The Nigerian police have vowed to end the reputation of Rivers State for bloody elections by ensuring the the polls this time are violence-free.
In Rivers, echoes of deadly violence followed the previous general elections, widely dismissed as a sham by observers.
For instance, the last rerun elections in the state on December 10, 2016 were marred by widespread violence.
The mayhem claimed many lives, including at least one police officer. The level of irregularities was sohigh that more than three weeks after, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) could not conclude the process with declarations of all the results.
Yet, the commission was supported at the elections with the largest deployment of security operatives. There were 28,000 police officers, supported by the army and navy manning the coastal areas.
The elections had earlier been conducted in March 2016 but had been marred by violence, forcing INEC to cancel it midway.
But, this time, as the elections start on Saturday, the have police vowed to change the narrative, assuring of a peaceful exercise.
“Election must be peaceful this time around,” said Omoni Nnamdi, the spokesperson for th police in the state, in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES on Friday. “The narrative must change. We are good to go.”
Mr Nnamdi said 15,544 police officers, including from the special protection unit and counter terrorism unit, supported by sister security and military bodies, have been deployed for the polls in Rivers.
The state has a total of 4,442 polling units and 2,424 polling points.
He said the teams for the local government areas outside Port Harcourt, the state capital, were deployed two days ago “to both the land and water areas.”
“We have put enough in place,” he assured, hinting at collaborations with community leaders, training of personnel and public sensitisation.
“There has been enough of sensitisation and appeals for peaceful conduct and all that has gone down well with the target audience.”
Meanwhile, some supporters of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state embarked on a protest on Thursday.
Some of the protesters allegedly threatened to disrupt the elections tomorrow, because their candidates for the National Assembly, governorship and state legislature elections were not accepted by INEC following a court order.
On this development, Mr Nnamdi said “it was just a protest” and assured the threat would amount to nothing.
“Some hoodlums wanted to hijack the peaceful protest. But nobody can disrupt the elections. There is no cause for alarm.”
Since Thursday, PREMIUM TIMES has observed a bustling Port Harcourt with businesses running. Entering the city, scores of children, with their parents, were sighted having fun at an amusement park near Bori Camp, creating an atmopshere of peace and calm ahead of the polls.
But INEC office on Aba Road is heavily guarded by armed police operatives. Excpet that place and the Moscow Road which hosts the state police command, there is no other place with heavy security presence in the city.
Except for the position of the president, the Peoples Democratic Party, which rules the state, will be in the elections without a challenge from its main rival, the APC.
The APC is not allowed to field candidates for other categories of elections because of a court order following internal crisis between actors in the camps of Rotimi Amaechi and his earstwhile ally, Magnus Abe.
Mr Amaechi is the Minister of Transportation and the director-general of the President Muhammadu Buhari reelection campaign. Mr Abe is a senator.