ALARMED Nigerian soldiers were forced to abandon their mission to hijack ballot boxes during the March 9 Governorship/House of Assembly elections when a leader of the protesting women of Ogu/Bolo communities in Rivers State, out of desperation, sprinkled blood from her drenched menstrual pad on military patrol vehicles and by some mystical interference, the engines refused to kick.
The protesting women leader and Vice Chair, Ogu/Bolo local government area, Barrister Christiana Tamunoberetonari, confirmed she took off her heavily- soaked menstrual pad, squeezed the blood all over Army patrol vehicles and the drivers could not start the vehicles. It was mysterious.
Tamunoberetonari, the Nigerian Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had to pour a bottle of dry gin on the military vehicles and prayed or rather uttered incantations before they started. Following the strange incident, soldiers left, aborting their mission to cart away ballot materials.
Ocasio-Cortez is an Amercian politician and activist noted for her social media presence and described by Time Magazine as “second most talked about politician in America.”
She and other women activists shared their experiences at a one-day seminar on “Mobilizing and Raising Women's Voices against Election Violence,” in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State, sponsored by the Foundation for Partnership Initiative in the Niger Delta, PIND, and European Union, EU, facilitated by Academic Associates PeaceWorks.
The boldness of the heroic women from Okrika, Ogu/Bolo, Abonnema and others, who took non-violent measures to stop soldiers and police to some level from tampering with votes cast by the electorate and preserve ballot materials, necessitated the event.
How G5 mobilized women for action
Barrister Tamunoberetonari, vice chair of Ogu/Bolo local government, who was the cynosure of all eyes at the workshop, said, “When it comes to expression of female power in our community, it is not narrowed to the very young like us. We have various groups meeting regularly to strengthen women role in moving our community forward.”
“Then we have this friends' circle, the Gallant Five, G5, which advocates unifying force around other groups. When challenged by communal violence, the Obolorebi, a body of women, who have attained menopause, comes to the rescue with inherent powers to avert looming violence. We belong to different political parties, but we agreed that the overriding interest during elections was the peace of our community, peace of the local government and the state at large.
“On the day of the Presidential Elections, we already heard what was happening very early in Abonnema. We knew there was danger ahead of us and the Obolorebi mobilized for action. We ruled that after voting, no female leaves her unit. You must stay-put, insist they count votes and winner declared in your unit.
“So after voting, we heard some soldiers were coming in their numbers at the prompting of one political party to hijack the results. We ran to the local government collation center. A woman that we had been alerted about came, brought the army, but they were unable to invade the collation center. Successfully, they collated results. For the results to get to the main collation center at Elekohia and INEC, we reasoned they could intercept the men in transit and hijack the results.
“We (women) went in more than four vehicles escorted the results to Elekohia, first with results for the senatorial, and to INEC to drop that of the Presidential and House of Representatives, that in Port Harcourt, the state capital. However, we heard they took away results for Okrika, our mother local government area away.
“We bled in our heart and communicated to the women in Okrika to emulate what we did to ensure affliction did not arise the second time. We are glad they listened and the outcome was in the affirmative.
“Coming to the governorship and state assembly elections, we had to build more on the precedence we had set. Some women in other localities said they would not come out with what has happened, but we told ourselves in Ogu/Bolo, every woman must come because the hijackers would do more than they did in the Presidential election if we do not come out to vote and protect it.
Captain led military incursion, rebuffed DPO
The revolt leader further said, “On the Wednesday before the governorship election, military came into Ogu, broke into houses and arrested several youths, including Ambassador Best. They pulled him from the ceiling, broke his head, beat up the wife, so many persons. Our men were molested and taken away. Some ran into the mangroves.
“We became aggrieved. Women came out with placards protesting against the military for disrupting the peace in our community. The DPO in the locality confirmed appealing to the Captain, who led the invading soldiers to let the community be.
“We went to the JTF, DSS in the area to report to them, crying. We marched to the community square and reminded God of our plea not to allow politics divide and destroy our community.
“On Thursday, some military personnel intercepted RAC agents from different political parties, who went to escort materials to the council headquarters, taking 11 of them away. The resident Army team, unhappy with the development, got signals from their commander ordering recovery of those materials from the unknown soldiers who hijacked them. They succeeded in recovering and bringing them down to the community.
“From that point, we gathered at the local INEC office to watch over the recovered materials. We ate there, slept there, praying to God that no enemy comes to take away the materials. We kept vigil there.
Some thugs attempted breaking into the INEC office on Friday, we stopped them, we waited until Saturday morning for materials to be distributed to various wards and polling units.
“We left on strong note of advice, challenging every woman to locate their units, cast their vote and watch the process till results for your respective units are counted and declared and escort the materials and result through the ward to local government collation centers. Some people were also party agents. We did as collectively instructed, followed the results all through to local government area center where results were well determined and copies given to all party agents.
“With documentary evidence to show the genuinely collated results, we escorted the INEC officials to the local government collation center where reports were being put together from various wards. We then heard that Army aided by a politician hijacked the ones from Bolo wards 7, 8 and 9.
“We concluded that we would not fight over those wards already hijacked. We said let us ensure the remaining of the 12 wards were kept intact. As we were there, six vans full of Army came, aside the resident military we had in the community. One of the collation agents from the collation center now alerted us, saying they had arrested them, held them hostage. Do not allow them to come in. They would hijack everything.
Why we stripped naked, yelled at soldiers
“We immediately alerted the G5. We gathered rest of the girls. We said our efforts for the last four days must not be in vain. Then, we started the chant, 'we no go gree oo, we no go gree.' When those held hostage inside heard the chant, they were encouraged.
“The Army came up with reinforcement, one made to run over the human barricade we had created to bar them from entering the collation center. We stood our ground, daring him to run us over.
“Another came down, removed branches of trees we used as part barricade to start flogging us. We stayed defiant. Bemused and tired, one came to me to ask what we wanted. We said they must not go into the collation center. Interestingly, some among the soldiers were whispering to us not to allow them have their way. Not all of them liked the oppressive order whoever had instructed them to come, wanted them carry out.
'Our intentions are evil', one had murmured to me behind their superior's back.
“Throughout that day till Sunday morning, we were there, singing, chanting 'we no go gree'. It got to a climax, we chorused remove your clothes. Every woman in the protest started stripping, some were even removing their bras. We were yelling at the soldiers.
“You came out from here, your children, father, mother, came out from here, hitting at our sensitive area. They started covering their faces, unable to behold our nudity.
I called on God to intervene while removing my menstrual pad
“Some were still daring to come in; I had to remove my menstrual pad. I was under the monthly sickness at the time. I removed the pad, raised it up to God, calling for His intervention as I sprinkle the dripping blood on their patrol vans. Suddenly they were willing to go, but the cars suddenly failed to kick. I told them today you would know that what a woman has in her is more powerful than your guns and vehicles.
“I reached for a bottle of gin around us and started sprinkling on their vehicles spots I had earlier splashed my menstrual flow. The vehicles kicked. They started wondering, what sort of women were these? One of them called me; please give me your number. I will try to marry from this wonderful community. In the process, I saved his number on my phone, which now also stands as an incontrovertible evidence of the military invasion.
“Now to the trending video scene; this particularly agitated soldier tries scaling the fence to jump in for the materials. We saw and immediately mobbed him. One of the G5 was recording him and screaming he is an army. He wants to jump inside. Therefore, we were dragging and pulling him down. Some held to his scrotum, he got weak and gave up even with a broken leg.
“That is the power of a woman. What I am saying? You are a woman; do not see yourself as a weakling. The next day, Sunday, families were cooking food and bringing to the protesting women voluntarily. We are heroines of our local government,” she said.
We occupied LG secretariat for 3 days, 3 nights- Iyama
Ibiwari Iyama from Okrika, who also shared her experience, said Okrika women started the process of securing their votes during the elections by campaigning for people to get their voter's cards, assuring the people of Okrika that their votes will count.
According to her, they adopted an approach whereby they stationed at least one female youth at each polling unit to monitor the electoral process. In their bid to secure their votes while ensuring a peaceful voting atmosphere, they moved from ward to ward and to the local government council only to find out to their chagrin that the Nigerian Army were shooting sporadically to scare away the men.
She continued that the men stayed away to avoid being casualties, but the women waited until 11.00 pm during collation.
Iyama recounted that before the March 9 polls when they perceived that danger was imminent from the army, they went to the King of Ogoloma and other kings to tell them that all they needed was peace during that election because reprisal attack from their men could be disastrous.
A member of the King's council, who addressed them asked to go home, that peace would reign, but on their way to the king of Okochiri, King Michael Ateke Tom, they found out that soldiers had invaded his palace.
At that point, the women decided that they would take charge during the governorship election. Their experiences during the Presidential and National Assembly election were a lesson for them to come out strong and ensure there was no repeat of same during the governorship and state house of assembly election.
The women occupied the local government secretariat for three days and nights to safeguard the election materials.
She recommended that a committee of women should be set up to consult with traditional institutions to sue for peace, stating that the women present should constitute the committee headed by HRM Obi Martha Dunkwu, the Omu of Anioma kingdom and Dr. Judy Asuni.
Philomena Kanere of Ondewari community in Bayelsa state recounted that they had a crisis in 2017 where two cult factions killed their members. She stated that during elections, politicians used the boys to perpetrate evil.
She said that they decided to engage community stakeholders by talking to mothers to imbibe peace within their homes. They had no money but tasked themselves to talk to women to reach out to their children, especially the young ones.
After the programme, they arranged for the mothers to meet with the wife of the governor, which boosted their confidence. They also met with the men and fathers, encouraging them to be responsible to their children, after which they met with the children.
According to her, she and her group met with the different cult groups, for about 11 hours. After long persuasions, they accepted their proposals for peace among the different cult groups. Those who were amputated were placed on salary and peace returned to the community. She said that in order to encourage those who are not violent, they gave awards to parents and children with certain gifts.
She happily said that the peace building process coincided with the election period; hence there was no violence during that period and violence ceased among the different cult groups.G5 live in PH
The presidential and parliamentary elections in Nigeria held February 23 and the Governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections on March 9 were marred with high forms of electoral irregularities and violence, ranging from threats to life, actual death, arson, ballot box snatching, gun battles and general voter disenfranchisement.
These issues created tension and voter apathy, leading to reduction in the number of voters. The two frontline parties in Nigeria, the ruling All People's Congress (APC) and the main opposition, the People's Democratic Party (PDP) were fingered as the main perpetrators of the violence that happened during the governorship elections, which took the lives of tens of Nigerians, especially in the Niger Delta.
The presence of the police and military as alleged within some quarters did not add to the necessary and normal electoral process. The invasion of the military and the federal anti-robbery squad (FSARS) in Khana, Akuku-Toru, Okrika and Ogu/Bolo LGAs brought a gory aspect to the elections as security agents shot and molested people.
In Okrika, there was no election, as soldiers reportedly hijacked the February 23 presidential results for wards 6, 7 and 8 in Okrika. Young women believed to be loyal to Governor Nyesom Wike protested their disenfranchisement at about 3 pm.
After that, they came together and planned for March 9 elections. On March 7, they visited the traditional rulers. On their way to King Ateke's palace, they learned that the military had just attacked Ateke's palace. They retreated. On Thursday/Friday, very early March 8, soldiers went to Ogu/Bolo and arrested PDP members.
The Ogu chair of Wike youth, the LG vice chair and others came together to demonstrate on Friday. Friday night the women mobilized to INEC office in Okrika local government. The young women brought in older women. Then about 3.00 am, the military tried to enter the INEC centre, but the women refused, lying on the floor to prevent entry.
The election held on Saturday with the women following the materials to the designated areas.
After election, the women returned to the collation centre and stayed until Sunday. The military wanted to collect the materials but the women refused.
A source named the woman who recorded the trending videos of the women singing and dancing at INEC centre and the soldier climbing the fence. The woman who took the video was at the Port Harcourt meeting.
The G5 leaders came together in Ogu on Friday morning when the military arrested PDP leaders. Barrister Christy is the spokesperson, but another woman, Racheal Walter, is the real mover of the revolution. She is Racheal Walter. All of them came to our meeting last week. The leader of the women is Tammy Ibibofori.
Why we convened meeting- Chief Asuni
Convener of the Port-Harcourt meeting and Founder, Academic Associates PeaceWorks, Chief Judith Asuni, in her opening remarks, said, “The women played a proactive role in the way they could not have done if they were men.
“There is sort of respect and fear for touching, shooting or killing women, therefore, they were ideally placed, we heard about the attack on King Ateke Tom just before the presidential elections, but they could not intimidate him. Then on the third day to the governorship, they went to his guesthouse to kill and torture people.
“So we were all thinking, how we could stop these people from stealing the election materials. The women came up with a wonderful solution, their own idea that they could go sit there peacefully, they would sing, strip is necessary and they succeeded.”
“You know there are many examples of passive resistance to non violent reactions to situations. Think of Marin Luther King Jnr, Mahatma Ghandi and Nelson Mandela. Therefore, the women were using same technique to protect their election. I think this is a wonderful example of women power.
“It is inspiring to everybody. The challenge now is to try to put up some sort of action around it. You have just heard that Rivers elections will continue in April, so, what we can do between now and then to make sure we do not have repeat oddities.
“There is a great deal of national and international interest in what has happened in Ogu/Bolo. People are saying wow, Nigerian women can do this, prevent the military from coming to steal materials. We have to think about how we do this to make sure the next elections in April would be peaceful.”
PIND supports Asuni's initiative
Representative of PIND, Dr. David Udofia, commended participants and encouraged them to feel free and share their stories to encourage others. He said that the event took place because there was relative peace, that peace was important for the growth of any economy.
He reminded participants that PIND had been involved in Non Violent Elections (NVE) in past elections like the Edo and Ondo States elections among others. He mentioned that PIND works in two programmatic areas of economic development and peace building with the two intertwined.
Omu of Anioma counsels women
Omu of over 700-year-old Anioma Kingdom in Delta state, HRM Obi Martha Dunkwu, who presided over the meeting in her address, said the young women embody the struggle of the Niger Delta and prayed for their success in all endeavors.
She performed the traditional breaking of kola nut and in summarizing the entire program beginning from the first speaker; she said that the number one enemy of the woman is the woman, encouraging women to meet other women, who have the resources to support them.
She also advised women should desist from just being delegates in party primaries, adding that they should think of a holistic approach not just for themselves alone, but understand that the quest for power is a war and women must go for it.
HRH Dunkwu said media is a strong institution and humanity should utilize it to further the cause of the women in their struggle to emancipate the communities of the Niger Delta.
Ann Kio Briggs praises Ogu/Bolo women
Ann Kio Briggs, Convener, Niger Delta Self-Determination Movement, NDSDM, who attended the meeting, said, “What Ogu Bolo women did is something historic. Over the critical issues generated by the 2015 elections, it was stated, and clearly so at that point that the Army should have no role to play in elections.
“No space for the military in collation centers where votes are being counted and results declared. What the Ogu Bolo women have done is to strengthen women to know their rights to determine who they want to lead them through the ballot.
“They have shown the rest of the women how to resist any attempt by any one, be they politicians or armed soldiers to deny them their franchise to choose the leaders they want. It is an inspiration we must not allow to die, but to rather canvass to spread to the entire place,” she asserted.
Semenitari indifferent, says women took avoidable risk
However, former Rivers Information Commissioner and one time caretaker boss of the Niger Delta Development Commission, Ibim Semenitari, was unimpressed by the audacity of the Ogu/Bolo women. In subtle appraisal, she did not hide her feeling that the women took unnecessary risk.
Semenitari said, “As women, we are the largest in number, we are the ones who sing and chant slogans the most during campaigns. Still we are the cannon folders thrust to the front line because the Army and Police will not shoot women.
“How can we be sure we will be safe all the time because when bullets fly, they don't ask which party we belong or what sex we are. We lost an innocent, promising girl. People who died are our sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, maybe boyfriends or girlfriends.
“Rather than be cannon folders, let us as women begin to set standards we know are acceptable. Standards that will not make us risk our lives as cannon folders. We can say as women, if elections were to hold, we will not vote for anyone promoting violence. If we see signals of violence, we will not accept.”
Politicians turn Rivers to violence capital of Nigeria – Livingstone Membere
Programme Manager, AA Peace Works, Livingstone Membere, in his analysis of the conflicts in Okrika, Ogoni and Kalabari, expressed concern that the APC and PDP have turned Rivers to the violence capital of Nigeria.
He quipped that in Abonnema, women also stood to defend their votes like in Okirika and Ogu/Bolo and there were deaths especially during the presidential and National Assembly elections. Several days after that election, there were several corpses floating on water bodies, who were victims of electoral violence.
He unequivocally told participants that there is proliferation of arms in large cache in Gokana, Eleme, Kalabari, Khana, Obio/Akpor and others. He posed a question as to what will happen after elections due to the enormous small and light weapons littered all over Rivers State and other Niger Delta States.
According to him, it is another empowerment for cult- related activities, armed robbery and other forms of social vices. Livingstone reminded participants that kidnappings along the East-West Road have quadrupled during this period and the increase is due to miscreants who took advantage of the electioneering process and its attendant violence.
Sophia Daniel Sonime agreed with him, saying it is painful that Rivers had become a spotlight for the wrong reasons.
Inyingi Irimagha, who represented the Civil Society Organizations, said she observed that the issue of women protecting their collation centers started in 2015, but activists took no notice and strength untapped until the 2019 election when the whole thing played out again.
She said CSOs did lots of planning prior to the election without taking into cognizance the roles security agencies might play, blaming political parties for failing to recognize the strength of women within their political parties. The activist said the elections were highly militarized because soldiers got orders from their bosses.
Igbe, Jack eulogize women
His Highness, Anabs Sara Igbe said he was happy to see different women gather to make peace, because women are the cradle of life. He said that women have vital roles to play in peace building. According to him, when women stand for something, result is inevitable. He encouraged them not to allow politicians use them for their selfish purposes because the women are usually the worst hit.
Special Assistant to the Governor of Rivers State on Female Youth, Soibi Ibibo Jack, said that female youths were an untapped resource in the state. She said that Rivers State female youths came out and voted and stayed to defend their votes and that when it became critical, she had to lead other female youths to go out and protest the actions of the military during the elections in Rivers State at the INEC office.
She did not hide her pride in the achievements of the female Rivers youth because their actions have put Rivers State on the global map of peace.
A retired police officer, Mama Rose, quoting from Genesis 5:2 said in the Bible, God did not create Adam before Eve, but created both on the same day. She reminded women that every woman is a man and stronger, encouraging them to get up and take their place.
At the end of the workshop, the women also set up a committee of women under the leadership of HRM Obi Martha Dunkwu and AA PeaceWorks to strategically engage traditional rulers and political leaders in all the states to put an end to violence in the Niger Delta region.
They resolved, “There should be an immediate cease fire on all politically motivated violence, hate speeches, inciting statements, and sponsorship of violence in the region. Anyone contravening this cease fire will be named and shamed by Niger Delta women.”
“Government and stakeholders should take steps to carryout disarmament, reconciliation, rehabilitation and reintegration of youths and those that have been affected by violence during the elections
“Build the capacity of women to fully understand their civic and constitutional rights to enable them speak up against violence and intimidation
“Women should be bold to seek for offices in political parties and governments at all levels and also be engaged in decision making machinery of government
“Communities of the Niger Delta should stop celebrating people known for violence; rather those that have contributed positively to the development of the region should be identified and celebrated,” the women declared.