into the incident, leading to severe disciplinary action against officers involved.
On the Army’s rejection of INEC Report which indicted soldiers that engaged in intimidation and killings of unarmed voters in Rivers State during the Governorship and State House of Assembly elections in the state, which led to postponement of announcement of result of the election, Falana stated:
“It is highly curious that the Nigerian Army which has set up a panel to probe the illegal activities of its personnel in the Rivers State governorship election can turn round to attack INEC for arriving at the same conclusion.”
The legal luminary reminded Nigerians that as a result of several cases filed by chieftains of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) as well as the APC from 2003 to 2015, “our courts declared the deployment of the armed forces in the conduct of elections in Nigeria illegal and unconstitutional.” (Femi Falana, SAN, Stop illegal militarization of elections in Nigeria, Vanguard, March 20, 2919, p 42)
Commenting on the role of soldiers during the elections in Rivers State, INEC in a statement signed by its National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Mr. Festus Okoye, observed:
“Collation centres were invaded by some soldiers and armed gangs resulting in the intimidation and unlawful arrest of election officials thereby disrupting the collation process.
“Consequent upon the foregoing, the commission expresses its displeasure with the role played by some soldiers and armed gangs in Rivers State, disrupting the collation process and attempting to subvert the will of the people; and will engage the security agencies at national level and the inter-Agency Consultative Committee at the State level to demand neutrality and professionalism of security personnel in order to secure a peaceful environment for the completion of the elections.”
Resilience of Some INEC Staff
It is customary for Nigerians to blame “everybody” whenever things go wrong in the country. This is particularly so during elections. But the resilience of INEC during the gubernatorial election in Rivers State on March 9, is worthy of commendation.
Overwhelmed by the manner in which soldiers disrupted collation of election results at the State Collation Centre in Port Harcourt and fearing widespread public violence if the soldiers should have their way, INEC suspended announcement of results. This gave rise to a stalemate because soldiers who brought results to the Collation Centre found it difficult to take over actual announcement of the results they brought. The suspension of announcement of results on March 10 proved to be the saving grace.
To get the genuine result of the election, INEC ignored results brought to them by soldiers and went back to polling units to collect results which they eventually collated on April 23, 2019, to get the true results which they announced on the same day.
Reports by Local and Ingternation Election Observers
The United Kingdom (UK) condemns military interference in the elections. A tweet on @UKinnigeria on March 10, 2019 reads:
“We are extremely concerned by reports, including from @UKinnigeria observers, of military interference in the election process in Rivers State. Monitoring the situation closely @inecng staff must be allowed to do their job in safety without intimidation.”
The European Union Observer Mission, EUOM also condemned intimidation and violence by soldiers. In a Preliminary Report issued in Abuja on March 11, 2019, the European Union Observer Mission for the 2019 election in Nigeria decried the intimidation and violence that characterized the election in Rivers State. The EU Chief Observer, Maria Arena stated:
“The European Union Election Observation Mission, EU EOM, to Nigeria has concluded that while there were operational improvements in governorship and state House of Assembly elections on March 9, these were overshadowed by systemic failings, including a lack of transparency, incumbency advantage and troubling electoral security environment.
“The EU EOM condemned the violence and intimidation, including against election officials and voters, and also referred to the obstruction of citizen observers by the military and security agents on Election Day.
“In the two weeks leading up to the state elections, EU observers saw some misuse of state offices, as well as institutional websites being used for campaigning by both APC and PDP incumbent governors.
“The problems demonstrate the need for an inclusive national discussion on electoral reform. The collation of result is one of the most crucial aspects of any electoral process. And collation for the Presidential and National Assembly elections was ongoing when we held our last press conference. While the national collation centre for the presidential election was open party agents and observers, and the process was continuously televised, our conclusion is that the collation of results process had many problems.
“Overall, the process was not in line with international standards for access to information and public accountability. Polling for the federal elections was cancelled in a large number of polling units across the country, covering nearly 2.8 million registered voters.” (Emmanuel Elebeke, Polls: We’re denied access to collation centres – EU Observer group, Vanguard, Marc 12, 2019 p 9);
Reports issued by Dr. Christopher Fomunyoh, Senior Associate for Africa and Regional Director for Central and West Africa, National Democratic Institute and Elizabeth Lewis, Acting Regional Director for Africa Division, from her base at Transcropt Hilton. Abuja, also expressed grave misgivings about the elections.
In a post-mortem for the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, former US Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. John Campbell described the February 23 Presidential and National Assembly elections in Nigeria as “bad news for democracy in Africa’s most populous country.” Mr. Campbell is co-author of the book Nigeria: What Everyone Needs to Know, published in 2018. According to Campbell.
“The poor quality of this election cycle and the low and declining number of voters do not inspire confidence and some Nigerians have begun to question whether demoracy is right for the country.”
In a statement after the Presidential and National Assembly elections and the Governorship and House of Assembly elections, the US Embassy in Nigeria expressed support for Nigeria’s democratic process but expressed its disappointment and sadness at electoral failures of the country. The Embassy stated:
“As noted by many observer groups in their preliminary reports, we too were disappointed by the low voter turnout as well as credible reports of voter intimidation, vote buying, interference by security forces and violence in some locations.
“We are saddened by those acts of violence and extend our deepest sympathy to the families of those who lost their lives, including those who worked for the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC and the security services.
“As the 2019 electoral cycle comes to an end, we urge all stakeholdrs to work towards a free, fair, credible, transparent, and peaceful process, especially for the many Nigerians across the country who again will go to polls on Saturday.”
The Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC) condemned the electoral rascality and violence that defined the 2019 elections in strong terms. It stated, inter alia:
“Apart from the unprecedented heavy military siege, uncontrollable killings, harassment of both voters and electoral officials by the police and military which ultimately led to the suspension of the ongoing governorship election collation being gross setback for our dear country democratically, it also totally will render the outcome not credible thereby lacking legitimacy.
”Therefore, IPAC as a recognized body of all political parties in the country is expressing complete disapproval of these undemocratic actions.” (Chris Ochayi, IPAC condemns electoral violence, military siege, Vanguard, March 11, 2019, p 12)
A report published by PREMIUM TIMES, citing Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room indicates that between commencement of electoral campaign in October 2018 and completion of election in March 2019, 626 people were killed in electoral violence in the country. (Kunle Sanni, 626 killed in 2019 election – Report, PREMIUM TIMES online, July 31, 2019),.
In response to reports by several reputable international organisations that criticized the conduct of the 2019 elections in Nigeria, the ruling APC said “We are not kids, we can take care of ourselves.” (Henry Umoru, Emman Oyuakporie, John Bosco Agbakwuru, Chris Ochayi and Dirisu Yakubu, Our fears for future elections in Nigeria, US Bodies, Vanguard, June 19,2019, p 9).
Heroes of 2019 Election in Nigeria
In spite of the ignoble role of the military, INEC and some politicians who used military to intimidate and immolate their political opponents, there were a few shining lights during the election. These include a few police officers, some RECs, a few politicians who insisted on playing by the rules and Nigerian women as represented by women of Rivers State.
Mr. Mike Igini, REC, Akwa Ibom State
The electoral body has been the whipping boy of failure of elections in Nigeria. Aside the presidential election, Resident Election Officers (RECs) in some states did the electoral body and the country proud.
Arguably the most outstanding REC in terms of steadfast adherence to rules and unbending integrity is the Resident Electoral Commissioner for Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Mike Igini. He was outstanding in his steadfastness for electoral integrity. He is humble and unassuming but stern and in resistance of electoral marauders. He resisted lure of huge bribes, making his famous statement, “I am here to count votes, not to count money.”
The Akwa Ibom Human Rights Community (AKHRC) that kept close watch of the February/March 2019 election in the state, commended Mr. Igini for his unblemished performance. A statement signed by the Coordinator and Secretary of the group, Mr. Clifford Thomas and Mr. Enobong Ekot respectively noted that the Febrary/March 2019 election in Akwa Ibom State was the fourt time that the electorate in the state was satisfied with the conduct of elections in the state.The statement reads, in part:
“For the first time in the state, people ame out to vote and their votes actually counted. And they even followed the results from the unit, ward and to the local government collation centres. Before these elections, there was this fear among Akwa Ibom electorat, they never beliebed that their votes would ever count.
“Mr. Mike Igini must be congratulated for his star performance during the 2019 elections. He must be encouraged to do more. Igini ensured that the past became history in Akwa Ibom, by putting the electorate, not the politicaian, first in INEC’s agenda.” (Chioma Onuegbu, 2019 Polls: A-Ibom group makes case for REC, Vanguard, Aptil 11, 2019, p 33)
In view of his performance, the human rights group suggested
that “Igini deserves to be promoted to head INEC at the national level in order to promote integrity and transparency throughout the country in future elections.”
Oboh Effanga, REC, Rivers State
When somebody started announcing fake results at the Rivers State Collation centre under duress by soldiers, the REC took the bull by the horn and suspended announcement of results. Mr. Effamga did not only ensure that votes counted in the Rivers election, he saved hundreds, if not thousands of lives that would have been lost, if he had succumbed to pressure or for any other reason allowed those who wanted to hijack election results to do so.
Kano State is recognized as the most populous and politically volatile in the old Northern Region. During the gubernatorial election held on March 9, 2019, the Commissioner of Police in the State Mr. Mohammed Wakil, distinguished himself as a humble but highly disciplined officer, austere and incorruptible.
Before the election, Mr. Wakil had made a name for himself arising mainly from his steadfast fight against drug abuse and thuggery in the state. According to Yusha’u Ibrahim of Daily Trust newspaper, within ten days of his assumption of duty as Commissioner of Police in Kano State, he arrested over a thousand suspected local thugs and drug addicts known as ‘Yan Daba’ as well as some dealers in such drugs, most of who were charged to court. Mr. Wakil was nicknamed “MazaKwaya-MazaKwaya”after a video showing him animatedly chiding drug abuse went viral. (Yusha’u Ibrahim, Why people think I act like drug addict – Kano CP, DAILY TRUST online, March 29, 219)
Mr. Wakil played a yeomans‘s role in ensuring that over 2 million voters cast their votes without major incident during the gubernatorial elections in the state on. At the end of the election, the PDP candidate, Alhaji Abba Yusuf beat the incumbent Governor, Ahaji bdullahi Ganduje, with about 26,000 votes, He also had the requisite spread and ought to have been declared winner of the election.
However, the electoral umpire cancelled some votes some LGAs after the election had been concluded and results announced at polling units. This action enabled the electoral umpire to declare the election “inconclusive”. As if to protest the free and fair conduct of the gubernatorial election in the state, the IGP deploye several officers who were senior to Mr. Wakil to supervise a re-run election in some LGAs in the state. These officers who were senior to Mr Wakil took over the security for the election andthere was widespread violence and mayhem.
The rerun election turned out to be one of the most violent and discredited elections in the 2019 election cycle. (Re-run election: Journalists escape lynching in Kano, PM NEWS online, March 23)
Brave Women of Rivers State
In view of the record of some Nigerian soldiers making Niger Delta youths their shooting targets, brave women of Rivers State asked their sons to stay away from the electoral battle line. The women prepared themselves in the traditional spiritual manner for the encounter with rampaging Nigerian troops.
The women had several encounters with Nigerian soldiers too numerous to describe in a short article. The women undertook protest marches; they wept bitterly for their dead sons, they shouted their voices hoarse; sang and danced to lift up morae; they listened to speeches; they resisted oppression. At one point, hundreds of Rivers women lay flat on the way of troops. They were prepared to be run over by military trucks at Ogu/Bolo, Rivers State.
At the 12th All Niger Delta Dialogue Roundtable held at Atrium Event Centre, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, from April 9, to April 10, 2019, women of the Niger Delta reviewed their experience and exploits during the Presidential and Governorship elections in 2019. The Conference which was facilated by a non-governmental organization, AA PeaceWorks and sponsored by the European Union, EU, had its theme “Raising Women’s Voice Towards Nation Building”. Her Majesty, Obi Martha Dunkwu, Omu Anioma, presided over the all-omen Conference.
During the proceedings, a representative of Gallant Five, G-5, that co-ordinated resistance of the onslaught of Nigerian soldiers during the March 9 Governorship election in Rivers State, Barrister Christiana Tamunoberetoan-ari recounted the exploits of the group. In a detailed report on the proceedings of the Conference, Emma Amaize, Editor, South-South of Vanguard newspaper, wrote:
“Three days to the last governorship elections, there was mass arrest of innocent young men, which prompted the G-5 to call women to come out in defence of their community and to defend their votes because the fight was not for men alone.”
According to Emma Amaize, when the women discovering that some soldiers hadheld agents of some political parties at the collation centre, they decided that their votes must be protected at all costs.
“In Ogu/Bolo communities, there were vibrant, strong and agile young men who were ready to face any batte but because in every woman, there is a daughter, wife and sister, we calmed down, told our young men not to do anything to the soldiers for that could lead to avoidable loss of lives and properties”
She noted that six vans full of soldiers were on ground to take the results from the centres and they flogged the women for their resistance against their plan.
“When the Army came out, they flogged the women but they were not scared despite their threats to run them over with their vehicles. They refused – sat on the floor singing and shouting.
“As women, we have different ways of averting violence, so we have to remove our clothes and went bare which the soldiers could not stand and they were pushed back, and that was a major victory for us
“Up till Sunday, they were still there. Then, Amayanbo (King) used town crier to ask the whole town to come out and over 800 women came to resist the carnage intended by the Army. The very old women all came out, pleading with the soldiers to let peace reign. It was pathetic; they could not go in, the next morning. They even gave the army breakfast to show they were not enemies. That was how our votes ere secured.” (Emma Amaize, N’Delta women regroup again, speak on their agitations, SATURDAY Vanguard, August 20, 2019, p 14-15)
Earlier in her opening speech, the Chairman of the Dialogue, Omu Martha Dunkwu said that the Conference was a platform for women to harness their energies and skills for nation building. Towarsds this objective, she said, women, as wives and mothers have a duty to change the current paradigm in the country.
The renowned female Traditional Ruler commended what she called “iron-cast women” who valiantly resisted the Nigerian Army and other agents of violence and successfully prevented them from jeopardizing electoral processes in Oru/Bolo, Okrika and Abonnema in Rivers State and Odenwari in Bayelsa State during the 2019 general elections.
These are the true, though unsung defenders and heroes of democracy, not those who boast of “Federal Might”, provide youths with mood-altering drugs, give them guns, incite them to violence and import soldiers to kill their people in their states.