Bayelsa’s life-and-death election, By Olusegun Adeniyi

Posted by News Express | 7 January 2016 | 4,276 times

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We were being taken through a guided tour inside the building that was obscene in its opulence aside the several billions of Naira (N26 billion at that point) that had been expended on it, when I muttered to both the Chief Security Officer to the President (CSO), Mr Yusuf Tilde and the Aide-de-Camp, Colonel (now Brigadier General) Mustapha Onoyiveta: “This is a monument to waste”.

As it would happen, my voice sounded louder than intended so both the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and his host, then Governor Timipre Sylva heard my remark. The obviously embarrassed former Bayelsa State Governor had to explain that it was not his project. He said it was started by the late DSP Alamieyeseigha but was abandoned by Dr. Goodluck Jonathan (who reportedly considered it a big drain) and that he merely completed it so it would not go to waste.
The commissioning of the “Glory Land Castle”, a sprawling Governor’s Lodge in the heart of Yenagoa was the highlight of the late President Yar’Adua’s visit to Bayelsa State on 20th July 2009. Incidentally, it turned out to be his last major official function within the country before the illness that took him to Saudi Arabia and from which he never recovered.
While I sympathised with Governor Sylva and agreed that completing the project made sense in the circumstance, I nonetheless thought to myself that a system that could conceive such a grandiose and extravagant project in a state like Bayelsa with so many poor people must be lacking in accountability. That then explains why it is hard to believe that Bayelsa has received trillions of Naira from Federation Account in the last 16 years as a leading oil-producing state, money that can hardly be justified by the level of development on ground. That perhaps also explains why elections in Bayelsa are almost always a matter of life and death since it is usually a struggle about who controls the vast resources.
Incidentally, this particular election in Bayelsa is being contested with so much violence and bile because it is both a grudge and a proxy fight between the two leading candidates. Sylva had in 2012 (as incumbent Governor), been displaced as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate by Hon. Seriake Dickson, then a member of the House of Representatives, by virtue of former President Jonathan’s sleight of hand. A victory for Sylva on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), come Saturday would therefore be a serious political blow on Jonathan, right in his backyard.
Created from three local government areas excised out of the old Rivers State in 1996, Bayelsa is the least populated state in Nigeria and one of the smallest in size with eight local government areas. It also does not have too many communities even though the terrain is atrocious for development being mostly on water. Aside local governments like Brass with 152 communities and Southern Ijaw comprising Oporoma and Kolo-Ama districts with a combined number of 176 communities, most other local governments have small numbers of communities. Ekeremor has 28; Ogbia, 51; Sagbama, 32; Nembe, 37; Yenagoa, 62 and Kolokoma/Opokuma, 15.
However, as I stated earlier, elections in Bayelsa are almost akin to war and the state has been in the news lately because of its inconclusive gubernatorial polls that can be blamed on the desperation of the two gladiators who are almost evenly matched in all capacities. The incumbent Governor Dickson of the PDP is being challenged by the man he succeeded, former Governor Sylva of the APC, the party that is now in power at the centre. With results from seven of the eight local governments in the state already in, Dickson is leading by some 33,000 votes.
However, Southern Ijaw is crucial not only because it has 120,827 registered voters but also because 109,137 of those prospective voters collected their Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs). There are also some 38,000 votes across the state that will be at play on Saturday. These are votes from polling stations where elections were either canceled or elections could not hold for various reasons. So, this is different from the Kogi State supplementary election scenario. Saturday will determine who wins the gubernatorial election in Bayelsa State.
A 27th November Risk Map by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) titled “Flashpoints of Electoral Violence in Bayelsa State” is indeed quite revealing.
Categorised into High Risk, Medium Risk and Low Risk, there was no local government area within the last category. Two of the local government areas (Sagbama and Opokuma) fall into the medium risk category while the remaining six (Yenagoa, Ogbia, Ekeremor, Nembe, Brass and Southern Ijaw) were listed as high risk areas. Even at that, it is evident INEC could not have anticipated the violence of December 5 polls, especially in Southern Ijaw.
I understand that electoral materials arrived Bayelsa State as scheduled on Wednesday 2nd December. The ballot papers were coded by local government to prevent any sort of diversion from one area to another and were delivered to the INEC offices at the Local Governments by Thursday. By Friday, these sensitive materials were transported to the Registration Area Centres. In some instances, INEC had to hire gunboats to escort the officials and the election materials as they travelled by water with one gunboat stationed in front and another one at the back.
According to INEC sources, everything went smoothly until Friday when Southern Ijaw LGA exploded in sporadic guns shots which lasted throughout the day. By the next day when the gubernatorial election was holding in the other seven LGAs, gunmen had also resumed their activities. It was at that point that INEC office in Bayelsa, acting on instructions from Abuja decided to shift the Southern Ijaw election till Sunday. The idea was that with all the security men mobilised from other local governments in the state for just one local government, it would be easy to conduct the election. They were wrong.
The problem, by my findings, started on that Sunday morning when Governor Dickson led a delegation of PDP politicians to Oporoma, headquarters of Southern Ijaw Local Government Area, on a controversial mission that only heightened tension. That visit also helped to put INEC officials on edge even though, to forestall malpractices, the commission had taken several measures, one of which was to programme the card readers in such a manner that it would stop working by 8pm. But since the unscrupulous politicians who were bent on rigging the polls didn’t know this, they were still thumb printing by midnight of that day in a futile exercise that was not lost on INEC officials in Abuja.
Throughout the election day in Southern Ijaw, according to both INEC and security reports, there were abductions of officials and snatching of ballot papers even as some political mandarins were writing results in places where elections did not take place. It was clear that what happened could not be deemed an election in the true sense of the word. By Monday morning, INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu who followed the developments all night had decided that the election in the local government had to be cancelled. But he also reportedly decided that INEC staff must be out of the local government before such cancellation could be announced. By 4pm of Monday December 7, they were all out. An hour later, the cancellation was announced.
From what transpired in both Kogi and Bayelsa, despite the unfortunate development in the former (the death of APC candidate, Prince Abubakar Audu for which the law made no provision) and the Southern Ijaw violence, INEC under Yakubu has done tremendously well to improve on elections. In Kogi, not a single life was lost and of the 3,018 polling units in the state, there were glitches with card readers only in 68 polling units, representing about two percent.
I also have it on good authority that INEC has disaggregated information from card readers from the last general elections with Borno State used as a pilot scheme. INEC now has information about the number of women that voted in Borno State, the number of men, the age groups of voters, their occupations etc. based on the information filled in the process of voter registration. The efforts that Yakubu is trying to put in are designed to improve on the credibility of the elections in such a manner that election manipulators would be put out of business. But it is not going to be easy given the disposition of our politicians to elections.
However, the inconclusive election of Bayelsa has thrown up its own challenge as well as some interesting statistics about voters’ turn out. In Sagbama where there are 84,550 registered voters, only 36,892, representing 43.6 percent exercised their franchise. In Kolokuma/Opokuma where 39,748 people registered, 15,755 ballots, representing 39.6 percent were cast. In Ekeremor where 82,783 people registered, 24,667, representing 29.7 percent voted. In Yenagoa where 135,025 people registered, 44,751 people, representing 33.1 percent voted. In Brass where 55,923 people registered, 30,397 people, representing 54.3 percent voted. In Nembe where 66,384 registered, 18,779 people, representing 28.3 percent voted. In Ogbia where 69,253 people registered, 24,532 people, representing 35.4 percent voted…

•This piece by Adeniyi (shown in photo) originally appeared in his column “The Verdict” in today’s edition of ThisDay. Adeniyi can be reached via

Source: News Express

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