Bayelsa election: When vote selling, buying took centrestage

EBIOWEI LAWAL, who covered the governorship election held on November 16, 2019, writes on the all manner of intrigues and antics deployed by politicians during the exercise.

 

Many local and international election observers that have been following elections in Bayelsa State still find it hard to believe the outcome of the just-concluded governorship election. Beyond the fact that they are astounded that the All Progressives Congress (APC) won the election in Bayelsa that is considered the headquarters of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the South-South region, they are particularly curious about reports that no life was lost as a result of the election.

Another interesting development was the manner the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) conducted the election. For the first time, election materials and personnel arrived many polling units across the state on time, as accreditation and voting commenced about the time stipulated by INEC.

However, like every other election across the country, the election materials and personnel arrived a little late in a few places, just as the poll was marred by violence, leading to the cancellation of results, destruction of materials or abduction of some INEC personnel.

Also in some areas where communities were submerged by flood, the election was not a pleasant experience for the electorate, INEC and security personnel. In Otuoke, the country home of former President Goodluck Jonathan, for example, materials arrived a bit late. Jonathan, who arrived his polling Unit 39, Ward 13 of Ogbia Local Government Area about 8:30am, was shocked to see that there were no election materials and INEC personnel on ground to enable him exercise his franchise. After about three hours of waiting, he and his wife, Patience, finally voted at his ward that comprises five communities. Speaking to Nigerian Tribune, Mr John Ebiladei, the Registration Area Centre (RAC) Manager of Ward 13, said the materials arrived late because all the roads leading to the area, except the Imiringi Road, were cut off by flood, while a bridge collapsed at Elebelecommunity.

Meanwhile, in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area, there were reports that materials meant for the poll were hijacked by unknown gunmen, in Ogboinbiri, Ekeni, Ezetu, Fropa and Koluama communities. In Ekeremor Local Government Area, election materials were destroyed by suspected hoodlums at the RAC in Ekeremor Town.

Besides these incidents, accreditation and voting commenced simultaneously at about 8:00 am, the stipulated time by the INEC in many parts of Brass and Nembe local government areas of the state. According to election observers that monitored the poll, in many parts of Yenagoa, Ekeremor and Kolokuma-Opokuma local government areas, accreditation and voting commenced about 9:00 am, a little behind schedule. In Brass and Nembe LGAs, Nigerian Tribune learnt that the atmosphere was relatively calm and peaceful, with the security personnel mounting surveillance. Hordes of voters besieged the various polling units to exercise their franchise. At Ogbolomabiri, Nembe, INEC ad-hoc staff arrived the RAC at Nembe National Grammar School, about 7:00 am, where materials were sorted and arranged for easy distribution to the various units.Especially in Ward1 Unit 1, Ward 2, Unit 1 and Ward 2, Unit 8 all in Ogbolomabiri, materials and INEC ad-hoc staff arrived about 7.45am to setup the units as prospective voters waited patiently.

Also, there was relative peace in Sagbama Town, headquarters of Sagbama Local Government Area, as electoral officials began work as early as 6am, sorting out the materials, as well as taking delivery of unit materials in the RAC. In Sagbama Ward 10, the electoral officials were seen taking their materials from the RAC in Agbediowei playground to the various polling units, where cubicles were setup for accreditation and voting simultaneously.

In Oruereware Compound Square, Toru-Orua unit 5 Sagbama Ward 2, the voting unit of the incumbent governor of the state, Honourable Seriake Dickson, accreditation and voting started about 8am, but as at 10:20 am, the governor was yet to exercise his vote.

At units 1, 2, 6 and 12, the election officials set up the voting cubicle and pasted a photocopy of the voter register on the walls in the area for voters to first identify their names and numbers before approaching the electoral officials for accreditation and voting about 7.45am. The presiding officer in charge of polling unit 1 Sagbama Ward 10, Miss Esther Abaleke, said she did not encounter any difficulties, as all items needed to carryout the function were provided on time. As at 7:45 am, voters had already     arrived their polling units searching for their names and waiting patiently to vote.

After casting his vote at Ward 4, Polling Unit 4 in Okpoama Community of Brass LGA, the Minister of State for Petroleum, Chief Timipre Sylva, expressed satisfaction in the conduct of the election, saying the INEC did well in the election than the one conducted in 2015.Addressing newsmen, Sylva said:“It is a peaceful election in Ward 4, Okpoama. As you can see, the election has been smooth. I heard that there are few skirmishes here and there in Sagbama and Ekeremor. I have    CONTINUED FROM PAGE 27

 

not heard of any other problem here. As for the INEC, they have been progressively improving and every year, the processes are improved and I think we have a better outing for the INEC this time. And I believe that this election will be better than the last one.”

Also, the candidate of the APC, Chief. David Lyon, who voted in Olugbobiri Community in Southern Local Government Area, described the election process as peaceful and that the INEC did a better job this time.But in Sampoucommunity in Kolokuma-Opokuma LGA, the country home of the PDP candidate, Senator DouyeDiri, the story was different, as he accused the APC of sponsoring thugs that allegedly hijacked election materials in Ekeremor and Southern Ijaw LGAs. Senator Diri stated: “I have received reports of electoral fraud committed by the APC, hiring thugs to hijack materials and denying PDP members from voting. I had earlier raised the alarm about Bassambiri in Nembe. From the reports I have, no PDP agent is allowed into NembeBassambiri. At Enewari, the report I have is that the APC went there with thugs to hijack materials.

“At Opolo community in Yenagoa Local Government Area, the APC went there with thugs; the same goes for other LGAs, where the APC is creating crises for our members. We are calling on the umpire, INEC that they should be alive to their responsibilities because we have received reports from several other wards and other local government areas, where they need to invoke their powers. They should invoke their powers of not accepting cooked up results from where materials have being hijacked. Secondly, we call on the security agencies to be alive to their duties and not to take sides with the APC which are the reports that we have started receiving.”

But after the shooting in Nembe that led to the death of five persons during a PDP rally, the INEC, security agencies, election observers and the electorate had expressed fear that the election in many parts of the state would end in a bloodbath. For the first time, the world witnessed an election when guns and machetes were not used to inflict pain and sorrow on the people.

However, the down side of the election were reports of vote selling and cote buyingwitnessed in many communities in Yenagoa, Ekeremor, Sagbama and Ogbia LGAs. It was learnt that some voters sold their votes for as low as N2000 and N5000.According to a non-governmental organization, YIAGA AFRICA that deployed 500 polling unit observers to Bayelsa, their pre-election findings indicated a trend of voter inducement and purchase of the Permanent Voter Card (PVC) at the dawn of the election. The NGO said the trend continued into the election proper.In a statement issued in Yenagoa, the chairman of YIAGA AFRICA Watching the Vote, Bayelsa Observation Mission,  Dr. Aisha Abdullahi, said that the election was a contest between the highest bidder and spender. According to the body, the election was characterised by the influence of money, which gave way for vote-buying, community collusion and electoral thugs bargaining. “The Bayelsa gubernatorial election still experienced political parties building their campaign strategy around deploying sufficient money to buy the elections, acquiring arms and paying thugs who are willing to disrupt the process.

“This practice remains inimical to democratic development in Nigeria and regardless of what party benefits from the outcome of the election, the question on the development of our electoral democracy and the quality of participation remains a major challenge. The political class have perfected their act of undermining the process and is consistently making it difficult for the INEC to conduct the elections across board.”

No doubt, issues concerning the conduct and outcome of the election will, for some time, dominate public discourse. For the PDP, the result of the poll is major setback for a party that heldsway for more than 20 years in Government House. For the APC, the result marks a new beginning for the party in the state and indeed, the South-South geopolitical zone. And since the result of the poll was officially announced, the camps of some individuals with deep interest in the poll have gone back to the drawing board, taking stock, especially on the entire electoral process. Other camps are salvouring he euphoria of victory, while yet other groups of politicians and their loyalists are watching development with suspense because of the ripple effects created by the result of the election.

For the media, the narrow escape by some journalists from a boat conveying them that capsized constitutes a bundle of joy. After all, most politicians hardly remember those who usually pay huge prices during elections.

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