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.
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.
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?
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.
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.