EBIOWEI LAWAL X-rays the mounting apprehension over the governorship election holding in Bayelsa State on Saturday, even as he explains that a flooding which recently occurred may mar the election in some parts of the state.
With 48 hours to the governorship election taking in Bayelsa State, there are growing fears among the electorate that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) may have no other choice but to postpone the election. The fears bothered on human and natural factors namely, the possible violation of the electoral process and the issue of flooding which have rendered many people homeless in some communities in the state in the last two weeks.
The INEC, during a meeting with journalists in Yenagoa, the state capital, also expressed fears that it may have difficulties in deploying men and distributing materials to many communities that have been submerged by water. The electoral umpire however is not considering postponing the election, even as it has not created special polling units that would replace the polling units and centres that have been submerged by flood to enable eligible voters in the affected communities to vote.
Speaking at the meeting, INEC official in charge of information, Festus Okoye, said it was regrettable that the only mandate of the commission was to conduct the election and if it is unable to conduct in a particular polling unit, on account of a natural disaster or the other, Section 23 of the Electoral Act will direct the commission on what to do.
He further explained that people who may have left their homes and are currently putting up with their relatives or friends and have not been declared as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) by the government would not be considered as such, saying that the commission can only create special polling units for only IDPs that can be located in camps and have been documented.
He assured that the INEC is ready to conduct a free, fair and credible poll, disclosing that out of the 14 mandates it has, as listed in the revised timetable for the election, the commission has already implemented 12, with the remaining target items being the end of campaigns and the election proper.
He said: “We have implemented almost all our mandates for the election. We are on ground zero and everything is set. We have trained all categories of ad-hoc staff that will be needed for the election. All non-sensitive materials are on ground and at the local government areas, while the sensitive materials will arrive few days to election.
“The question that should be asked is whether political parties are ready because they had enough time to prepare. The INEC remains the only body that has the mandate to conduct elections and no political party can insist that its position in relation to whatever it wants will be accepted. We regulate the political parties; they can’t regulate us.”
While the INEC is promising to conduct a credible and all-inclusive election, the political parties, especially the two leading political parties in the state, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC), were alleged to have started the inducement of voters. Investigation revealed that the parties have started buying details of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) from prospective electorates for as low as N500 and N1000. It was further learnt that they plan to use the details collected to clone the PVCs of the unsuspecting electorate.
A non-governmental organisation, YIAGA AFRICA, while presenting its pre-election observation report to newsmen in Yenagoa, said it witnessed or heard cases of voters’ inducement across the eight local government areas of the state, saying money may play a major role in the election.
The report read: “From the point of the primaries of political parties in Bayelsa, huge sums of money began to exchange hands. Delegates for the primaries were paid as high as N250, 000 to N500, 000 to sell their votes. So it won’t be shocking to find that monies are also exchanging during the campaign period of political parties.
“There is also fear of violence that may cause low turnout of voters on the day of the election. It is also observed that electorate have this belief that some individuals that are perceived to have control over the waterways may decide the fate of the election because of easy access to light firearms.
“Recently, some persons suspected to be militants walked into a community in Southern Ijaw and started shooting for three hours. The intention may not have been to kill but to send signal that they have the strength and could be hired by politicians to help them rig the election. And this may cause low turnout of voters on election day.
“It was also observed that political parties were involved in physical and verbal attacks during their campaigns, rather than focus on issues facing the people and how they intend to solve them. There are cases of inter-party clashes in the state, due to issues of destruction of billboards and banners. This is an early indication that, if nothing is done, the election may come with pockets of violence.”
But the Nigerian Police said it was not leaving any stone unturned to ensure that the forthcoming election is conducted in a peaceful environment. The law enforcement agency further assured that it has the capacity to cover the entire state that is 75 per cent riverine with little or no motorable roads linking far-flung communities, especially in Southern Ijaw, Brass and Ekeremor local councils.
Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, during a meeting with officers and men of the state Police Command in Yenagoa, assured the electorate in the state of their safety during the election, saying over 32,000 personnel have already been deployed to Bayelsa for the conduct of the election.
The IGP further said conducting a peaceful governorship election in Bayelsa depended largely on the conduct of the policemen that would be deployed for the election, urging them to be neutral and professional in their conducts before, during and after the elections.
“I just want to advise you not to succumb to political enticement from politicians. When you do, there would be problems. If you see anyone buying votes, it is illegal. Please arrest the person. Your job also is to secure materials to the polling units and ensure that nobody is molested during the election. You must ensure that there is peace and security at the polling units. After the election, you are supposed to protect the votes and results of the unit to the collation centre. By so doing, you will beef up the security at the collation centers and ensure nothing happen to the results,” he said.
He also informed that there would be a detachment of mobile policemen on patrol to assist and secure arrest of politicians if it goes beyond their capacity. He also disclosed that the welfare package of the officers and men of the Bayelsa Police Command that their welfare packages have been paid into their accounts to cover their days of duty during the election.
A day after the IGP’s address, the 32,000 policemen deployed for the election began to arrive in the state. They were led to the by 15 commissioners of police, three assistant inspectors general (AIG) and one deputy inspector general (DIG). Among the commissioners of police deployed were Garba Umar, Sanusi Buba, Bello Makwashi, Usman Gomina, Mohammed Gimba, Bashir Makama, Habu Sani and Danladi Lalas.
But two policemen were, in the early hours of Monday, reportedly shot dead near Otuogidi community in Ogbia Local Government Area and their riffle carted away by unknown gunmen suspected to be hoodlums hired to source for guns ahead of election. It was gathered that the attack on the policemen occurred at a check-point close to the Bayelsa State College of Health Technology located in Ogbia. The attack left one of the policeman dead on the spot while the second policeman died at the hospital.
The attack has raised fresh tension among residents of the state, even as the DIG on Bayelsa Election, Anthony Ogbizi, assured the people of their safety and promised that the security personnel deployed to the state would ensure that there is a level-playing ground for the INEC to conduct a free, fair and credible election on Saturday.
However the INEC has taken steps to discourage politicians from indulging in acts that may create tension and cause violence before, during and after the election. At a stakeholder meeting in Yenagoa, over 30 political parties signed a peace accord, pledging to commit themselves to non-violence conducts before, during and after the poll. Governorship candidate of the PDP, Senator Douye Diri and the deputy governorship candidate of the APC, Senator Biobaraku Degi-Eremienyo, both signed the peace pact on behalf of their parties before a crowd of stakeholders.
While observing the signing of the peace pact, chairman of the INEC, Professor Yakubu Mahmood, warned that “voters inducement in all forms, including vote buying at polling units, is a violation of the law. The ban on the use of mobile phones and other photographic devices in the voting cubicles is still in force and will be strictly enforced and monitored.
“I urge all stakeholders to continue to eschew violence and maintain peaceful conduct during the election. It is our collective responsibility to safeguard the process and to protect all election duty staff, including the youth corps members who will serve at the polling units, which is the basic level of the voting process.
“It is also our collective responsibility to extend the same protection and allow freedom of movement and unimpeded access to polling and collation areas for accredited observers and the media during the election. Finally, I want to urge all stakeholders to maintain decorum while making your contributions or responding to issues raised by others. Democracy demands accommodation of divergent views. It is not just about elections. This is a culture we must imbibe.
“There can be no democracy without democrats. There can be no free and fair elections in an atmosphere of acrimony and bitterness. Let us focus on issues and argue in support of what will improve the electoral process and quality of life of the citizens.”
While the police and INEC are putting up preventive measures to ensure a credible and peaceful election, the two leading political parties, the APC and the PDP, are still enjoying endorsement from groups and other political parties, some 48 hours away from the election.
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