By Ochereome Nnanna and Sam Oyadongha in
Yenagoa, Bayelsa State
On Saturday, April 9th 2011 Bayelsa state was in great turmoil. A serving senator was reported to have hidden electoral materials in his house.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) later issued a damning verdict that the state recorded the highest incidence of snatched ballot materials during the election for the House of Representatives and the Senate.
During that election, three major political parties were struggling to sweep the polls: the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the Labour Party (LP) and the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).
But the situation is very unlikely to repeat itself today, Saturday April 16th 2011 , the D-Day when the next president of Nigeria will be elected. As at Thursday, April 14th when this report was filed, the city of Yenagoa was bustling with business as usual without the slightest hint of political tension in the air.
The major hotels in the state capital had been booked to the rafters for Friday to Sunday because a lot of dignitaries from all over the world, especially election monitors and observers, were streaming in to see action in President Goodluck Jonathan’s own state.
The tension-free atmosphere was attributed to the single fact that all political forces and parties in the state were united in a common resolve to ensure that Jonathan is elected after today’s poll. At least, no political party or candidate dared to publicly express opposition to the president’s election – not even the ACN – which is ably represented in the suspended governorship race by a retired Federal Permanent Secretary and aeronautical scientist, Dr Imoro Kubor. Kubor cannot afford to join his fellow party top shots from other parts of the country to ask the Bayelsa electorate not to vote for Jonathan. Such a call will be a taboo that will instantly backfire.
In fact, various political forces both within and outside the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) now compete loudly with one another to be seen as more serious than the others in the avowed support for the president. Just as in many other parts of the country, many candidates juxtapose their photographs with that of Jonathan even though they are contesting outside the PDP. Since former Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and presidential adviser, Chief Timi Alaibe joined the botched governorship race, a Bayelsa State that PDP stalwarts used to pride as a “one-party state” has now rived into two major political war fronts – PDP and LP.
All former PDP chieftains who parted ways with Governor Timipre Sylva, have now trudged over to the LP, notable among them being Sylva’s former Deputy, Hon Peremobowei Ebebi, who is now contesting for the Senate under the LP banner.
Here in Bayelsa State , President Jonathan is seen as a man without political body language, inscrutable as a blank wall. In other words, there is absolute lack of hints as to where or whose candidacy he favours whether within or outside the PDP. Therefore each candidate and political party feels free to lay claim to his support just as any other.
However, some of his top aides have not quite been able to escape in like manner. Of particular note is the National Security Adviser, General Andrew Owoye Azazi. The problem had to do with the controversies arising from the business-as-usual nature of the federal parliamentary elections of April 9th.
A group that calls itself Bayelsans for Transparency addressed a press conference in Yenagoa on Tuesday, April 12th, where they accused Azazi of playing to the side of some vested political interests. In particular, they accused him of helping to sweep under the carpet the many allegations they heaped on the Labour Party whose “thugs”, they alleged, engaged the Joint Military Task Force (JTF) in a bloody gun battle leading to the death of several persons, including one Mr Agbede, whose corpse is said to be still lying in the mortuary of the Federal Medical Centre, Yenagoa. Other sources, however, had it that Agbede’s body was found tied before he was killed, which indicated that he might not have been a party to the confrontation with the JTF.
The truth about this incident is an open challenge to the security agencies.
However, our enquiries indicated that the anti-Azazi group might not be as clean as they appeared in their protestations because they are tied to the man at the centre of the ballot-snatching drama in Bayelsa State which made worldwide headlines, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri. Lokpobiri had vied for re-election in the Bayelsa West Senatorial zone where Ebebi emerged as his most daunting challenger. On the day of the election a Youth Corps member raised the alarm that voting materials meant for communities in Bayelsa West senatorial zone had been hijacked and warehoused in the private residence of Senator Lokpobiri.
As a result, elections did not take place in many parts of the zone, and yet a result was later announced with Lokpobiri said to be the winner in a manner similar to what happened in the celebrated case of the Anambra Central Senatorial District between Dr Chris Ngige of ACN and Prof Dora Akunyili of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). The story was not different in Sagbama, where electoral materials were reportedly hijacked.
Shortly after he cast his vote on April 9th in his Otueke hometown, President Jonathan was confronted by reporters for the actions he had taken on the matter. In their presence he turned to the state Commissioner of Police who had accompanied him to vote. The COP referred him to the State Director of the SSS.
The National Chairman of INEC, Professor Attahiru Jega later vowed that the culprit at the centre of the incident would be arrested and prosecuted. Senator Lokpobiri was invited for questioning by the security agencies, but as at the time of filing this report he was back home. He also holds on to the announced result with himself as the “winner”.
However, his opponent of the Action Congress of Nigeria, Kubor, issued a statement declaring categorically that the result was not acceptable to him. Even the election in the Brass Federal Constituency was denounced by a group of “stakeholders” represented by six signatories.
Kubor demanded for the immediate redeployment of the Bayelsa State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mr Edwin Nwantalari, adding: “there were no elections in Ekeremor Local Government Area, as all electoral materials were hijacked. Similar cases were reported in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area. All electoral materials allocated to the local government area were given to PDP party supporters at Oporoma”.
He also named other affected areas as Ward 5 Otuan where ballot boxes were snatched and Amassoma where offending electoral officers were allegedly caught and handed over to the police.