FEATURE ARTICLE

Thursday, April 11, 2019
[email protected]
Port Harcourt, Nigeria
THE 2019 GENERAL ELECTIONS: RIVERS STATE, TRULY NIGERIAN

he story presented in this piece is especially for diaspora Nigerians. It should help you through the shock and disappointments you feel each time you swagger into Nigeria through our airports (and some of them are no better than taxi ranks), to be accosted with the discomfiting stares of greedy security agents looking for Euros, Dollars and Pounds. This story is about our 'settlement' culture.

From January 1 2019 in Nigeria, all talk and activity centred on the 2019 general elections. The month of February witnessed the Presidential and National Assembly elections, while March was for the Gubernatorial and states assembly elections. In Rivers State, the preparations were underscored by the fierce rivalry between the PDP represented by the incumbent Governor, Mr Nyesom Ezenwo Wike; and the APC whose leader in the state is Mr Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi (current Nigeria's Transport Minister). Typical of former partners who went their separate ways, the animosity and hatred between these two can be felt and touched even when you listen to ordinary folk in the streets; never mind that most of these folk are neither in PDP nor APC, and some do not even possess a voter's card. It was no surprise therefore that in the few months preceding the elections, some strange things began to happen. These strange tragi-comedies were not altogether unexpected, but as usual we surpassed ourselves in both directions.

The first event was that disagreements over who should be the APC governorship candidate quickly degenerated into a court battle. The conclusion of the matter was that the Nigerian courts decided (and ordered accordingly) that APC had no candidates for the entire state elections; and that the electoral body (INEC) should de-list any APC candidates it had earlier listed for the election. Recall that the implication this state of affairs was that APC, the main opposition party in the state had no gubernatorial or house of assembly candidates for the entire elections. It was clearly irrelevant to the Nigerian courts that the collateral effect of that was the disenfranchisement of citizens who were waiting to vote for such APC candidates. The central protagonists of this internal drama in the APC were Rotimi Amaechi and Mr Magnus Abe, a Senator representing Rivers East Senatorial Constituency in the Nigerian Senate. Mr Abe accused Mr Amaechi of attempting to impose a candidate on the party for the governorship elections. When reminded that he had been hand-picked by Mr Amaechi in similar circumstances, thus, paving the way for his becoming a senator. Mr Abe argued that such impositions must come to an end at some point. By implication, Mr Abe found out after he had been hand-picked and imposed on others as a senatorial candidate that such impositions were immoral and unjust! All good things must come to an end someday, right? Mr Abe was later to swear that he felt very miserable that the APC did not present candidates for the elections! Do you believe that? If you do, send flowers and a kerchief to Mr Abe.

Skipping some of the controversies during the elections proper, one of which was the matter of accusations and counter accusations between the Nigerian Military (represented by the 6 Division and its GOC), and Governor Nyesom Wike. The army accused the Governor of personally superintending the carting away of some ballot boxes from one of the Obi-Akpo polling center, and of invading other centers with thugs to accomplish the same purpose. The Governor and the PDP invented the cliché 'militarized election' to describe what it saw as the unholy use of the army against the Governor and his party. When the time for collation of results started at the State INEC headquarters, once again accusations that INEC staff (a certain Obo Ifanga was named) were in cahoots with the PDP to rig the elections by receiving fake results submitted by PDP agents as against the actual results from the local government centers, led to suspension of the collation and entire electoral process. Mr Obo Ifanga, one of the management staff of INEC in the state, in turn accused the army of disrupting the collation exercise by refusing some INEC staff access into the collation center (INEC head office in Port Harcourt). Do you believe that?

Then things took an ugly twist within forty-eight hours of the resumption of collation of results, which started on April 2, 2019. The deputy Gubernatorial Candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC) ? the party adopted and supported by the APC following its de-listing by INEC in obedience to court orders ? Mr Akpo Bomba Yeeh resigned from his party and joined the PDP. Mr Yeeh was accused by the AAC and its Gubernatorial Candidate, Mr Biokpomabo Awara, of acting under the duress and inducement of Governor Wike. Mr Yeeh fired back, claiming that his party had been hijacked by the APC and its leader, Mr Rotimi Amaechi. Which do you believe? Did Mr Yeeh suddenly fall ill soon after his party, the AAC was adopted by the APC a few days to the elections? Note also that the time INEC suddenly suspended collation the APC/AAC Alliance rejected it as an attempt to falsify the election results in favour of the PDP. Of course, the PDP did not see anything wrong with this. When collation resumed, the APC/AAC resisted and attempted to stop the resumed collation and announcement of results via a court order (an order the Court declined to give by ex parte means); the PDP was again in support of all that INEC was doing. Nevertheless, I am puzzled that Mr Yeeh remained in his coma until collation was well underway. And did you know that Mr Yeeh had meritoriously served and retired as a member of the Nigerian Police Force?

In a subsequent twist to the unfolding comedy of the absurd, the Rivers State Deputy Chairman of the AAC, Mr Amezhinim Atuma also resigned his membership of the party and immediately defected to the PDP. His reason was that the APC/AAC alliance was aimed at visiting violence on Rivers State through the use of the army; and that he left the party in order to advance the democratic interests and peace of the Rivers people. Sounds nice, but do you really believe that?

There was further complication for the AAC when its party agent, Mr Nenye kocha appeared to be in a different coach that was headed the opposite direction from that in which his Gubernatorial Candidate and his Chairman were riding on. On the resumption of collation activities, the AAC had sought to replace Mr kocha with Mr Lawrence Chuku as its gubernatorial collation agent. This was allegedly rejected by INEC's National Commissioner for the zone, Mrs May Agbamuche-Mbu. On April 3, 2019, Mr Nenye Kocha was heard on radio (Nigerian Info, 92.3 FM), asserting that his party, the AAC would not be contesting the Obi-Akpo Local Government Results because it was Governor Wike's place of origin, and therefore his strong base and forte. Of course, Obi-Akpo happens to be the unit that gave the Governor the largest winning margins compared to his opponent in the AAC. Secondly, it just happens to be also the polling unit which the army alleged that the Governor invaded in the company of thugs and forcibly removed election materials. And here comes the agent of the alternater-ego opposition party conceding that unit to the Governor and his party. Does that sound very Nigerian? Do you believe Mr Kocha's testimony? Questions! Questions! Questions!

Now we hear of secret pacts by yet undetermined parties by which Governor Wike was to be allowed to return to the Rivers State Government House in exchange for a promise to decamp or cross-carpet, or disappear to re-appear in APC. It really does not matter; the popular sentiment that anything is possible in Nigeria has been around for as long as most of us were born. After all, just yesterday, Senate President, Bukola Saraki was a leading member of the APC.

If you think that Mr Magnus Abe really planned to run for the Governorship elections in Rivers State; and that the courts were helpless with regard to the de-listing of APC candidates from the Rivers State elections; I submit that you are half Nigerian. If you think that the sudden volte-face of the above AAC officials was for altruistic and honourable reasons, and that the INEC officials referred to above are being scapegoated; you have become 'old school' in relation to Nigerian affairs. And there was talk about militarization of the elections by the APC Federal Government. This must have been pulled out of a successful comedian's repertoire of jokes. Our Military has been out on the streets and highways for so long that it is difficult to remember when they were only found in Barracks, and they have been used in past elections as well; so what has changed?

And speaking of the Nigerian Police as a competent and impartial agency, ready and equipped for election duty is a funny proposition. As it is, the Nigeria Police is even unable to protect itself against attacks from criminals. The Nigerian Police is a 'privatized' governmental agency! With a few thousands of Naira, you can rent Nigeria police officers as personal/private and escort guards.

My advice is this. Next time you come around from your base anywhere in the world, wherever that is, remember to have 'something for the boys and gals' that will welcome you in our airports. Stop complaining! Stop grumbling! It is our culture and tradition. And I trust that you know that we take our traditions serious in these parts. Besides, we Nigerians love a cheerful giver!

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