By Simeon Nwakaudu
Ahead of the Governorship and State Assembly elections, all the Ethnic Nationalities of Rivers State raised the alarm on credible intelligence gathered on the plot by the Nigerian Army to subvert the will of Rivers people through terror, election materials snatching and manipulation.
These concerns were published in National and local media. The Nigerian Army ignored all the concerns of Rivers people.
Few days to the elections, the Army swung into deadly action. They arrested hundreds of PDP leaders. They stormed homes, hotels and pubs. They unleashed violence and terror across Rivers State.
One of the most disgusting was the invasion of the home of the Rivers State Commissioner of Education, Dr Tamunosisi Gogo-Jaja. They upturned his home, including chasing his wife away from the kitchen. The CCTV footage outraged the world. The Army had no reason for this act.
But it was obvious they wanted to scare Rivers people. The Army raided the popular Casablanca joint in Port Harcourt and raided homes of PDP youths in the town. Council chairmen and top government officials were arrested. Majority of them did not participate in the elections.
On election day, the Intimidation continued unabated. Rivers people were intimidated and several persons were arrested. However, the people stood their ground. They turned out to vote. They looked the soldiers in the eyes and refused to be scared.
Several of them paid with their lives. Others were injured . Many will bear the scares of military indiscretion all their lives.
They voted in all the polling units. Their votes were counted. They waited for the votes to be entered in the relevant forms.
But operatives of the Nigerian Army working with the AAC/APC alliance decided to disrupt the process at some Collation Centres. Several others were able to move to the State Collation Centre.
There are several videos of Rivers women and men defending their Collation Centres during the invasion of soldiers. In Ogu/Bolo, Okrika, Port Harcourt and Abua/Odual Local Government Areas, the videos of the attempts by the Army to snatch collated results are online. In Khana Local Government Area, it was F-SARs that invaded the premises.
Having failed to snatch enough collated results for the AAC/APC platform, the Army decided to invade the Rivers State Collation Centre on ABA Road. This ugly scene was captured by all the National Television and citizen reporters. It was an eyesore . It was an international embarrassment. The whole world watched the show of shame that ended the peaceful Collation Process.
"That collation centres were invaded by some soldiers and armed gangs resulting in the intimidation and unlawful arrest of election officials thereby disrupting the collation process,” INEC said in her statement on Rivers election.
But the statement of INEC in Rivers State on Sunday March 10, 2019 captured the criminal activities of the Nigerian Army in very clear terms.
Head of Department of Voter Education and Publicity in Rivers State, Edwin Enabo said: “The INEC office is under siege by men in army uniforms, uniforms of the Air Force and police who have taken over.They are stopping and screening people.They are clearing results before they enter the office to the extent that up till now no collation has been done".
The only reason for the siege by the soldiers was to alter the will of the people. Had they succeeded, it would have been a different story. Since then, the Army and the APC have been struggling to outdo themselves in their defence of the absurd. Even leaders of the obscure party they are fronting have nothing to say.
Locally and internationally, nations and groups have stated their positions on the ignoble acts of soldiers and the APC.
“Extremely concerned by reports, including from @UKinnigeria observers, of military interference in the election process in Rivers State.
“Monitoring the situation closely. @inecng staff must be allowed to do their job in safety, without intimidation,” a tweet from @UKinNigeria read.
The United States-Nigeria Law Group, an election observer initiative, USNLG report stated that:
“The military invasion and rampage in Rivers State is troublesome on several levels not the least of which is: The ruling party APC was not even a candidate in the elections yet the government interfered with military might to rig in the most ignoble and egregious way ever".
According to the European Union “Observers, including EU observers, were denied access to collation centres in Rivers".
These testimonies are from INEC and reputable National and International organizations. The attempt by the Nigerian Army to divert attention from the crimes against Rivers people is disheartening.
I am told that they issued a statement tonight. From all indications that statement is mischievous and targeted at stalling Collation through subterfuge and lies.
On that false statement on Obio/Akpor LGA, Rivers State Commissioner of Information and Communications, Emma Okah asked the following questions:
“They are now lying against Gov Nyesom Ezenwo Wike because their plot to rig election and overthrow the will of Rivers people failed.
The INEC has come out clear to indict the Army and these accusations against Gov Nyesom Ezenwo Wike is to divert attention and save their face. Was Gov Nyesom Ezenwo Wike going to smuggle result at the INEC headquarters in Port Harcourt where the Army invaded the INEC Office until police resisted them?
"Was it Gov Nyesom Ezenwo Wike that went to the Khana Collation Centre where the security shot and killed Dr Ferry Gberegbe? Which result sheet was Gov Nyesom Ezenwo Wike trying to smuggle in as the Army is alleging? Is it the unit results that had been declared at the polling units or the Ward results that have been collated at the wards before going to the State Constituency collation centre? These allegations cannot stand.The Army should look for another story to tell. This one is too cheap and dead on arrival".
Aside the National and International Organizations, some Collation Officers addressed journalists and indicted the Nigerian Army for their crimes against Rivers people.
The INEC Collation Officer in charge of the Governorship election in Oyigbo Local Government Area, Good hope Igwe said he was forced to announce results by soldiers of the Nigerian Army. He said that the soldiers invaded the INEC collation center in Oyigbo.
The INEC Collation Officer for the Governorship election in Khana Local Government Area, Gbenekanu Ledornu told journalists the collation of the governorship election results was allegedly disrupted by the Army and personnel of SARS.
These were damning testimonies from INEC Officials on the field. It was the same story during the Presidential and National Assembly elections when the Electoral Officers of Ikwerre, Okrika and Emohua Local Government Areas indicted soldiers for criminal invasion of Collation Centres.
Rather than grand-stand, the leadership of the Nigerian Army should take the first step of apologising to Nigerians and the International Community for the brazen attempt to subvert the will of Rivers people as documented in countless videos.
This rehash of baseless allegations already published by the Army eight days ago is meaningless and should be disregarded by members of the public. On the same day that three APC leaders made same allegations against Governor Wike, the Army danced to the worthless song.
The actions of the Nigerian Army are reminiscent of the dark days of Former IGP Idris. At that time, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi contracted the Police High Command to do the electoral hatchet job. This time, it is the Nigerian Army. The cast of this anti-Rivers drama has changed, but the script remains the same. To subvert the will of the good people of Rivers State.
Rivers people watered the tree of Democratic liberty with their blood, body and sweat. Several lives were lost to Army and F-SARs Electoral Assaults.
My most fundamental question: Is the Nigerian Army now on the Ballot in Rivers State?
It is true that they were under instruction to deliver the unpopular AAC/APC Candidate. But Rivers people refused to be intimidated. They refused to allow anyone steal their mandate, irrespective of the heavy weaponry deployed.
There is no need for further desperation . There is no need spending sleepless nights issuing political press releases. The Nigerian Army is not a political party. It is a National Institution belonging to all Nigerians. Nobody should use the Nigerian Army to pursue illegal political goals.
I thought the Army said that they set up an inquiry into the criminal activities of her personnel during the Rivers State Governorship and State Assembly elections? At what point did they make a u-turn to restart the issuance of press releases. Or is it a case of fright. I was just reminded that the Army had initially claimed that the guys who invaded Collation Centres were fake soldiers. Why issue releases on behalf of suspected fake soldiers?
I close with this declaration by INEC that the military were never invited to operate at the Collation Centres. According to INEC, they overstepped their bounds and engaged in illegal invasion of Collation Centres.
“I am not aware that the commission requested for the deployment of soldiers in collation centres,” INEC National Commissioner and Chairman of Voter Education and Publicity Committee, Mr. Festus Okoye, told THISDAY.
The Nigerian Army must take cogent steps at restitution. These reckless press releases are not necessary. The Nigerian Army should leave politics for politicians.