The Civil Liberties Organization, CLO, monitored with keen interest developments in the state prior to the day of the 2023 Presidential Election. We also monitored the events on the day of the election, especially, in relation to the rights of the citizens to their freedom of association, right to expression, security, safety, and exercise of their franchise without fear or intimidation and we observed as follows;
The state witnessed desperate attempts by the state government and its cohorts in collaboration with certain security operatives and hoodlums, to intimidate the opposition, and the electorates. A climate of fear and tension was created by perceived agents of the state through violent pronouncements, threats on lives and properties of the people, especially political opponents and non-indigenes. Also actual violent attacks on the opposition, media personnel and other stake holders were observed.
Of utmost regret and concern is that our pre-election monitoring exercise disclosed that, the state witnessed unbridled violent attacks on some persons in the state perceived to be opposed to Governor Nyesom Wike’s choice of political party and candidates, and bombing and destruction of houses, properties and corporate establishments of persons opposed to the government of the state were carried out. Such casualties include ‘The wish FM station’ located at the Ozuoba area of Port Harcourt amongst others.
Furthermore, we observed the unwarranted arrest and detention of those perceived as political opponents of the state. The audacity of those carrying out the attacks without any form of condemnation or restrain from the government and security operatives is worrisome. Some instances where the ‘Rivers people’ were attacked, harassed, harmed and in some cases their residences bombed or destroyed with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) without whimper of intervention from the state government include the following;
- “On Thursday, February 23, 2023, the Etche residence of Mr. Charles Anyanwu, the APC candidate for Rivers state House of Assembly was rocked by explosions.
- Early in the morning of Friday February 24, 2023, Chief Glory Emeh and Dr. Tamunosisi Gogo Jaja both ‘pro-Atiku PDP politicians’ had their respective houses attacked with dynamites. Also. Mr. Gabriel Pidomson, another ‘pro-Atiku PDP politician’ was harassed by thugs suspected to be loyal to Wike.
Curiously, neither the perpetrators nor their sponsors have been arrested or questioned with respect to these violent attacks even when it is clear that the attacks were carried out by political thugs apparently working for the state government.
- May we recall that on WEDNESDAY, February 15, 2023 at ELEME, thugs allegedly deployed by the chairman of Eleme LGA to violently disrupt a political campaign were overpowered and arrested by the police. However, till today, nothing has been said about the incident and the perpetrators might have been released to continue with their nefarious and criminal acts against the citizens.
- We are indeed worried over the failure or refusal of the security operatives to fish out the violent thugs and the perpetrators of these mayhem and their sponsors in order to bring them to book in accordance with the law. We are constrained therefore to think that the security operatives are condoning the activities of the thugs and their sponsors in carrying out the nefarious and criminal acts.
- Again, we gathered that the governor made the LGA chairmen to sign and deliver their resignation letter in advance of the election with a threat that any chairman that fails to deliver his LGA to the PDP/APC at the election would be relieved of his or her position.
- Incidentally, on the Election Day, February 25, 2023, attempts to disenfranchise citizens through intimidation, attacks, threat to life, and outright prevention of citizens from voting were witnessed at different parts of the state:
- We reliably gathered from informed sources, including an INEC Adhoc staff that at Opobo/Nkoro Local Government Area of the state, some electorate were given N1,000.00 each to vote for APC, while community leaders were given N4000 each for the same purpose. Those who rejected the money were forced out of their voting units and prevented from voting at the election.
- At Akpajo, security officials attached to the governor and some senior members of Grass Root Development Initiative, GDI seized BVAS machines and other election materials and transferred them to unknown locations.
- Furthermore, Mr. NWANOSIKE, the chairman of Ikwerre Local Government Area allegedly led tugs running from one polling unit to another in Ikwerre LGA terrorizing voters, shooting sporadically and hijacking election materials, while at Rumuekini some thugs led by someone believed to the youth president of the community brazenly disrupted the election process and destroyed the election materials at the time of counting the votes.
- Again, we observed with regret that at the Ikoku area of the state, including St Thomas church premises where there were several polling units some polling units were denied election materials and thugs were mobilized to disrupt result counting and collation process.
From the foregoing observations, we condemn, in strong terms, the irregularities and violation of peoples’ rights to choose their leaders as witnessed during the election period. We further condemn the refusal of INEC staff to transmit the results with the BVAS machine as required by the law. This is a criminal act that must not be allowed to go scot-free.
We demand as follows:
- That the above observations and allegations be properly investigated by the appropriate authorities and those that are found culpable be brought to justice;
- That the electoral officers and security personnel who collaborated with the government to trample on the will of citizens be fished out and prosecuted.
- That the provisions of the Electoral Act 2022 be strictly applied by INEC and other relevant authorities to ensure that anyone found to have contravened any of the provisions in relation to the electoral process be brought to book.
- That the provisions of the Electoral Act 2022 be strictly applied in relation to the electoral process with a view to ensuring that a free and fair election is achieved and the vote of the people determines the outcome of the election.
Nevertheless, we commend the resilience and commitment of the electorate who defied all odds, including intimidations to troop out en mass to express their will through the ballot. It is unfortunate that their hope for a credible election was shattered by INEC AND THE GOVERNMENT OF THE STATE.
KARL CHINEDU UCHEGBU