Mission Bayelsa And Its Smaller ‘Wars’
THE cancellation of election in Southern Ijaw local government council underpinned the truism in the saying that when the cat is away, the mice will play. To a large extent, the absence of the Governor-General of the Ijaw nation, Dr. Diepreye Solomon Peters Alamieseigha, provided the enabling environment for the Southern Ijaw council, especially his native Amassoma, to serve as the theatre of raw display of political militancy two Saturdays ago and the following Sunday.
In a striking similarity to Libya, where the leader of Arab Peoples Jamahiriya, Colonel Muammar El Ghadaffi, was killed and those who orchaestrated his death desired to occupy his empire, there was an attempt to take over Alamieseigha’s political domain by force and bravado. Had the fight gone the whole hog, the outcome would have sparked off a conflagration that could have consumed Nigeria’s democracy, if not the country itself.
If not for mental inferiority of crowds, which voters represent, the only way Bayelsans could have averted the high adrenalin set off by the governorship election, was to settle for the little known Moses Siasia. That could have been the best way to navigate away from the fight of two elephants that Governor Henry Seriake Dickson versus Timipre Sylva battle encore. That way too, there would not have been a replay of the legendary Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) versus All Progressives Congress (APC) electoral animosity and confrontation. But in the absence of such fantastic conjectures, the reality that unfolded before the eyes of Bayelsans and all those who witnessed the macabre electoral display in the state, was enervating. There are many sides to what played out last week in the state, in the name of democratic election.
Conflict Of Missions/Selling Points
FORMER governor of the state and governorship candidate of APC, Timipre Sylva, tagged his mission in the gubernatorial election as ‘Operation Takeover’. On his part, the incumbent Governor Henry Seriake Dickson predicated his second term ambition on the need for ’Continuity of Peace’. In the contest of these ambitions, the two candidates who have served the state in the capacity of governor for four years at various times, put their mind and body to the campaigns and election.
Timipre Sylva, tagged his mission in the gubernatorial election as ‘Operation Takeover’. On his part, the incumbent Governor Henry Seriake Dickson predicated his second term ambition on the need for ’Continuity of Peace’. In the contest of these ambitions, the two candidates who have served the state in the capacity of governor for four years at various times, put their mind and body to the campaigns and election. As it turned out, the pay offs of the candidates’ theme resonated on their mission and the political evolution of the state
As it turned out, the pay offs of the candidates’ theme resonated on their mission and the political evolution of the state. For instance, Bayelsans recall that apart from the 18 months that Dr. Goodluck Jonathan held forth as governor, the state had not witnessed real development. They noted that while the late DSP Alamieseigha used his term to celebrate the creation of the State with reveling and socializing, Jonathan brought focus to infrastructure development. “It was Jonathan that constructed the Isaac Boro Expressway, expanded the Oxbow lake and other landmark buildings including the famed Tower Hotel,” they narrated.
As the residents looked back at the trajectory of development in the state, they remember how the APC candidate was stoned in June 2011 based on public frustration at his leadership style. Others noted that though Sylva had taste and initiative, his tendency for wasteful spending was a big minus. It is also recorded against Sylva that during the 2007 governorship primary in the state when Dr. Jonathan polled a total of 3,764 votes, he scored only seven votes but was selected to fly the governorship flag on account that he was the next to Jonathan who was invited to serve as running mate to late President Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua.
So as Sylva campaigned to take over the reins of power in the state, and Dickson sought continuity, the electorate were divided on their individual estimation of the candidates. Most recall that Sylva’s only visible possession in Bayelsa is his gunboat. As such their minds seemed to have been made up even before the election. Moreover Dickson’s campaign team refreshed the minds of the populace to the Sylva era when violence and thuggery reigned. The stress on ‘peace’ therefore, was a subtle marketing strategy by the PDP candidate to remind the voters that Dickson’s administration ushered in an era of peace and security.
Many in Yenagoa actually said that Dickson’s decision to ban commercial motorcycles in the metropolis helped to reduce the activities of cultists and dangerous crimes, pointing out that life in the city became more purposeful as rate of accidents reduced.
On the flipside, Sylva’s takeover mantra was seen as a picture of what the APC as a party planned to do to Bayelsa, which produced the immediate past president. Locals perceive that with Sylva, the agitation by the Ijaws for self-determination and resource control would be aborted.
Yet some others believe that with Sylva, the state would fare better in attracting federal projects and presence, saying for instance that just because he emerged APC flagbearer, Sylva had recovered a dormant contract awarded during Jonathan’s administration at the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). Then, perhaps unintended, Dickson’s message of continuity seemed also to suggest that he was reconnecting the state to the 18 years of Jonathan’s governorship. All these sentiments played out in the December 5, gubernatorial poll. In the big picture, followers of the two frontline candidates saw the election as a continuation of PDP versus APC nay, Jonathan versus Buhari electoral contest.
IN Bayelsa, it is common to hear of Generals. And these generals are commanders, not of Nigerian soldiers but militants and pirates. And so in the buildup to the governorship election these generals mobilised support for candidates they feel would better protect their interest. But the fact that the presidential amnesty was about to run its full term, these generals and their armies saw the election as a transition to another safety net for free income and good life.
The influence of the generals was more acute at Southern Ijaw Local Government Area (SILGA). They engaged in small wars to promote the electoral fortune of the candidate they were supporting. It was gathered that out of the four generals in the area, three were siding with APC candidate, while only one favoured the incumbent. There was an attempt by the generals to strike a bargain over the sharing of the electoral materials in SILGA.
While those rooting for Sylva wanted a sixty-fifty arrangement that gives sixty percent of the votes to APC and fifty to PDP, those on the side of PDP insisted that proper voting should be allowed to take place. With the stalemate and sensing the possibility of escalated violence, INEC officials refused to release the election materials, citing inadequacy of security personnel. This led to postponement of the election to the following day being Sunday December 6, 2015.
At Oporoma, the council headquarters, the situation was tense even though the election materials were secure. But the INEC officials insisted that lack of security personnel to guard the movement of the materials made it impossible to contemplate distributing same, especially as sound of gunshots filled the air. Meanwhile voters massed at Amassoma waiting endlessly for the materials to arrive. Both APC and PDP supporters were evenly divided at the Amassoma civic centre. A PDP youth leader, Ogade Parkins said that being members of the same community they do not have issues, arguing that they all know that their power lie in the PVC, there was no need for trouble.
Another voter, Mr. Promise Avre said neither APC nor PDP had power to rig the election, pointing out that if the materials are provided the people would cast their votes. However, the APC women leader for ward 9, Egabo Bina Ruth, lamented that once it is past one o’clock in the afternoon, INEC regulation says accreditation should stop, wondering how the election could still hold with the time at 3.00pm on that fateful Saturday. “For us we are just waiting to see what will happen because it is now close to three o’clock, as far as we are concerned whichever day INEC fixes for the election, we shall come out and vote,” she stated adding that five hundred persons from Amassoma trekked to Otuan from where they used canoe to cross the river and get to Oporoma to ensure that there was no rigging. She said they heard of the clash at Oporoma, pointing out that the balance of power will prevent the hijacking of electoral materials or manipulations.
However on Sunday, when the election was rescheduled to hold, what happened was beyond the expectation of anyone. As was noticed, one of the groups lead by some militant leaders had brought in some guns into the precincts of the council headquarters and covered the guns with thick black cellophane that women use to spread foodstuff for drying. At the renewed attempt to enforce the distribution formula suggested the previous day, things went awry. One of the generals rooting for Sylva grabbed a gun from one of the security officers and started shooting.
Prompted by that, other militants went for the guns hidden beneath the black cellophane and followed suit. At that point and noticing that the supporters of the candidates were not armed, soldiers opened fire and the militants who took to their heels, as some people hit by gunshots fell. In the melee, everybody scampered for safety, some running towards the water body nearby. The pandemonium was made worse by the terrain of Southern Ijaw as most of those who were not conversant with the place fell into the river.
Political thugs loyal to the parties struggled for the ballot materials and went to thumb printing accordingly. It was obvious that having perceived that the voting pattern in the upland would not favour them, stalwarts of one of the contenders decided to ambush SILGA, which hosts a total of 120, 836 registered voters. This prodigious but dubious voting population attracted the attention of the frontline candidates, such that, while Governor Dickson was shouting about plans to rig the election, Sylva kept his cool.
On previous electoral contests, the late Governor General of the Ijaw nation, Alamieseigha, held the ace as to who benefits from the lot. In his absence, therefore, the area became not only a shopping basket but a theatre of underworld war. From what happened in SILGA, the 2015 governorship, if it were a movie, ought to be titled “Mission Bayelsa”.
Pre-Election Rigging Plot
THE plot to manipulate the Bayelsa governorship election predated the D-Day. Few weeks to the election, INEC headquarters had uncovered efforts by some notable politicians in the state to compromise the process. Capitalizing on the review of the voter register in the state, some politicians decided to inflate the figures in the register massively by injecting fictitious names, including those of under-aged persons. Recall that only few days were allotted for the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise. Evidence of foul play emerged when the INEC headquarters discovered that the voting strength of the state had almost doubled its original size. Recall also that the Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC, Mr. Baritor Kpagih, who is currently being harangued for the cancellation of the election in SILGA; had complained about the low turnout of voters for the CVR.
Infact, it is on records that Kpagih actually berated the politicians and political parties for not doing enough to mobilise Bayelsan of voting age to come out and register. Among other challenges that bedeviled the CVR, the peculiar terrains of the riverine communities compounded the exercise. Consequently, political jobbers with deep pockets allegedly decided to exploit the situation by approaching an INEC official in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Unit involved in the exercise, with financial enticement. A source within INEC confided in The Guardian that the ICT staff at the centre of the fraud allegedly lined up about 50 Data Capturing Machines (DCMs), which he deployed surreptitiously for the CVR, unknown to his colleagues, especially the Electoral Officers (EOs) in the local government areas.
At INEC quarters it was discovered that out of the 160 Data Capturing Machines released for CVR in Bayelsa, on the average of 20 machines per local government area, the embattled ICT staff only released a total of 130 to the EOs as against 160 since Bayelsa has eight LGs,” he said. But even after withholding the balance of 30 machines, including the reserve for backup, the source spoke further, the suspect put additional 26 machines to work. INEC is said to be investigating how he sourced the extra DCMs. However, the investigating panel worked on the assumption that the ICT staff must have deployed 56 Data Capturing Machines to the private homes of his paymasters where they perfected the inflation of the voter register.
Moreover experienced staffers at INEC headquarters were said to have cried out that the figures generated from the CVR in Bayelsa were impossible to be generated at so short a time. The source added: “It was at that point the decision was reached to set up the panel of inquiry to unravel the magic or swindle. As the committee began its work, it invited INEC officials in Bayelsa alongside material used for the CVR.” Sources in Bayelsa INEC confirmed that registration materials, loaded in three Vans were taken to Abuja.
Those invited to the INEC headquarters, they said, included the REC, State Administrative Secretary, Electoral Officers, ICT staff both at the National headquarters and Bayelsa office and all those remotely connected to the matter, adding that they faced the panel on October 19, 2015. It was revealed that the committee discovered after interviewing the affected officials, discovered that the ICT staff carried out the fraud alone. “The eight EOs were, after tendering the manual registers from their LGAs, which differed from what was keyed in by the ICT staff, exonerated from the scheme. The ICT officer was handed over to the security from the venue of the panel for more investigation,” the source revealed, adding that further investigation exposed a credit balance of tens of millions of naira in the culprit’s bank accounts, believed to be proceeds of the dirty deal.
THE cancellation of the midnight ‘election’ in Southern Ijaw and declaration of the election as inconclusive have left Bayelsa in the throes of speculations and rumours. While words making the rounds in the state suggest that the Federal Government was seeking ways to declare a state of emergency in the state, there are also rumours that the Minister of Defence, who presided over the second APC primary election that produced Timipre Sylva and the Secretary to Government of Federation (SGF) David Lawal Babachir, were behind the confusion in the state unknown to President Buhari.
Meanwhile, the Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, under the leadership of Odens Eradiri, at a meeting in Yenagoa, last Tuesday, warned all those trying to put the state back on the course of violence and criminality to retrace their steps or the face the wrath of the youth. IYC also declared that General Africa and Ogombos should keep away from Bayelsa until further notice. The youth groups warned overzealous politicians not to plunge the state into anarchy, pointing out that the collective energy of the people should be channeled towards developing the state.