What played out at Ijaw House, Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, the venue of voting for the aborted Ijaw National Congress, INC, election, where thugs stormed the complex, last Saturday, snatched and escaped with ballot boxes while counting was going on still appear like a movie to many, seven days after the unpleasant incident.
It is complicated to rationalize how hooligans could invade the fenced Ijaw House guarded by a combined team of Mobile Police, Department of State Services, DSS operatives, Nigeria Security, and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC and successfully run away with ballot boxes without noticeable challenge.
Saturday Vanguard can confirm that the thugs, who carried out the act, were not armed. They did not manhandle anyone and did not steal phones or money, a clear indication that their agenda was simply to cart away the uncounted ballot boxes and interrupt the election
Yet, there were early signs that the exercise would not be crisis-free, as some youths had earlier on laid siege to the Gabriel Okara Cultural Centre, venue for the accreditation, where accreditation had commenced by 8.00 am.
The intruders barricaded the gate of the venue, preventing the electoral officials, delegates, candidates, their agents and journalists from leaving the accreditation venue to Ijaw House, location of the elections, about one kilometer away from the accreditation venue.
Electoral officials, delegates, candidates, and others were later conveyed to Ijaw House for the election at about 1.30pm where voting began around 3.00 pm and ended by 5.45pm.
Expectations were high, as Ijaw- speaking groups from Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo, and Ondo States converged on Bayelsa State, considered as The Jerusalem of Ijaw land, to elect new national executives to pilot the affairs of the apex Ijaw socio-political organization, Ijaw National Congress, INC.
The 450 delegates selected across various Ijaw clans also included those from Abuja, Lagos and Diaspora Chapters of the INC while the electoral committee screened 31 candidates for various positions at the elective convention.
According to the programme of events, the accreditation venue was the Gabriel Okara Cultural Centre, while the voting venue was the iconic Ijaw House Complex.
The electoral officers had already collated and announced the results for the positions of Publicity Secretary, Treasurer, Legal Adviser, Organizing Secretary, Welfare Secretary and Women Secretary and the sorting of ballots for the Financial Secretary was ongoing when attackers invaded the venue.
They flung the gates open and what followed at 8.15 pm was an invasion. Surprisingly, the massive security deployed to the venue watched helplessly.
The invaders first switched off the power generating set thereby disrupting power supply before they carted away some yet to be collated ballot boxes under the cover of darkness.
Although no life was lost, however, scores of people sustained injuries, as they scampered to exit the venue.
We know the winners and those who snatched ballot boxes- Chief Monday Keme
Meanwhile, Chair, All Delegates Forum in the suspended election, Chief Monday Keme has said the group already knew the winners, as voting/counting had ended peacefully before hoodlums snatched the ballot materials.
According to him, “After a meeting in Warri by all the delegates who participated at the last Saturday Ijaw National Congress (INC) election, which was marred due to snatching of ballot materials after peaceful/ successful voting and counting, we have resolved to declare the names of the winners, which the ELECO chair was to announce at Ijaw House.
“As the Chairman of the All Delegates Forum, I was the first person to cast my vote in Ijaw House in Yenagoa. The process was peacefully completed and counting of votes commenced with announcement of names of candidates returned unopposed. We have known the winners before the disruption of the process by hoodlums. We identified some of them as members of the Bayelsa State Volunteers. How did they gain access into the venue where Bayelsa State Commissioner of Police mounted a tight security? Suddenly, the generating set supplying electricity was put off by the miscreants and ballot boxes were snatched. Funny enough, the ELECO also finished counting of votes before the disruption by the thugs. The process was peaceful and successful. The outcome of the counting did not go the direction of some highly placed persons and caused the disruption of the electoral process.
“That is why we have resolved that whether ballot boxes were snatched or not, we have known names of various winners and their positions. Therefore, we are giving this notice that if the ELECO fails to announce the names of the real winners, we, the delegates will do so soon” he said.
He described the ELECO chair as inexperienced, which led to such shoddy situations, querying, “How could hoodlums, who were carrying no arms snatch ballot boxes before the watchful eyes of armed security personnel? There was complacency on the part of the police. The ELECO left security in the hands of Bayelsa state government, which is an interested party without alternative security arrangement. The same members of the Bayelsa state vigilantes snatched ballot boxes after they shut down the electricity at the venue in the presence of Bayelsa state Commissioner of Police. The inexperience on the part of the ELECO chair also compounded issues,” he said
We were still collating when they stormed the venue – Rear Admira Yanga (retd.) ELECO
Chair of the Electoral Committee, ELECO, Rear Admiral Woyengidinikpete Yanga, retd, while reacting to the commotion, said, “The ballots for the positions of the President, Vice Presidents 1 and 2, with one vice president already declared unopposed, the National Secretary and National Assistant Secretary, had not been counted before the hoodlums took away the ballot boxes. We were still collating the ballots for the Financial Secretary when they came. There is no decision that we can take now except that we have stopped the process and any other thing will come later,” he said.
I was coasting to victory when thugs disrupted election – Bozimo, aspirant
Former Minister of Police Affairs, Alaowei Broderick Bozimo, a leading contender for INC president, said, “We condemn outright the kind of hooliganism that was demonstrated in Ijaw nation today, we can do all that in the political parties. I have become non political since I turned 80, I am not in any political party, which was why I had the courage to run for INC president apart from being a foundation member.”
“I was so sad and it was regrettable to find out that our youths stormed the place when it was clear that I was leading and heading to victory. Detractors organized youths to come in there to disrupt the counting in order to obstruct my inauguration as INC president 2019. I want to debunk the falsehood being spread around Ijaw nation and everywhere that the opposition was leading. Let me emphasize that clearly from all indices, we were heading to victory and they were truly shocked to find out that an octogenarian like me was going to dwarf them, which was what happened. I however believe that the truth will prevail; it does not matter how long. There is no way that I can be involved in such rubbish, I am not a politician, this is first time that I will stand for an election, I have never contested an election in my life.
“I was persuaded, cajoled to come and save Ijaw nation at this critical time when there is madness all over the country and they want to overrun Ijaw nation. But the younger people do not understand, they think it is a trading post where you maneuver and do all kinds of rubbish,” Bozimo asserted.
On his next line of action, the elder statesman said, “we will look at all the options and decide the way forward. All of us will work together in tandem with the Conference of Ijaw Traditional Rulers and Elders, CITRE, the Electoral Committee and the Steering Committee. For now we are waiting patiently for the ongoing criminal investigations of those those who were responsible for the dastardly act.”
Bayelsa govt officials sent thugs to stop election – Prof Okaba, aspirant
Dean, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Federal University in Otuoke, Professor Benjamin Okaba, another contender for INC President said the 2019 National Convention of INC aborted by thugs in Yenagoa clearly shows that the agitation for state policing is a bad idea.
Prof Okaba said the manner hoodlums held delegates hostage at the Dr. Gabriel Okara Cultural Center in the presence of security agents for three hours proved how desperate state governors could be when they are bent on having total control of both public and private institutions.
“What happened yesterday (last Saturday) during the election was a clear demonstration of the negativity of state policing. The bad idea behind the agitation for state policing clearly manifested in that election. The problem with this country is not about the constitution, but those who implement the laws. Obviously, the election was aborted by agents of government and no right thinking person would agree that Bayelsa is safe for a free and fair election. A situation where in the presence of elders like King Alfred Diete-Spiff, Amb Godknows Igali and highly placed police officers, thugs held delegates hostage at the Gabriel Okara Cultural Center for three hours to ensure that election went into the night so they could do what they did, is unacceptable. Based on this, if they choose Bayelsa state as the venue for a re-election into the offices that were hijacked, I will not take part in such an election,” he said.
Steering Committee laments interference
Reacting, acting Chair, INC Interim Steering Committee, Amb Godknows Boladei Igali and acting Secretary DIG Michael Zuokumor (retd.) in a statement issued in Yenagoa, said, “The Interim Steering Committee of the Ijaw National Congress, INC wishes to express great regret at the invasion of the Ijaw House, Yenagoa in the evening of Saturday, 29th June, 2019 by some hoodlums. This led to the disruption of the vote counting and collation processes of the elective convention of the INC, which was going on smoothly at the time. That such a sacrilegious act could be carried out in the sanctity of our Ijaw House, Yenagoa and in the presence of some of the members of the highly respected Conference of Ijaw Traditional Rulers and Elders ,CITRE, as well as members of INC Interim Steering Committee and the Electoral Committee (ELECO) of this our flagship organization is totally condemnable. Indeed, this is unacceptable and for the avoidance of doubt, the Interim Steering Committee wishes to recall that counting of votes after very peaceful and orderly elections held in the open, was almost concluded.
“As a matter of fact, the outcome of majority of the positions had already been declared awaiting counting of the ballots for the offices of National Secretary, Vice President (East), Vice President (Central) and President of Congress when this act of cowardice occurred.
“Arising from this development, the Interim Steering Committee has since brought the matter to the attention of the respective security and law enforcement authorities for urgent, but thorough investigations. This is, with a view to bringing the masterminds and immediate perpetrators to book.
“The Interim Steering Committee, therefore, wishes to enjoin all Ijaw sons and daughters, in our various communities, in the rest of Nigeria and around the world, to remain calm as the matter is being fully dealt with. An emergency meeting of CITRE is also expected to hold soon to discuss the matter, including reviews of results of investigation so far and charting the way forward.
“We want to urge, that this unfortunate attempt by few unscrupulous elements, which will stop at nothing to bring dishonor to our Ijaw pride and identity, must not be allowed in any manner whatsoever, to dampen our common resolve to reunite and rebuild the INC. We hope that very soon, this process will be completed and a properly elected INC leadership put in place,” it said. Commenting on the matter, Bayelsa state government condemned in strong terms the disruption of the national convention òf INC by hoodlums in Yenagoa on Saturday night while counting of votes was going on.
Bring culprits to book, Bayelsa govt charges security agencies
Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mr. Daniel Iworiso-Markson, said in a statement on Sunday that the hoodlums struck with the devilish intent to frustrate the inevitable victory of the candidates, who were in clear lead during the election.
He said, “The government òf Bayelsa state condemns the unfortunate disruption of the national convention òf the Ijaw National Congress in Yenagoa on Saturday night. We call on the police and other security agencies to investigate this unfortunate incident and ensure the arrest of those behind it with a view to bringing them to book. It is quite sad that the electoral committee went ahead to conduct the election in the evening in spite of the advice that the election be postponed to the following day to prevent the process from being hijacked by criminal minded elements. Since last night, several information channel were activated and several leads were pursued to uncover those behind the reprehensible conduct,” he added.
Iworiso-Markson asserted that INC teams and security agencies were looking into the discovery of dumped INC electoral materials in Patani Delta state, the hometown of one of the presidential aspirants, discovered by locals and handed over to the police in the night.
The commissioner confirmed that criminal hideouts were under surveillance even as he called on those with useful information to reach out to the police for thorough investigation.
He added that operatives found another box of ballot materials, opposite the Ijaw House venue, not far from where a son of one of the contestants stayed to receive all manner of questionable characters believed to be cultists, days before the election.
He said that the government was of the opinion that those who carried out the incident executed it with intent to embarrass the state government and its agencies.