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High-stakes Rivers State vote ends in violence

By Eromo Egbejule, in Lagos
Posted on Tuesday, 12 March 2019 14:06

The Rivers State poll was tainted by accounts of vote buying and intimidation. REUTERS/Tife Owolabi

At least seven people were killed in oil-rich Rivers state during the weekend of gubernatorial elections.

Since 2011, Rivers State has been the most dangerous place in Nigeria to conduct elections.

The 9 March poll was a frontal conflict between incumbent governor Nyesom Wike of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and his former friend turned foe, Rotimi Amaechi, who is Wike’s successor and federal minister of transport in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).

A Supreme Court ruling bars the APC from fielding candidates in Rivers.

  • The ban follows a suit brought by a governorship aspirant, Senator Magnus Abe, over his exclusion from the primaries.
  • Amaechi is backing the virtually unknown candidate Biokpomabo Awara of the African Allied Congress (AAC)
  • The AAC pulled off some unlikely numbers, before reporting of the election results was suspended.

Rivers means cash for politics: The desperation over who wins Rivers stems from the fact that the oil-producing states usually have a higher capacity to spend from their purse for political financing.

  • Wike funded the PDP for large parts of 2017 and 2018, while it was in limbo.
  • Amaechi also reportedly donated large sums from the state coffers to finance President Muhammadu Buhari‘s 2015 campaign.

As it stands, most of the other oil-producing states are under PDP control, except for Ondo and Edo.

  • That could mean a funding crisis for the ruling APC.

Soldiers took over the streets in Rivers and there were acts of vote buying, ballot-box snatching and voter intimidation there and in other states including Imo, Lagos, Akwa Ibom and Benue, according to eye-witness accounts.

Even the usually tame international observers were in agreement about the shoddiness of the elections.

  • “Incidents of violence and intimidation, and widespread voter apathy undoubtedly drove low voter turnout,” stated John Tomaszewski of the joint National Democratic Institute and International Republican Institute (NDI/IRI) mission. “Moreover, a heavy military presence and vote buying in some locations, as well as irregularities in the vote counting and collation process, served to undermine the integrity of the elections in those locations.”
  • The EU’s observer mission concurred, saying: “Observers, including EU observers, were denied access to collation centres in Rivers, apparently by military personnel. This lack of access for observers compromises transparency and trust in the process… there is no doubt that the electoral process there was severely compromised.”
  • The UK government also expressed its concerns over the military interference in the election process in Rivers State, as reported by its observers.

The Nigerian army, meanwhile, has lambasted the UK, saying its comments are untrue and baseless.

  • “Foreign interests are therefore enjoined to be mindful of interfering in our national internal affairs especially when there is no credible evidence,” army spokesman Colonel Sagir Musa warned a statement. “Any allegation against the NA must be confirmed from appropriate quarters before jumping to conclusions.”

The score so far: Twenty governors have been announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), while five polls have been declared inconclusive, with supplementary elections to be held in specific areas.

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