On 13 November 2019, a few days before the governorship election in Bayelsa State, south-south Nigeria, some gunmen stormed the venue of a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) rally in the Okolomabiri community in Nembe Local Government Area.
The gunmen fired at a crowd of party supporters, leaving three people dead.
Among those killed in the attack was a man named Simon Onu who worked as a driver with a media house, Radio Bayelsa.
Thugs loyal to the All Progressives Congress (APC) were said to be behind the attack.
Fears of potential violence
As Bayelsa prepares to elect a new governor this Saturday, there are fears of potential violence in some parts of the oil-rich state. And Nembe is one area to watch out for. Another area to watch out for is the Southern Ijaw Local Government Area.
The PDP recently told reporters about the alleged killing in Opu-Nembe Community in the state, ahead of the election which will either see the incumbent Governor Douye Diri, who is a candidate of the PDP, re-elected for a second term or rejected by the voters.
“The PDP is alarmed by pictorial and video evidence of the gruesome murder of promising Nembe youths including the only son of a widow by the APC thugs,” the spokesperson of the PDP, Debo Ologunagba, told journalists in Abuja on Tuesday.
PREMIUM TIMES could not independently verify this claim.
The Bayelsa election is one of the off-cycle governorship elections that will take place in three states in Nigeria, including Imo State, south-east Nigeria, where security forces are battling separatist fighters and in Kogi State, in the north-central, where terrorism and banditry have destroyed lives and properties.
About 1,056,862 registered voters will decide the fate of 16 governorship candidates fielded by different political parties in Bayelsa.
But the Bayelsa election is believed to be a two-horse race between Governor Diri and his main challenger, Timipre Sylva, a former governor of the state who, months ago, resigned as the Minister of State for Petroleum to seek a second term as governor.
Mr Sylva is the candidate of Nigeria’s ruling party, APC.
Bayelsa is bedevilled with poverty, environmental degradation, poor infrastructure, underdevelopment and unemployment, despite having huge oil and gas resources.
A non-partisan community organisation, Bayelsa Mandate Group, also raised the alarm over the “presence of political thugs” in Bayelsa communities ahead of the election.
Cycles of violence, killings
Apart from the usual election violence, kidnap-for-ransom and militancy, often associated with the Niger Delta region, could threaten the Bayelsa election.
The then governor of Bayelsa, Seriake Dickson had said that 22 people were killed during the 2019 election in the state. He claimed that those killed were mostly members of his party, the PDP.
Assurance from security agencies
Acknowledging the imminent security threat in the state ahead of the election, INEC Chairman Mahmood Yakubu in a meeting with National Security Adviser Nuhu Ribadu and service chiefs, solicited the support of security agencies in the three off-cycle governorship elections.
Mr Ribadu, at the meeting held on 27 October, assured INEC that the security agents were “resolute in providing all the necessary elements to ensure a flawless governorship elections” in the three states, including Bayelsa.
To underscore the threat posed by insecurity, Mr Mahmood held a similar meeting in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital, with members of the state chapter of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security, with security topping the agenda.
Admitting the volatility of the Bayelsa election, Nigeria’s Inspector General of Police, Kayode Egbetokun, warned criminals and political thugs that the election “won’t be business as usual.”
Mr Egbetokun said the police had started deploying officers to Bayelsa and that deployment would be completed on Friday, before the election.
The Nigeria Army announced it had begun mobilising troops to Bayelsa, a development, Jamal Abdusalam, a major general and general officer commanding, 6 Division, Nigeria Army, Port Harcourt, said was to ensure the people of Bayelsa cast ballots in their numbers for candidate of their choice without fear of intimidation.
“If troublemakers feel they have two heads, then they must make ready the second head because the first head will surely be taken off,” Mr Abdusalam said on Tuesday in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital in a statement.
What Tinubu wants?
The National Chairman of the APC, Abdullahi Ganduje, said his party has held meetings with “relevant stakeholders” advocating for a violence-free election.
Mr Ganduje said that President Bola Tinubu told the APC that “what matters to him was free and fair election and not the result of the elections.”
The National Chairman of the Labour Party (LP), Julius Abure, said he was “very worried” about security challenges in the three off-cycle elections. He urged the LP supporters to “play by the rule”.
The PDP National Organising Secretary, Usman Bature, called for the arrest of people who are responsible for the insecurity, before the commencement of the elections.
Being a coastal state with eight local government areas, four of which can only be assessed via water, Bayelsa State has peculiar security challenges.
Again, acknowledging this peculiar security challenge, the inspector general of police said the police will deploy more boats and more gunboats for the election. He promised to deploy adequately to cater for the 2,224 polling units in the area.
Although INEC said that the commission had received assurances from all the security agencies that they were capable and ready to protect personnel and materials for the conduct of the election, it is unclear if the prospective voters would rely on the assurances and turn out en masse to cast their ballots.
PREMIUM TIMES spoke on Thursday with two journalists in Bayelsa about the deployment of troops for the election.
Tarri Okono, a former chairperson of the Nigeria Union of Journalists in Bayelsa, is pessimistic about it.
“We have seen cases where they (the troops) assist in the rigging. One cannot say 100 per cent that these guys will guarantee security. To curb violence is a different thing from ensuring there is a free and fair election. And in most of the cases, they have been accomplices to rigging.
Mr Okono is, however, hopeful that the army under President Tinubu’s administration would do “what is right” in the Bayelsa election.
Another journalist in Bayelsa, who did not want his name mentioned in the report because of where he works, agreed with Mr Okono’s assertion that some soldiers may even encourage violence and vote-rigging.
“Who do violence pass, na dem go carry the day. They’ll go to court and sort it out,” the journalist said partly in Pidgin English, highlighting the role of violence in Nigeria’s elections.
“Whoever the army supports, the troops will supervise the rigging for that person,” he added.
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