24th February, 2012
Although the February 11 governorship election in Bayelsa State has come and gone, the events that led to it cannot be forgotten in a hurry. In fact the prelude to the poll created tension, uncertainties and suspense in President Goodluck Jonathan’s state.
All the gladiators were members of one family, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. The party dumped the former governor of the state, Mr. Timipre Silva, denying him the opportunity to contest its primaries. The governor used all missiles available to him to fight in a prolonged battle that threatened the peace in the state.
Though Silva could not stop the election, he has an impending judgment in the Supreme Court, which is still believed in some quarters to be a threat to the concluded poll. Apart from that, some people had expected the Federal High Court to postpone the election following a suit brought before it by the African Renaissance Party, ARP, against the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
ARP had claimed that INEC excluded its candidate, Mr. Dumbo Hinks, from the ballot, arguing that INEC should make amends before going on with the exercise. But instead of issuing an order stopping the election, the court fixed hearing on the matter for 15 March. A few observers believe that the suit remains a threat to the concluded event.
The election was characterised by apathy and low turnout of voters. Most voters shunned their polling units and went about their normal activities. The indifference was so pronounced that people chose that day to travel out of the state. Most of them believed that the election would not be free and fair, complaining that their votes would not count.
Those who chose not to travel sat in their homes, frustrating the process and keeping electoral officials idle. Unsatisfied with the development, some politicians were reported to have stormed the homes of people, forcing them out to their various polling units.
In fact, the President acknowledged voter apathy shortly after voting in his Otuoke hometown in Ogbia Local Government Area. His Otazi Playground voting unit in Otuabula Ward begged for voters. The turnout was very poor compared to the number voters that thronged the unit during the April 2011 general election. Instead of coming out to vote, the people of Otuoke were seen doing business in their shops.
Accreditation, which was supposed to start at about 8 a.m. began in the unit at 8.30 am as electoral officials waited patiently for voters. In the end, only 124 persons were accredited at the unit that has 875 registered voters. The President, who was accompanied by his wife, Patience, blamed the voter apathy and low turnout on the crisis in the PDP. He observed that the confusion surrounding the election dragged on till a day before the election, leading to speculations that the exercise might not hold.
He said: “For the presidential election, Nigerians in the Diaspora came home and they all voted. General elections always attract that kind of crowd. You know that in Bayelsa State, there have been some challenges as to who the candidate is and who the candidate is not. Bayelsans were confused as to whether the election will go on or whether it will not go on.”
Accreditation was generally reported to have started late in Sagbama Local Government Area where PDP candidate, Mr. Seriake Dickson, cast his ballot. There were also reports of late arrival of materials in most parts of the state as accreditation lasted beyond 12 noon.
Despite the hiccups and lapses recorded in the election, Jonathan was optimistic that Dickson would win. He had said: “I’m a senior PDP member and I’m hopeful that Dickson will win the election.”
Just as the President, who is the godfather said, Mr. Seriake Dickson, had a landslide victory in the political contest that featured 35 candidates. Indeed, INEC result, which was announced by the state Returning Officer and Vice-Chancellor of the Rivers State University, Prof. Joseph Ajienka, showed that there was no contest.
Irrespective of the low turnout of voters, Dickson won with 417,500 votes to beat candidates of three other major parties: the Change Advocacy Party, the Action Congress of Nigeria and the Congress for Progressive Change. Imoru Kubor (CAP) came a distant second with 22,534 votes; Kemela Okara (ACN) was third with 9,627 votes and Famous Daunemugha came fourth after polling 3,545 votes.
But the ACN rejected the result, describing it as a “brazen attempt by the PDP to manipulate the will of the people after the election in the state.” The ACN alleged that the ruling party used what he referred to as digital rigging technique to perpetuate itself in power.
“There was a low turnout of voters on Saturday. We all saw it and it was widely reported. But we don’t know where INEC churned out the figures it used to declare the PDP winner of the election,” he said.
One of the agents of CAP, Mr. Joel Tobunimi, described the figures announced by INEC as magical in view of the turnout of voters during the election. He said the party would take an action after due consultations.
But Dickson has since offered an olive branch to all the candidates who lost in the election, promising to run an all-inclusive government. Despite all his promises to restore the lost glory of the state, pundits believe that the days to come will determine whether the aggrieved candidates have accepted to jump into the restoration train or open a vista of legal tussle that may derail the focus of the new administration.