The All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Rivers State Government have been trading blames over the suspension of Saturday’s by-election for Port Harcourt III Constituency.
The election was meant to fill the vacancy created in the state House of Assembly when the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) member who represented the constituency resigned to contest the for the mayor of Port Harcourt, which he won.
The PDP, which is the ruling party in the state, has been in a fierce, and oftentimes bloody, political battle with the APC which controls the government at the centre.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), while announcing the suspension of voting on Saturday, said there was widespread violence and ballot-stealing by “miscreants and hoodlums accompanied by heavily armed security personnel in uniform”.
The commission said many of its officials were manhandled, injured, and held hostage.
Few hours after the suspension, the APC issued a statement blaming the Rivers State Government for the election violence.
“In the full view of the general public, the Chief Security Officer (CSO) to Gov. Nyesom Wike led armed policemen attached to the Government House to assault innocent APC party agents and supporters, snatch electoral sensitive materials and generally disrupt the bye-election with a view to rigging the process in favour of the PDP candidate or in some cases prevent lawful voters from exercising their franchise,” the APC spokesperson in the state, Chris Finebone, said in the statement.
Mr Finebone, however, in another statement said the APC was disappointed with “the hasty decision” of INEC to suspend the election.
He said, “The APC views the wording of the memo suspending the PHALGA 3 bye-election as substantially mendacious, unnecessarily alarmist and generally convoluted with sinister innuendos by the author in a way that does not represent an accurate assessment of the process so far.
“We hope that INEC will not be misled to derail or embark on a line of action that will leave her with a legal bad nose. This will neither be to the benefit of INEC nor the system in any way.”
The Rivers government on the hand is accusing the APC of being behind the election violence.
The state governor, Nyesom Wike, said on Sunday in a statewide broadcast, “while voting was underway, armed thugs from the APC led by the state’s factional chairman, Mr. Flag Ojukaye Amachree moved freely from one polling unit to the other, violently assaulted voters as well as INEC officials and carted away election materials, including smart card readers and ballot boxes.
“Flag Amachree and his gang of thugs successfully disrupted the elections in nearly all the 142 units of the constituency, thereby disenfranchising the electorates.”
Mr Wike alleged that those whom he said disrupted the election were protected by “heavily armed Police operatives from the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (F-SARS) and the Inspector General of Police’s Monitoring Unit”.
He said Rivers people have lost confidence in the ability of the police to stay impartial in future elections in the state.
“If the Nigerian Police cannot secure and guarantee the peaceful and successful conduct of election in a single State Constituency of 8 wards, then what will happen in 2019 when they would be contending with 319 electoral wards and 4442 polling units across 23 Local Government Areas of the state?
“Against the backdrop, it is up to the people of Rivers State to choose the option that will serve their interest,” the governor said.
The Commissioner for Information in the state, Emma Okah, while supporting the governor’s position on the issue, told PREMIUM TIMES that there was no way PDP would have disrupted an election they “vigorously” campaigned and were sure of victory.
The police spokesperson in Rivers State, Nnamdi Omoni, told PREMIUM TIMES, Sunday evening, that the commissioner of police would be issuing a statement on the allegation by Governor Wike that the police aided the APC to disrupt the election.
Meanwhile, the APC is calling on INEC to “swiftly” conclude the election and declare the winner, while the state government is against the release of the results of the suspended election.
“It will be strange for anybody in his right senses to support the release of results in an election that can best be described as broad daylight robbery by the APC and Nigeria police. The INEC and independent observers are all in agreement that there was no election and so there is nothing to declare,” the information commissioner, Mr Okah said.