Fear has gripped residents of Bayelsa State ahead of today’s governorship election scheduled by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to seek the successor of Governor Seriake Dickson, who is on the verge of completing his two terms of eight years.
Fear of possible outbreak of violence has enveloped voters, who are warming up to choose between the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party ((PDP), Senator Douye Diri, and that of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief David Lyon.
he two leading parties have been at loggerheads, throwing blames and counter blames on some pockets of pre-election violence that have characterised campaign rallies and electioneering ahead of the poll.
Recently, a rally organised by the PDP at Nembe Local Government Area was disrupted by armed thugs, who shot ceaselessly, killing a few persons and injuring many others. The action of the thugs caused panic in the council and heightened tension across the state.
Shortly after the incident, the APC and the PDP members traded allegations with each camp claiming innocence in the violence that led to the death of a driver of Outside Broadcasting Van (OB Van) attached to Radio Bayelsa, Simon Onu.
APC, PDP trade blame
Onu was reportedly hit by one of the stray bullets that flew around at the local government area following sustained gunshots by the thugs. Fidelis Soriwei, the Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to Governor Seriake Dickson, who confirmed the death of Onu, blamed the incident on the activities of APC thugs.
Soriwei said thugs led by some APC leaders fired at members of the PDP in a bid to abort the governorship rally of the party.
He said: “The attackers also opened fire at the protocol bus of the Bayelsa State Government House at a junction between Bassambiri and Ogbolomabiri.
“One of the PDP members died of gunshot injuries while several others sustained serious injuries and have been rushed to the hospital.
“Meanwhile, Bayelsa State Governor, Henry Seriake Dickson, has insisted that the rally must go on. The Governor, who condemned the violence, urged the security agencies to take full control of the situation for the PDP rally to hold peacefully.”
But the Director-General, Timipre Sylva Support Organisation, Wilfred Ogbotobo, said that the PDP members were the aggressors, adding that the party leaders invaded the community with thugs to chase away members of the APC.
Ogbotobo said some APC members were injured in the attack, wondering the reason for the campaign in Nembe when the party rounded off their rallies with a grand finale held in Yenagoa.
He said: “The PDP leaders did not go to Nembe for any campaign. It was a premeditated plan to chase out APC members and supporters from the community, having realised their rejection and imminent failure at the poll.
“As soon as they arrived at the community, they started chanting war songs, destroying APC banners and billboards, and taunted APC members in their support bases.
They came with weapon-wielding mercenaries from other places in police and other military uniforms, who started harassing APC members without provocation.
“Their intentions were to precipitate crisis and render the whole Nembe unsafe for the election. The public should disregard their habitual lies and infantile propaganda. Nembe people have rejected Seriake Dickson and his restoration agenda.
“They are known trouble mongers. They are out to deceive their master to get quick cash. They know quite well that Nembe is too big a place that they can easily conquer for their failed Dickson.”
Prior to the Nembe fracas, members of the APC were attacked and injured at Igbogene, a metropolis in Yenagoa, where the APC candidate lives. They claimed that a lawmaker elected on the platform of the PDP sponsored the thugs that visited them with violence.
The two parties have also accused each other of hiring thugs and importing arms into the state for the purpose of the election. Lyon yesterday called on security agencies in charge of the poll to stop the ongoing movement of thugs into the state.
Lyon, in a statement signed by his media aide, Chief Gift Ebiki, said he had it on good authority that thugs from neighbouring states were arriving Yenagoa, the state capital, following the orders of some leaders of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
Ebiki said their investigations revealed that the thugs would be deployed in communities and creeks across the state to perpetrate violence and disrupt the election.
Specifically, he said in Ekeremor, the thugs had been handed over to an ex-militant leader in Clough Creek area and a top government official while the miscreants were handed over to a notable lawmaker and an elected local government official in Southern Ijaw.
“In Ogbia, the thugs are to work with a known local government official and a lawmaker”, he said. He said the thugs had been handed weapons including AK47 rifles and would be kitted in military and police fatigue to confuse security arrangement for the poll.
Ebiki said the plan of the PDP was to create an atmosphere of insecurity in the strongholds of the APC to prevent people from coming out to cast their votes so as to record low voter turnout in such areas. He said areas marked for deployment of thugs by the state ruling party were Nembe, Brass, Ogbia, some parts of Yenagoa and Southern local government areas.
He said: “We are using this opportunity to call on security agencies to up their game and secure the electoral process against the planned violence by the PDP.
“The PDP has seen that it stands no chance to win this election. It has tried its first evil strategy by shopping for court judgments to deny the APC from partaking in the poll.
“Having seen that the first strategy of procuring court judgments is dead on arrival, they have activated their next strategy of resorting to violence. Their thugs have started arriving Bayelsa from neighbouring states and they will be deployed in APC strongholds to create atmosphere of insecurity and prevent people from coming out.
“Their approach, like they did before, is to start shooting early in the morning during accreditation and voting, and to sustain such fun duel for a reasonable part of the day.
“We are asking security agencies to be at alert, fish out these thugs, seize their weapons to allow a proper democratic process to take place on Saturday.
“Bayelsans yearn for change. And they believe in the candidacy of our party to bring the desired change. The APC is currently a mass movement and nothing can truncate this will of the people.”
But the state Governor, Seriake Dickson, has also accused the APC of plotting to hijack the poll through violence in connivance with security agencies. He lamented that the APC was banking on electoral fraud, through connivance with INEC, and the use of violence and mayhem through the use of the security forces to harass and intimidate innocent voters. Dickson, who said the PDP abhorred violence, expressed the confidence that his party would sweep the gubernatorial election on November 16.
But the APC, through its National Publicity Secretary, Yekini Nabena, accused Dickson of secretly releasing about 100 inmates awaiting trial at Okaka Prison, Yenagoa to cause electoral violence. Nabena said his party told the security agencies and the general public of how Dickson and the PDP planned to mar the election with violence through thugs clothed in military uniforms.
But Dickson and the PDP denied the allegation.
Clamour for peaceful election
Following the fear of violence, civil society organisations, the Ijaw Youths Council (IYC), Central Zone and INEC held series of events on the need to maintain the peace before, during and after the election.
The Zonal Chairman of IYC, Kennedy Olorogun, particularly organised a one-day non-violent summit, praise and prayer for the election. The youths prayed for peace and divine intervention to prevent death and injuries during the poll.
Olorogun described the shooting and killing in Nembe as barbaric and unacceptable, and called on security agencies to up their game to forestall a reoccurrence. He said persons involved in the incident should be fished out and prosecuted to serve as deterrent to others.
Olorogun said there is no alternative to peace, saying election should not be viewed as war but a democratic contest involving brothers. He asked the youth to eschew violence and stop allowing themselves to be used by politicians to disrupt the peace in the state.
In their various remarks, the Commissioner for Youths, Ebipatei Apaingolo and IYC National Secretary, Alfred Kemepado called on the youth to stay away from violence during the poll. Kemepado particularly told the youths that IYC had not and would not endorse any candidate for the election.
He, however, said members were free to support and vote for any candidate of their choice. “Any purported endorsement is a crime to Ijaw nation. I urge the clan chairmen and IYC members to go down to their communities to exercise their civic responsibility of voting and I appeal to security agencies to be professional in discharging their duties and not to compromise the process”, he said.
In their efforts to ensure peace in Bayelsa, the National Peace Committee (NPC) and the Niger Delta Dialogue held a stakeholders summit and compelled political parties and their candidates to sign a peace accord.
The Secretary of the committee, Archbishop Mathew Hassan Kukah, who supervised the signing, underscored the importance of peace during and after elections.
He urged Nigerians, especially the people of Bayelsa, to imbibe the political culture of tolerance and peace while exercising their franchise, insisting that only the living could enjoy the dividends of democracy.
He said: “I want to thank you on behalf of Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar who is the Chairman of the National Peace Committee, which is concerned with efforts towards not just ensuring free and fair election but also we do the little best we can to address the issue of the urgency of peace in Nigeria.
“As you know, not all Bayelsans are members of a political party, not every member of a political party is Bayelsan. It is on your behalf that this election is being conducted. I want to enjoin you to imbibe the spirit that only the living can participate in elections and enjoy the dividends of elections.”
Security agents assure voters of safety
But security and paramilitary agencies have assured voters in Bayelsa State of protection and safety during the poll. Even the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) warned its members against conduct capable of provoking violence. The FRSC Sector Commander in Bayelsa, Ikechukwu Igwe, said members of the corps must be professional and remain non-partisan throughout the period of the election.
Igwe, who spoke in Yenagoa shortly after a seminar organised by the corps to enlighten its members on hitch-free poll, said persons indicted for violating the code of conduct during the election risked dismissal and prosecution.
He said members should avoid being used by politicians to commit electoral fraud, adding that the corps would play its roles to assist other agencies of government in actualising free, fair and credible poll in Bayelsa. Igwe also warned motorists to stay away from the roads in line with the directives of INEC and other security agencies.
He said: “The workshop is organised for our people, to ensure that we participate to make sure that there’s free and fair election in Bayelsa State. We want our people to understand what’s expected of them and to defend the integrity of FRSC.
“The workshop has exposed them to know the implications of being biased. We don’t belong to any political party. We don’t have sympathy for anybody because we serve all government in power, and for that reason, we must ensure that nobody gives anybody undue advantage.
The Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, also visited the state, held pep talks with policemen and attended a consultative meeting where the candidates signed peace accord. Adamu read the riot act on critical areas including buying of votes and violence during the election.
32,000 policemen arrive
Also 32,000 policemen detailed by the Inspector-General of Police to monitor the election have arrived the state. The activities of the policemen are to be supervised by 15 Commissioners of Police, three Assistant Inspectors-General (AIG) of Police and the Deputy Inspectors-General of Police (DIG) deployed in the state for the poll.
Some of the Commissioners of Police are Garba Baba Umar, Sanusi Buba, Bello Makwashi, Usman Sule Gomina, Mohammed Gimba, Bashir Makama, Habu Sani and Danladi Bitrus Lalas, Omololu Bishi, Joseph Mukan and an Acting Police Commissioner Odumosu Olusegun among others.
The DIG of Police on Bayelsa Election, Anthony Ogbizi , assured the people of the state of their safety and promised that the security personnel would ensure level-playing ground for the INEC to conduct a free, fair and credible election.
Also speaking, Bishi called on the people to come out en masse to cast their votes for their preferred candidates in the election.
He said: “Anybody that wins the election is a son of the soil and not a stranger. There is no need for anyone to fight because no office is worth the blood of the people.”
But the Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room (NCSS) appealed to all police officers engaged in the election to abide by operational guidelines.
Speaking yesterday, the Alternate Chair, NCSS, Esther Uzoma, said the group would monitor the enforcement of the guidelines by the police.
She said the situation room was partnering with the Police Service Commission to monitor the conduct of all police officers engaged in an election duty. She also asked members of the police to report any erring police officer to the situation room of the service commission.
“Security agents are urged to put measures in place to protect the electorate, especially women, and ensure that all perpetrators of violence are apprehended and duly prosecuted in order to deter further occurrence.
“Situation room calls in the security services to demonstrated their commitment to non-partisan support to electoral security and ensure that it provides adequate security for the election in a manner that does not allow or encourage violence to be used as a tool for vote suppression”.
INEC ready for free, fair poll
The National Chairman of INEC, Prof. Yakubu Mahmood, has insisted that the commission is fully ready for a free, fair and credible election in the state. Mahmood was quoted to have said that only an atomic bomb would change the plans of the commission. On two occasions, the chairman visited Bayelsa and held consultative meetings with stakeholders.
Mahmood said the commission was ready to conduct peaceful, free, fair, credible and conclusive election in Bayelsa and appealed to the traditional rulers to make suggestions and contributions that would change the narrative in Bayelsa.
He said: “We want to assure you that as far as the credible processes are concerned, we shall maintain our neutrality as umpires. INEC is not a political party. INEC has no candidate in the election.
“The choice of who becomes the next governor is entirely in the hands of the people of Bayelsa State. We have delivered all the non-sensitive materials for the election. We have secured funding and made funds available to the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) for the administration of the election.
“We have no problem whatsoever. We will deploy straight from our office in Yenagoa to the registration areas to make it faster for us to be able to open the polling units at 8am. We are committed to ensuring that voters don’t wait for INEC officials and materials to arrive. We should be there waiting for voters to come and vote.”
Already, the distribution of sensitive electoral materials commenced in Yenagoa, the state capital. The materials were retrieved from the Central Bank and distributed to all the registration areas yesterday.
Voters will choose between Senator Douye Diri of the PDP, who is promising to consolidate on the achievements of Dickson and David Lyon of the APC, who is running on Better Bayelsa, insisting that he is on a mission to correct the mistakes of Dickson’s administration.
Diri, who hails from Kolokuma-Opokuma, the smallest local government area in Bayelsa, rose to prominence by holding various public offices either by appointments or by elections. He once served in Ijaw National Council (INC).
But he was propelled into mainstream politics by a former Managing Director, Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Chief Timi Alaibe, who nominated him to serve as a commissioner during the administration of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as a governor.
His meteoric political ascendancy began when Seriake Dickson became the governor. He served as Dickson’s Deputy Chief of Staff, his principal secretary and was later handed the PDP’s Yenagoa-Kolokuma-Opokuma Federal Constituency’s ticket to represent the area in the House of Representatives. Diri was massively supported by Dickson to become a senator representing the Bayelsa Central Senatorial District.
Diri, against all odds, was made a candidate of the PDP for the November 16 governorship election by his godfather, Dickson. The governor stepped on different powerful toes within his party, including those of former President Goodluck Jonathan, Chief Timi Alaibe, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and other national PDP power brokers to ensure Diri’s victory at the PDP primary poll.
Unlike Diri, Lyon, who hails from Southern Ijaw, the largest local government area in Bayelsa, rose to prominence through personal struggles and individual efforts. Lyon, who is married with three children, was famous for engaging oil multinationals operating in his community to live up to their social responsibilities to the people of Southern Ijaw.
Lyon rose to become an oil industry player especially in the security sub-sector when he proffered lasting solutions to illegal oil bunkering, pipeline vandalism and illegal refining of crude oil, which were rampant in Southern Ijaw.
Indeed, David Lyon, a Christian, has been a successful businessman and has deliberately and consistently grown and expanded his business empire. He once worked as a foreman in Western Geophysical Company LTD. But he is now the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Darlon Oil and Gas Nigeria Ltd, Darlon Group Nig.Ltd, and Arutex and Sons Nig.Ltd.
Lyon is also known for his philanthropic gestures. He became popular empowering the needy and the physically-challenged persons in the state. Through his David Lyon Foundation (DLF), he has been floating a functional scholarship schemes with beneficiaries drawn from the eight local government areas of the state. He provides regular financial and material assistance to the elderly, widows, physically-challenged persons and other needy individuals.
Anxiety heightens in Kogi
Despite the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) listing 24 participating political parties for today’s governorship election in Kogi State, it is invariably a two-horse race between incumbent Governor Yahaya Bello of the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate and Engr. Musa Wada of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). JAMES AZANIA examines some of the factors that will determine the outcome of the election
The election as to who will govern Kogi State in the next four years will be decided today. In the build-up to the election, anxiety has heightened in the political arena as the two leading political parties (APC and PDP) trade heavy accusations of planned infringement on the electoral process.
The contending candidates and their parties include the incumbent Governor Yahaya Bello of the APC, Barr. Natasha Akpoti of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Engr. Abdulmalik Adama of Hope Democratic Party (HDP), Sheik Jibril of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and Engr. Emmanuel Olorunmowaju Orugun of Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP).
thers include Mohammed Abdullahi of the Accord Party (AP); Abdulrazzaq Baba Emeje, United Democratic Party (UDP); Engr. Musa Wada of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Muhammed Zakari of Young Democratic Party (YDP).
There are also Musa Leslie Lasisi of the National Action Council (NAC) and Jimoh Ahmodu of Mass Action Joint Alliance (MAJA).
Majority of the candidates hail from Kogi East Senatorial District, underscoring the desire of the majority Igala tribe to return to power.
How Bello, Wada stand
Yahaya Bello (APC)
The party of the incumbent governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, who is seeking a second term in office, is no doubt fully on the ground; a fact attested to by the frenzy of its electioneering campaigns right from the blast of the whistle.
Any observer of political events in the state from the capital, Lokoja, to the inner crannies of the state, will feel the party’s presence everywhere.
Bello, who is from the Ebira speaking Kogi Central, has since his emergence as the party’s standard bearer expressed confidence that the APC will not only retain the governorship position but will do so in an “embarrassing defeat” of the PDP.
Given the way events have unfolded in the last few weeks, it would appear that the governor and his party know their onions.
Besides incumbency factor, the party can be said to be receiving subterranean support from the centre, the most recent of which is the approval by the Senate of the over N10 billion federal roads refund request forwarded to it by President Mohammadu Buhari.
Earlier support include the balance of N30.8 billion bailout fund released to the state, with which the governor was able to clear backlog of salaries and pensions to workers in the state.
The way and manner Bello has been able to silence strident criticism of his administration is akin to near magic, as it was all but concluded that he did not have any chance of returning to the Lugard House Lokoja.
The strong agitation by the people of Kogi East for the zone to return to power might as well have been neutralised by the coming on board of Bello’s former Chief of Staff, Edward Onoja, now his deputy, as his running mate.
Musa Wada (PDP)
Political observers of recent events in the camps of Wada and his party (PDP) are of the opinion that numerical strength aside, the party has not done enough to show its seriousness in wresting power from the APC, which had never tasted it in the state since the return of democracy in 1999.
For one, it is hard to find the campaign posters, billboards or even handbills of the major opposition party around the state capital or in Kogi Central. In Kogi East, it is sparse.
While all the campaign paraphernalia of the APC is right there on the ground all around in the state, those of the PDP, including its governorship campaign council runs from Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
While the APC has taken its campaigns to virtually all the areas of the state, the PDP did not step into Kogi Central, based on what is said to have been the ‘stay away’ order by the five council administrators from the majority Ebira speaking district of the state.
“Do you see them campaigning? Have you for once seen even their campaign DG (Hon. T. J. Yusuf)…is he visible here?” asked a resident of the senatorial district who claimed to be a member of the PDP in the state.
Their running mates
Bello’s former chief of staff (CoS), who is now his deputy and running mate, is believed to be the Rasputin of the administration.
A political strategist of the first order, Onoja, who was recently honoured with a chieftaincy title by the Attah Igala, Dr Amen Oboni II, along with his principal and the SSG, Mrs. Folashade Ayo Arike, is regarded as the ‘power behind power’, even when he was not yet the deputy governor.
With a combative mien, Onoja exudes confidence in the ability of the ruling party to return to office, even as the grapevine has it that he has his eyes set on the plum seat after Bello, if his permutations go right.
Hon. Sam Aro (PDP)
A former member of the House of Representatives, Aro was at one point a senatorial aspirant under the APC, notwithstanding having been a member of the National Assembly under the PDP.
He emerged as Wada’s running mate in the aftermath of the party’s chaotic shadow election, of which one of the aspirants, Abubukar Idris, son of former Governor Ibrahim Idris, is still in court challenging the emergence of Wada as the standard bearer.
Aro, a successful businessman, is expected to use his vast network particularly in the Yoruba speaking Kogi West, to swell the votes of his party.
According to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the number of registered voters in Kogi stands at 1,646,350.
The number of collected PVCs stands at 1,485,828 (90.2 perc ent), while the number of the PVCs uncollected is 160,522 (9.8 per cent).
The state has 21 local government areas (LGAs), 239 registration areas and 2,548 polling units.
Gender distribution of registered voters is male (50.1 per cent) and female (49.9 per cent).