The Bayelsa State government has said that its intention in setting up a judicial commission of inquiry to probe the alleged killings during the governorship election in the state was to “show respect to the lives of the Bayelsa people and to forestall a repeat of atrocities that took place in the name of election”.
Daniel Iworiso-Markson, the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Seriake Dickson, told PREMIUM TIMES, Monday, that the setting up of the commission was not to witch-hunt or intimidate political opponents of the governor.
Mr. Iworiso-Markson said the commission, whose membership will be named this week, would be made up of people with proven integrity, and that the commission would be chaired by a judge.
He said nobody needed to be afraid of the governor’s plan to set up a commission of inquiry into election violence, except those who feel guilty.
Governor Dickson had said the election in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area and other parts of the state was characterised by killings, and that the state government was going to set up a judicial commission of inquiry to find out what really happened.
Mr. Dickson, a candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in the governorship election, was leading his closest rival, Timipre Sylva of the All Progressives Congress, with 33,154 votes before the Independent National Electoral Commission cancelled the election in Southern Ijaw and declared the election inconclusive.
The governor and his party, the PDP, said they were vindicated by the cancellation of the election in Southern Ijaw because of hostage-taking of electoral officers, ballot-stealing and violence.
But the Nigerian police have repeatedly debunked the Bayelsa State government’s claim that about five persons were killed during the election.
“The DIG (Hashimu S. Argungu) had said it all on Sunday morning that all these reported cases of death, if the people are really dead, where are the corpses? What about their identities? The people are just making baseless allegations that people died,” the Police Public Relations Officer, Bayelsa State Police Command, Asinim Butswat told PREMIUM TIMES, Tuesday.
“Who are the people that died? They should mention their names. If we see the corpses, we’ll take them for post-mortem examination, from there you can actually established if someone died or not.”
Mr. Dickson’s allegation of violent killings and his plan to set up a commission of inquiry did not go down well with the opposition APC as well.
When Nathan Ogba, the publicity secretary of the APC campaign organization in Bayelsa State, spoke with PREMIUM TIMES on Tuesday he played down on the government plan to set up a commission of inquiry by saying that “Dickson made the remarks in the heat of the governorship election when he found himself in a very desperate situation”.
Mr. Ogba said, “Obviously, the whole world knows that such commission of inquiry will be used to witch-hunt political enemies.
“Nigeria is not a jungle. This is a country governed by laws, so Dickson cannot get away with wanting to witch-hunting people through an administrative panel.
“So, if he sets up the commission, of course we will go to court and obtain an injunction to restrain them.”
Some political analysts in Bayelsa, who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES, said it was fine to set up the commission of inquiry, but that the timing was wrong.
“Waiting after the election or doing it now, is neither here nor there,” The governor’s chief press secretary said of the timing of the commission of enquiry.
“The judicial commission of enquiry will have clear terms of reference. They will be given the liberty to do their job. If the commission after being empanelled decides that they will wait until after the election to start their work, so be it.”
Mr. Iworiso-Markson insisted that people were killed during the election.
He said it was sad for the police to deny that nobody was killed.
He said the violence in Southern Ijaw started on Friday, a day before the Saturday election in Bayelsa, and that Mr. Dickson, out of concern for the safety of lives had advised INEC to temporarily suspend the election in the area until calm was restored.
“While voting was going on we were in the governor’s house, and we were getting security report that there was shooting going on between the militants and the army in Southern Ijaw.
“The governor made calls to the INEC and security agencies, advising that election be suspended in Southern Ijaw because of the tension in the area,” the chief press secretary told PREMIUM TIMES.
Meanwhile, the APC governorship candidate in Bayelsa State, Timipre Sylva has rejected the cancellation of the election in Southern Ijaw.
Mr. Sylva accused INEC of colluding with PDP to ‘rape democracy’ in Bayelsa State.
Mr. Sylva said INEC refused to cancel the elections in Ekeremor and Sagbama local government areas where APC had filed official complaints that there was violence there.
“If they have to council the election in Southern Ijaw, they should cancel the elections in areas that we have protested against,” said Sylva who is a former governor of Bayelsa.
“The election took place yesterday (Sunday), and INEC didn’t cancel the election that day. But when the result started coming in and they saw that APC was winning, they quickly cancelled the election.
“The Resident Electoral Commissioner has no power to cancel election which has duly taken place; it is only the returning officer that has power to announce cancellation.
“We will count the votes (from Southern Ijaw). If we are winners, we’ll go to court and asked that we be declared winner.”