Okrika, Ogu/Bolo women strip, form human shield to stop soldiers hijacking ballots

 
Sat Mar 16th, 2019 - Rivers
 

Real reason military invaded HM Ateke Tom’s palace – Community leader
Politicians entice voters with cooked rice, drink, biscuit in Delta, C’River

By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South, Jimitota Onoyume, Festus Ahon, Egufe Yafugborhi, Emmanuel Una, Davies Iheamnachor and Perez Brisibe

UNKNOWN to most Nigerians,what they read in the newspapers, watched on screen concerning the violence that trailed last Saturday’s Governorship and House of Assembly elections in the South-South was a child’s play compared to what really transpired on ground.

Clearly, the leading challenge was armed uniformed men, not only harassing and intimidating them, but also snatching ballot boxes and assisting politicians to disrupt and rig elections. The bullying was so much that in some places, voters simply decided to stay off the polling units. They remained in their homes rather than go out and be killed, shot or injured by armed men, as was the case with some persons.

Many swore that the uniformed men they saw were men of the Nigerian Army and Nigerian Police Force, but the Army authorities had come out forcefully to deny that its men were responsible. It said the armed men on rampage during the elections were not genuine soldiers.

The brave women of Rivers

However, the women of Okirika in Okrika local government area and Ogu in Ogu/Bolo local government area, both in Rivers state, unarguably the heroines of March 9 polls in the geo-political zone, in the early hours of last Saturday, resisted the armed soldiers that visited their communities to snatch ballot materials. This was barely two days after the invasion of the palace of the Amanayabo of Okochiri Kingdom, HM King Ateke Tom

Armed personnel obviously at the behest of politicians stormed the communities to hijack electoral materials before and after voting, but they stripped half-naked and formed a human shield to thwart attempts by members of the armed forces to cart away the materials. They could not shoot the women and had to retreat, following their strong resistance.

The courageous Okrika women not only shielded electoral materials at INEC office in the community, they also provided security for the Commission’s ad-hoc staff in the voting centers.

What propelled the women was their discovery that the invasion of the Amanayabo palace last Thursday by soldiers was chiefly to intimidate him and prepare grounds for the rigging of March 9 elections in the area.

HM Ateke Tom was not in the palace when the armed personnel struck, but when leaders of the community got information that politicians, who sponsored the raid on their king’s palace, had also concluded arrangement to send soldiers and thugs to cart away election materials from the INEC office in the local government, mothers and daughters mobilized to mount surveillance .

Some political strategists said the monarch, a former leader of the Niger Delta struggle, is one of the influential vote influencers for Governor Nyesom Wike.

An informed source hinted, “The killings by soldiers at Abonnema during the Presidential and National Assembly elections at the instigation of a particular political party is still very fresh in the minds of the people, so to save their children and husbands despite political divide, they decided to take urgent steps to protect the materials before distribution.”

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Women power”

“That is the reason they mobilized to the place and behold at about 3.00 am, March 9, the Army came and the women, who lay on the ground in their numbers, barricaded the entrance, preventing the Hilux carrying the soldiers from gaining access to the INEC office.

The source told Saturday Vanguard, “Some of them actually undressed half- naked and lay on the ground when they saw soldiers coming; they also intensified their freedom songs and dancing, which perturbed the soldiers.”

“The women also protected INEC ad-hoc staff by taking them to alternative routes without going through the main road where soldiers mounted siege. Okirika women also stationed themselves in each of the wards to safeguard the electoral materials.

“Due to what happened last Thursday when armed military men ransacked Ateke Tom’s residence, the chiefs came up with the idea of falling back to women. Both elderly and young women came together to protect electoral materials.

“Early this morning (last Saturday morning), at about 3.00 am, four vans of armed soldiers wanted to have access to the local government area when the women saw them, they lay on the floor half naked chanting. The soldiers had no choice than to leave,” our informant asserted.

Confrontation between Ogu women and armed personnel

In addition, Ogu women in Ogu local government, who saw the effectiveness of “women power” in Okrika on Saturday night, stayed back after voting at the collation centre and resisted soldiers, who later came to cart away ballot papers.

An observer familiar with the Ogu episode, disclosed, “On the February 23 presidential election, the military, police and APC stalwarts allegedly hijacked electoral materials of Ward 6, 7, 8 and 9, disenfranchising the electorate in the affected areas though the election was cancelled.

“Towards the governorship election, on March 7, the military invaded Ogu town in Ogu/Bolo area, they ransacked the homes of PDP male leaders and arrested many. Few hours later, the Ogu women mobilized themselves and demonstrated against the indiscriminate arrest by the military.

“On that same day, March 7, female youths of Okrika had programmed a peaceful protest over the hijack of electoral materials by security agencies and over militarization of the local government. As the rally was progressing, the military invaded Okochiri and their target was King Ateke Tom’s palace. They arrested five persons after several gunshots.

“On March 8 at about 5:43pm, the military with several gunboats prevented passengers and boat drivers from accessing the waterways, which meant that people could not go out and in and out of Okrika via sea route. However, the land route was accessible with military occupation.

“On that same day at about 8.00 pm, the women mobilised themselves to the local government council to protect the electoral materials. There was confrontation between the military and women but they were not perturbed after several gunshots by the military.

“The women spent the night, singing and dancing and at a point the soldiers stopped them from singing, which they obeyed. On March 9, INEC dispatched electoral materials to various wards without any military or political party hijacking the materials. Though allegation was rife that armed men hijacked election materials going to Isaka town, which is part of ward 7 via the sea route.

“The voting process in Okrika was very peaceful and after the election because of the role of the women, and thereafter, the women mobilized back to the collation centre. The military was uncomfortable with their attitude, and at a stage, they started shooting, but the women refused to move.

“The armed men that came that night at the collation centre were not with name tag, no rank, some covered their faces with scarves and their vehicle number plates were blank. The night vigil of the women was fruitful because it did not give them chance to distort election results.

In a viral video, men in military uniform were seen scaling the fence of the collation centre, but the women resisted them.

Military attack to browbeat HM Ateke

Tom- Community leader

In Okochiri kingdom, the indigenes, last weekend, threatened to invoke the gods of the land against the armed men that desecrated the palace of HM Ateke Tom.

A community leader told Saturday Vanguard, “The entire episode was to intimidate the monarch, who they see as one person that could tell the youths of Rivers state the direction to go.”

“They had sent emissaries to him, but he told them that as a traditional ruler, he cannot take sides with any political party. However, they see him as a pillar for Governor Nyesom Wike. He was in the house when they came, the plan was to frighten and even kill him.

“The soldiers did not come with search warrant but broke into the palace, forcefully entered rooms and took away phones, wrist watches, laptop and drives. They shot the husband of one of the workers and took his corpse away.

“The politicians, who sent them, believe that by doing these, the monarch and his people will be scared and that will give them room to do whatever they want to do on March 9, “he asserted.

The community leader added, “They also alleged that he knew about the death of a certain former council chairman and close associate of a powerful APC leader in the state, Chief Monwan Etete from Andoni, you can see the length they went to fabricate things against him. Our monarch is not from Andoni and does not know the former chairman in question.”

“Even if investigation is being carried out over the death of somebody, is it the job of soldiers, where are the police,” he queried.

PDP, APC involved in violence, vote buying

Reports from other parts of the state showed that just like the 2015 elections, the March 9 polls was heavily marred with intimidation of political actors, INEC officials and voters. It witnessed the same political imbroglio, where thugs snatched ballot boxes at will and results manipulated to favour one particular party. However, it has been a reversal of fortunes from the 2015 scenario.

The major challenges that generally marred the governorship and state assembly elections were ballot snatching, vote buying, violence.

PDP and APC, which backed the candidate of African Action Congress, AAC, Awara Biokpomabo, perpetrated the acts, basking on the advantage of federal might.

In Ikwerre local government, leaders of PDP started paying voters, and providing drinks and biscuits at the polling units. The PDP did their magic at the polling units, whereas the APC exerted its federal might to hijack collation process with security operatives having their back.

At the state collation center in Bori, Khana local government area, security men invaded the area and ordered the electoral officers to doctor results of the election. The suspected uniformed invaders of the Bori collation centre shot one Dr. Ferry on the leg, causing panic.

The collation centre in Isiokpo, Ikwerre local government area also witnessed a bizarre incident. In a viral video clip, a collation agent of PDP in Ikwerre claimed that security men chased him away from the collation room.The party agent also claimed security men, who aided a political party to manipulate the result, locked him out.

In Andoni where a former council chairman, two relatives were murdered and another APC chieftain beheaded on the eve of the presidential elections, and an aide to Wike, a woman, Emilia feared murdered on eve of the governorship, it is hard to imagine that election held in the area.

It was, therefore, not surprising when reports came that some persons took INEC ad hoc officials hostage in Andoni and compelled them to write results for a political party.

In Ogu, headquarters of Ogu Bolo local government and home to Senator George Sekibo, it was a carnival of sorts for PDP, as every extended family, better referred to as compound has a catering point where heavy pots of rice were on fire waiting for voter to thumbprint, albeit voluntarily for PDP and return to food and palm greasing.

The script worked until collation point when trucks of military men invaded to hijack materials, but met a brick wall of resistant community women, who threatened going naked in protest to deter the APC- backed soldiers from hijacking genuine votes of cast by enthusiastic PDP favored voters.

At the peak of the process, security men sponsored at the prompting of APC invaded some of the collation centers where the PDP were already holding sway and hijacked the process, not without intimating PDP agents and vulnerable INEC officials. It was not clear at what point SARS and military imposters crept into the process.

In Abua/Odua local government area, PDP leaders allegedly hijacked all the result sheets for the election, while APC insisted that nobody should distribute the ballot boxes and papers for voting.

In Emohua local government, a known PDP stronghold, APC leaders, we gathered, had used hoodlums to hijack materials meant for some wards, including Ward 6 and went to unknown places to conduct the poll. The hijackers reportedly moved materials for over eight wards to the home of an APC leader in the local government for thumbprint.

Despite the unmistakable rebuttal of the Nigerian Army, men in military uniform coerced electoral officers to manipulate the results of the election.

In Delta, military strategy impinged voting process in riverine areas

In Delta state, security agents, particularly soldiers deployed for the elections in riverine Warri North local government area, slowed down the electoral process with their queer strategy.

The soldiers insisted that all boats to the various wards should leave at the same time. So wards that had their materials ready had to wait in the river for officials of INEC that were still sorting their materials. Finally, when all materials were ready, they moved in a convoy. This put strain on electorate in several units that had to wait several hours for arrival of materials.

The military apparently applied this strategy due to limited personnel to cover the elections in the riverine area.

There were cases of what could pass as vote buying in some units in Warri and others parts of the state, as politicians gave voters N1, 000 each.

Also conscious of the fact that police were on the hunt for vote buyers moving with huge sums of money on the day of the election, politicians also decided to entice voters with food items.

At some of the polling units visited, cooked rice made with palm oil, popularly known as Banga rice served in disposable food packs alongside soft drinks and bottled water were given to electorate on the queue

While some politicians and community leaders gave out the food to voters, irrespective of political party they voted for, others shared them to only persons who voted for their preferred candidates.

Women with food carts and makeshift stalls strategically positioned themselves at various polling units from where they dished out the food items to voters after exercising their civic duties upon close supervision by agents and party members of politicians.

However, security operatives at the respective polling units watched helplessly as the politicians had their way with the exercise.

A police officer told one of our reporters at a polling unit in Ethiope East, “It is not a crime to share food to people at the polling unit, what is crime is when they share money to voters, which is vote buying.”

Soldiers, thugs scared daylight out of C’Riverians

The major challenge of the March 9 elections in Cross River State was the presence of large number of solders on the streets and collation centres wielding guns and weapons of war as if the state was in a warfare.

Residents of the state woke up the day preceding the election to observe the presence of a large number of soldiers mounting roadblocks, searching vehicles and frisking pedestrians.

Frequent stops and delayed movement was the order of the day and going by the topography and expansive nature of Cross River, the frequent stops made movement somewhat clumsy and strenuous for those who travelled to the Central and Northern part of the state, a distance of over 400 kilometres.

In one of the check points, a soldier wielding a gun close to the vehicle conveying some journalists to the community asked if they were policemen and when they said ‘journalists”, he looked closely at the vehicle and asked everyone to step out. He then took time to search the bags in the vehicle and searched the journalists, as if they concealed some dangerous items in their bags and pockets.

Apart from the soldiers, thugs loaded in unmarked vehicles were everywhere driving and shooting sporadically in some areas. The gunshots often sent people running in different directions. It was difficult to ascertain which party they belonged and this brought untold fear into the hearts of many people, including reporters.

In Ijom ward Ugep, Yakkur local government area, which is ever volatile, at about midday when voting was in progress, a clash erupted between APC and PDP supporters, which sent everyone, including INEC staff, voters and journalists scampering in all directions for safety.

The shooting was so fierce that the voters and INEC staff did not show up again in the polling unit. The polling materials were scattered all over the polling unit, but surprisingly, officials announced result from the particular unit at the collation centre, casting doubt in the process.

There was no case of anybody shot dead, but some security personnel illegally detained people in makeshift detention centres. A commercial driver, who gave his name as Oleka said soldiers, who mounted roadblock along the road detained him for four hours at a provisional detention centre in Akpet Central

Apparent in all the centres visited was vote buying. Virtually all the major contenders were involved in this business. Money openly exchanged hands and supporters of the parties freely distributed rice, salt and cooking cubes to sway voters to cast their ballots for the candidates of their parties.

 
 

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source: Vanguard