Security fears in Rivers ahead of governorship election

Amaechi and Wike
Amaechi and Wike

Concerns about security may adversely affect voter turnout in Rivers State elections on Saturday.

This is following a build-up of tension and incidents of violence ahead of the polls.

The fallout of the February 23 presidential and National Assembly elections marred by widespread violence which claimed several lives could have also aggravated public fear.

“This is a state election involving more local actors with higher stakes,” said Oby Ukomadu, making a comparison between the February 23 polls and tomorrow’s. “So, this one will be more violent.”

“So, I will not be going out to vote for the love of my life,” added Mrs Ukomadi, a resident of Eliozu in Obio Akpor Local Government Area of the state.

Another resident, Ibim Donald, from Okirka LGA said she and her family would not go out to vote tomorrow – and “it is not because we don’t have PVC.”

Mrs Donald said: “It is because I love my life and I cannot risk my life because of anybody’s ambition.

“It is common that people will not go out to vote. It is because of what happened in the presidential election and what things that have been happening ahead of the one coming up tomorrow.”

She predicted that only partisans would be appearing for the polls.

“I spoke with my uncle and he said he would go vote because nobody could intimidate him; but you know he’s a party supporter and those are the only persons that may be going out (to vote),” she said.

Last weekend, two soldiers were shot at and killed by gunmen in Abonnema in Akuku Toru LGA, forcing families to flee over fears of reprisal by the army.

That incident happened just one week after the bloody Election Day violence which saw soldiers kill several persons after one of them was slain by gunmen in an ambush.

The army is yet to react to the last Saturday’s killing of two soldiers.

However, the Rivers State government and the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) have separately accused the army of violence and intimidation.

On Thursday, the state government, in a statement signed by the commissioner for information Emma Okah, said the transport minister and leader of the All Progressives Congress in the state, Rotimi Amaechi, and the army formation in Port Harcourt, (were) “masterminding the mass arrest of innocent Nigerians and PDP members in the state.”

The statement reads: “The essence of the arrests is to precipitate a crisis and cause the INEC to postpone the elections in Rivers State. Failing this, the Minister will use the vacuum created by the absence of arrested leaders and rig the governorship election and force a candidate of his choice against the will of the people.

“We have been saying it repeatedly that the Minister of Transportation has been commanding the army in Port Harcourt to do unprofessional things and the crisis are spreading.

“He has been boasting that he has brought soldiers from Sokoto and other states to carry out his political agenda of disrupting or rigging elections on Saturday.”

Mr Okah, however, did not list anybody already arrested by the army apart from mentioning that “a lot of prominent persons have been pencilled down for arrest.”

Also, the IYC said the army invaded the palace of Ateke Tom, ex-militant and now king of Okochiri Town in Rivers State.

“IYC cannot comprehend why the Ijaw people are made the scapegoat of the FG Government’s desperation in deploying the military to rig the elections? Only recently, on (the) 23rd of February, 2019, the Ijaw nation lost many of her promising youth to soldiers invasions in Rivers and Bayelsa states,” read a statement by Pereotubo Oweilaemi.

The army could not be reached for comments on this report.

The telephone line of Aminu Iliyasu, the spokesperson for the army formation in Port Harcourt, was unavailable at the time of filing this report.

An aide to Mr Amaechi, who asked not to be named, said the transport minister would speak on the allegations against him “later”.

On Tuesday, the minister directly said Mr Wike’s ambition was the basis for the killings in Rivers State, adding that the governor was encouraging armed men who dared soldiers.

“Nobody has asked the governor that from the day you took over the number of killings that have taken place in Rivers State just because you want to run a second term. One man’s ambition for second term, all Rivers people should die?” He said.

The APC is not fielding candidates for the elections on Saturday.

However, the party is now supporting the candidate of the African Action Congress in the governorship election, Awara Biokpomabo.

The initial prediction is that the exercise tomorrow would be less tense and Mr Wike would not face a recognisable challenge in his bid for a second term.

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