Lawyers in Defence of Democracy, one of the groups that monitored the Bayelsa governorship election, says anarchy reigned in Southern Ijaw because some politicians saw the poll as a do-or-die affair. The group spoke through its National Secretary, Ikechukwu Ikeji.

On the group’s findings on the Bayelsa poll?

As one of those  bodies and individuals in the state  to monitor the election, we can report that what we saw in Southern Ijaw was nothing short of anarchy. The desperation on the part of politicians was  unthinkable leading to a gross manipulation of the electoral process which  corrupted the election and was accordingly cancelled.  We condemn this desperate mentality of the politicians involved in this regrettable incident of violence akin to do-or-die kind of politics  aimed at disenfranchising the people to satisfy their selfish interest.

We believe the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) took the right decision with the cancellation which we hope can now allow the people of Southern  Ijaw  exercise their inalienable right to vote according to their  choices in the election whenever it is rescheduled.

This is important because democracy is  all about the people  who should be allowed to freely elect their leaders without recourse to violence and intimidation. Otherwise, democracy is imperilled and the outcome of such election cannot be regarded as truly representing the wishes and aspirations of the people.

But as much as we must blame the  political leaders, the alleged collusion of the military  top  brass, the police and other highly placed individuals in the Federal Government calls for concern and we believe  this  seriously challenges our collective interest as a people and nation.  Election becomes a parody of the real thing when the process lacks integrity.

It is not that we have not experienced electoral malpractices in the past but in a new political environment where the change mantra is the order of the day as  an  important element of President  Muhammadu  Buhari’s  leadership and government, the reported accusation of some highly placed individuals at the federal level having a hand in the orchestrated attempts to rig the election in Southern  Ijaw  must agitate our minds and we condemn this action in very strong terms.

On the allegation of soldiers colluding with a party in the election to perpetrate malpractices?

The allegation of collusion by some officials of the army and the police with  the All Progressives Congress  (APC) candidate,  Timipre  Sylva, is  unconscionable because  it sends a wrong signal of possible  annihilation of democracy and rule of  law. Yes,  the rule of jungle is anathema in  a  democratic  system  of government. It is clearly a dangerous step which calls for a thorough investigation by the Federal Government before it becomes a routine in future elections and in particular when the Southern  Ijaw  election is rescheduled.

Timipre Sylva and Seriake Dickson
Timipre Sylva and Seriake Dickson

We could have disregarded the allegation but when it came from Governor Seriake Dickson, on national television, and widely reported in the newspapers, we should take it seriously.

According to the governor, the attempted rigging plan was aimed at deflating his lead in the election having won in  seven  of the eight  local governments in the state but with manipulation of the election in Southern  Ijaw, some ridiculous figures would be conjured and credited to the APC candidate who will then be declared winner. Governor Dickson would  thereafter be  battling in court which is not a realistic option, hence his loud voice to save democracy. This is  why we  call on the Federal  Government to  properly investigate the alleged role of the military in the whole episode of electoral corruption in Southern  Ijaw  as claimed  by  Governor Dickson  which would be in line with similar on-going investigation  of the role of the same institution in the 2015 general elections in  Ekiti  and  Osun  States.  The investigation must commence without further delay.

Such investigation must also look at the role of the police high command leading to such mind boggling violence as widely reported in the media as well as that of INEC  to unravel any complicity.

We have looked carefully at the whole scenario and think rationally that the governor’s accusation  is not without some substance.  It  cannot and must not be dismissed as frivolous as the APC, an interest party, in  Bayelsa  has said.

Governor Dickson  claimed so assertively that prior to the ill-fated conduct of the election in Southern  Ijaw, he had informed INEC and security authorities that political thugs and criminal element had taken over the entire Southern Ijaw and advised that the election be postponed but his advice was ignored.

Fiasco

We also saw the Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Hashimu Argungun, who was  mandated to ensure a hitch-free  environment conducive  to hold a peaceful election telling the whole world on television that the situation in Southern Ijaw was okay to hold the election but invariably turned out to be a fiasco. So what went wrong? Why the hurry to conduct the election when it was obvious the security situation was tension soaked? Why did he and other top ranking army officials in the same boat with  Argungu refused to heed the advice of the governor as the chief security officer of the state? Was there actually a deliberate plan to rig the election in  favour  of APC candidate by the agencies of the Federal Government as Governor Dickson claimed?

Weighty questions

These are weighty questions  demanding answers from  all those accused in the macabre dance in  Bayelsa  State which we believe constitutes  a huge negative on the administration of President  Buhari, especially as a beneficiary of a clean election. Incidentally the ignoble rampaging of electoral manipulation occurred in former President Goodluck Jonathan’s state, a man who chose honour and national interest instead of power and handed over to President Buhari. So why should we have a reversal of democratic consolidation so soon?

Of course the whole shameful episode is now before the international community which suggests that democracy is heading towards the rocks in the current dispensation if care is not taken and the imperative to call to order those who are clearly abusing their offices all in the name of politics. President Buhari certainly cannot afford to fail the nation because the consequence would be disastrous for all of us.

Violence-free rerun

In this regard,  we hereby call on the Federal Government to do all within its powers to ensure a violence free rerun whenever election is to be conducted in Southern Ijaw by ensuring that credible personnel from the various security agencies  are in charge of security in the entire area. The allegation that security top command handed electoral materials to APC members to rig the election remains a sour point in any estimation of the Southern Ijaw saga. Too bad for democracy. INEC must also be ready to hold a free, fair and credible election as the entire worldwatches  and assesses the impartiality of its new leadership.

We want to use this opportunity to praise the courage of Bayelsans by fearlessly standing firm to defend their rights to vote even in the face of intimidation by security agencies. They have proven that no amount of abuse of power through intimidation and violence can kill the will of the people with a resolve to do what is right as against perfidy as we can best describe the orchestrated attempt to rig the election in Southern Ijaw.

We must all rise against this regrettable situation which can only tarnish the nation’s image in the comity of nations. Democracy must survive in our country.

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