By Samuel Oyadongha
The battle is far from over for the two leading political parties in the Bayelsa State governorship election, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and the All Progressive Congress,APC following the cancellation of the last Sunday rescheduled election in Southern Ijaw Local Council by the Independent National Election Commission over alleged irregularities.
While the ruling PDP has left no one in doubt of its preparedness to retain its plum position as the occupant of Creek Haven, the seat of power, the APC, which is locked in fierce struggle to break the former’s hegemony has proved to Bayelsans that there is alternative to the ruling party and was banking on the result of Southern Ijaw as its joker to dislodge the PDP.
Though no date has been fixed for a fresh poll in Southern Ijaw, the proposed election may be stalled by litigation as the APC has insisted that the result of the cancelled polls must be announced. Already, the PDP has won six out of the seven council areas released by the electoral commission polling 105,748 votes as against the APC, which scored 72,594 with victory in one council area.
Southern Ijaw Local Council has 120,827 registered voters, the second highest after Yenagoa, which has 135,025 registered voters, hence the desperation of both parties to carry the day in the council which has turned out to be the beautiful bride in the Bayelsa 2015 governorship polls.
The political gladiators are expected to dig deep into their trenches and restrategize on how best to outwit each in the race.
Botched poll: While supporters of the APC were banking on their party’s alleged victory in Southern Ijaw to cancel out PDP’s lead, INEC cut short their anticipated victory dance by announcing the cancellation of the poll.
The state REC, Baritor Kpagih, said there were reports that the election in the area was “substantially” marred by violence, ballot box snatching and hostage taking of electoral officers.
The pronouncement came immediately after the state Returning Officer, Prof. Zana Akpagu, told newsmen and election observers that he would not be able to take a final decision on the exercise until the result of the Southern Ijaw election was received. “We have yet to receive results from Southern Ijaw Local Government Area. They (Southern Ijaw LGA) have 120,827 registered voters. As a result of this, I, as the Returning Officer, cannot return on this election until the results of this local government (Southern Ijaw) are received,” he declared.
But the REC stated that he was, on behalf of INEC, cancelling the election in order to protect the integrity of the electoral process.
His words: “You will recall that the Independent National Electoral Commission conducted governorship election in Bayelsa State on the December 5, 2015. The commission announced that the polls should be discontinued in some local government areas, including Southern Ijaw LGA of the state.
Reports on the election conducted in Southern Ijaw LGA on December 6, 2015, revealed that the election was substantially marred by violence, ballot snatching and hostage taking of electoral officers. These include reports from political parties, observers, both local and foreign, among others. These fall short of internationally acceptable standard for credible elections.
“Consequently, the commission has decided, in the interest of the integrity of the process, to cancel the governorship election in Southern Ijaw LGA. A new date for Southern Ijaw governorship election will be announced in due course.”
Prior to the announcement, the state REC and some top security officers held what was tagged ‘a security meeting’ at the INEC office in the state capital over the situation in Southern Ijaw.
Election in a volatile terrain: The outcome of the poll did not come to many as a surprise considering the terrain of the council and the undercurrents that preceded the exercise.
Southern Ijaw, with its voting strength will ultimately be decider of the polls. Aside its high number of registered voters, Southern Ijaw is a highly volatile area and at a time hosted the highest number of militant camps in the troubled Niger Delta region before the amnesty programme took off.
It is also the biggest council area in the state and is predominantly riverine with most of its communities far flung, making effective policing a difficult exercise because of its tricky and risky maze of creeks
The entire governorship election in the state has been characterized by voters apathy as could been seen in the voting pattern in the seven local councils where elections had been concluded. The Southern Ijaw council area many argue may not be different.
Some people believed that most eligible voters stayed away from the polls due to fear of violence.
Besides, voters’ apathy is a common trend in the state governorship election. Even in areas where election was peaceful like Kolokuma-Opokuma, Yenagoa, many people still shunned the polling units.
Sylva kick against cancellation, threatens court action: The APC Candidate, Chief Timipre Sylva, described as unacceptable the cancellation of the Southern Ijaw council polls.
The former governor who spoke to newsmen in Yenagoa accused INEC of colluding with the PDP to cancel the rescheduled poll in Southern Ijaw because his party the APC was coasting home to victory.
Sylva insisted that he won by a large margin that made him the winner of the election, adding that, if the commission must cancel the election in Southern Ijaw, where he claimed that he won convincingly, on flimsy excuses, justice demands that it also cancel the poll in Ekeremor, Nembe, Sagbama and other places.
His words: “We had an election two days ago. In Ekeremor, there were widespread shooting; they beat up people; the minister’s house was under siege for a long time. It took a team of security operatives to repel the assailants, yet election was held in Ekeremor. When APC protested, the protest was waived aside; our protest died like a candle in the wind.
‘’In Sagbama, we did not see election materials. As I speak, one of the chieftains of our party is lying critically ill. The APC protested vehemently, nobody heard our protest.
“In Nembe, where the APC won, they quickly cancelled two wards, 8 and 9. We protested and our protest was rejected. The election ab initio was set up for the PDP to win. In Southern Ijaw, we have a good showing there, and the election is cancelled.
“When the REC saw that the APC was leading, he cancelled it. This is very unacceptable to our party. If they want us to accept it, they must cancel the elections in Ekeremor, Sagbama, part of Ogbia and Nembe.”
Cancellation of election
According to him, the REC had no power to cancel election that had taken place, noting that it was only the state Returning Officer that had the power to announce a cancellation.
Sylva said the APC was going to collate all results in Southern Ijaw local government area and head for court.
Disqualify Dickson— APC
Indeed, the Sylva/Igiri Campaign Organisation, had on Monday condemned what it described as Governor Seriake Dickson’s inciting statements on radio over an election that had not been concluded.
The Director Media and Publicity of the campaign organisation, Chief Nathan Egba, who, in a statement called on Bayelsans to remain calm, said: “In the past two days alone, Governor Dickson has been on air in several radio stations in Yenagoa, the state capital, inciting Bayelsans against the Federal Government and establishments.
“It is surprising to note that even when Governor Dickson claims to be leading in six out of the seven results so far released, he is still the one complaining and calling for protests as well as civil disobedience.
“The APC Campaign Organisation and the Governorship candidate, Chief Timipre Sylva have noted the results released so far and are willing to accept the outcome of the vote in Southern Ijaw as long as the process is credible.
“We , however, wish to condemn in very strong terms the serial breach of all known electoral laws by Governor Seriake Dickson. First, was his storming of the Yenagoa LGA Collation Centre on Saturday night after the election. Next day, Governor Dickson was again at Oporoma, headquarters of Southern Ijaw LG calling for the postponement of the elections in the LGA before he was chased away by APC supporters. Since then he has been on one radio station or the other making inciting statements.
“Gov. Dickson’s desperation to cling to office in the face of imminent outright rejection by the people of Southern Ijaw, which is APC’s strongest hold and coincidentally the LGA with the largest voter strength has made him breach so many electoral laws.
Our Campaign Organisation does not have any option at this point than to call for his outright disqualification from the governorship race.
“This would mean that the APC candidate Chief Timipre Sylva would automatically become the Governor-Elect of Bayelsa State.”
We have been vindicated—PDP
However, the PDP in Bayelsa State described the cancellation of the rescheduled Southern Ijaw council election as a vindication of its earlier position that conducting the said election as INEC did was a wrong decision on account of security concerns in the area.
In a statement by the Director of Publicity of the Restoration Campaign Organisation, Jonathan Obuebite, PDP said before the election was conducted, it had informed the electoral body and security authorities that the whole of Southern Ijaw had been taken over by thugs and criminal elements who, he claimed, were recruited by the APC but its advice was ignored.
He noted that as at 4pm on Sunday, election materials were still being distributed and wondered how such process could lead to a transparent election, adding that it was an orchestrated plan to rig the election as voting went on in the dead of the night.
He said the situation also afforded political thugs to infiltrate the polling units, snatching ballot boxes and intimidated the voters under the close supervision of the Joint Military Task Force (JTF).
He said the whole exercise was marred by apathy due largely to the wanton violence and mayhem unleashed by APC thugs and militants.
Obuebite further justified the cancellation thus: “In a situation where so many people had even ran away from home on account of insecurity having been traumatized the previous day and others still seeing a repeat scourge of violence, it ran against good conscience and judgement to say you are conducting election in that kind of atmosphere thereby disenfranchising a lot of people in a crucial election.