The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has said it suspended the by-elections of the Port Harcourt state constituency III because of widespread violence and electoral fraud allegedly aided and abetted by security agencies.
This is as Rivers State Governor, Mr. Nyesom Wike, said the state has been vindicated by INEC’s confirmation of the collusion between the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) and security agencies in alleged electoral fraud in the state.
Also, the APC has accused the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) of perpetrating violence and snatching electoral materials during the suspended by-election.
Addressing a press conference on the election in Port Harcourt yesterday, the state Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Mr. Obo Effanga, said the commission had no other option than to suspend the election because it did not meet the minimum standards due to widespread violence and snatching of card readers and ballot boxes by politicians aided by armed uniformed security personnel.
He reiterated the content of the statement issued by the commission that while it deployed adequate men and materials for the election, its effort was scuttled by the invasion of polling units by top politicians escorted by uniform armed security personnel.
“In INEC, we are not so much concerned about who wins or loses but in the integrity of the electoral process. What we saw last Saturday was the lowest level of electoral discredit. INEC was ready but the elite aided by the uniform security personnel spoilt the process.
“What is clear from our observations is that the elite of Rivers State will determine the electoral progress of this state. Their conduct last Saturday is condemnable and reprehensible by the standard of any decent society,” he said.
Also speaking, Akwa Ibom State REC and representative of National Electoral Commissioner for Rivers State, Mr. Mike Igini, said the commission had to suspend the election in order not to put more lives at risk because of the widespread violence that affected voters, INEC officials and journalists.
He expressed dissatisfaction that some politicians would be granted immunity to move around with security personnel in violation of the Electoral Act without being arrested.
“The question we cannot answer is how individuals would be going around with platoons of different arms of security personnel in Hilux vans unhindered. The future of Rivers State is in the hands of the elite of the state,” Igini said.
Also reacting to the suspension of the election, Wike accused the police of complicity in the violence and electoral fraud that characterised the by-election.
In a statewide broadcast yesterday, Wike expressed dissatisfaction that despite assurances, the police allegedly connived in unleashing violence on the people.
“Unfortunately, and as we had feared, the police failed us completely once again and negated all that they promised. Instead of providing security for voters and INEC officials, the police brazenly colluded with political thugs of the APC to subvert the democratic process and denied the people of Port Harcourt state constituency III their rights to free, fair and credible elections.
“Confirmed reports from the field indicated that INEC promptly and rightly distributed elections materials to all the polling units within a recorded time.
“However, while voting was underway, armed thugs from the APC led by the state factional Chairman, Mr. Ojukaye Flag-Amachree, moved freely from one polling unit to the other, violently assaulting voters and INEC officials, and carted away election materials, including smart card readers and ballot boxes.
“This situation is worrisome. If the Nigerian Police cannot secure and guarantee the peaceful and successful conduct of election in a state constituency of 8 wards, then what will happen in 2019 when they would be contending with 319 electoral wards and 4,442 polling units across 23 local government Aaeas in the state?
“It should also be noted that there was no single incidence of violence in the state in the last local government elections, in which the APC refused to participate.
“What is clear from all these acts of bad behaviour is that the Nigerian Police have since become an interested party in the politics of Rivers State, and therefore, can no longer be trusted to participate as an impartial institution in the state electoral process.
“Above all, the consistent sabotage of the electoral process by the police amounts to a declaration of war against the people of Rivers State and their solemn rights to freely and fairly choose their leaders and representatives,” Wike said.
But in a swift reaction, the APC has accused the PDP of perpetrating violence and snatching of electoral materials during the suspended by-election.
In a statement issued by the APC acting National Publicity Secretary, Yekini Nabene, the party hailed the Rivers State electorate for bravely defending their votes despite the violence.
APC urged the state electorate and indeed all Nigerians to continue to stand their ground and resist any attempt to rig elections in the country, adding that votes must count and the people’s will must prevail in all elections.
“Nigerians will recall how the PDP, speaking through its National Spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, last Tuesday, vowed to deploy all ‘means, schemes, shenanigans in all ramification and magnitude’ to rig all coming elections.
“While we condemn the PDP-sponsored violence and failed attempt to rig the by-election, we reiterate that the PDP public rigging plan is a red flag that requires urgent attention by the INEC and relevant security agencies,” APC said.