In this report, ANAYO ONUKWUGHA takes a look at how the keenly contested Rivers State governorship election was won and lost
At about 5:30pm on Wednesday, April 3, 2019, the Rivers State Governorship Election Returning Officer, Professor Teddy Adias, declared Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) winner of the March 9 Governorship election in the state.
Wike won in 19 out of the 21 local government areas collated by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) with a total of 886,264 votes, to defeat his closest rival and governorship candidate of the African Action Alliance (AAC), Biokpomabo Festus Awara, who garnered 173,769 votes, winning in two local government areas of the state.
INEC had declared that elections did not take place in two local government areas of the state, including Gokana and Abua/Odual.
The collation and declaration of the results of governorship election, which came about three weeks after the exercise was suspended as a result of violence, was done within two days, contrary to the dictates of the timeline released by the commission.
Also, INEC ended up collating results from 21 local government areas in the state, which was contrary to its earlier statement that it had collated results from 17 local government areas of the state only.
According to the INEC timeline, which was issued on March 20, 2019 and signed National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, resumption of collation and announcement of results will hold from April 2 to April 5 in Port Harcourt.
The timeline stated that supplementary elections would be held where necessary while the announcement of results of such elections would be announced between April 13 and April 15, 2019.
Speaking during a stakeholders meeting ahead of resumption of the collation exercise, INEC Administrative Secretary in Rivers State, Etim Umoh, said the commission was in possession of collated results of the March 9 election from 17 local government areas in the state.
Umoh listed the local government areas to include; Ahoada-East, Akuku-Toru, Bonny, Obio-Akpor, Ogba-Egbema-Ndoni, Opobo/Nkoro, Ogu/Bolo, Ikwerre, Emohua, Okrika, Oyigbo, Eleme, Andoni, Omuma, Tai, Etche and Port Harcourt City.
He said collation of results will take place in six local government areas, including: Abua-Odual, Asari-Toru, Gokana, Ahoada-West, Khana and Degema.
From March 10, 2019 when INEC announced the suspension of the entire process in Rivers State, no day passed without one group or the other protesting in favour or against officials of the commission in the state, especially the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Obo Effanga and the Administrative Secretary, Umoh.
Within the period, several Non Governmental Organisations and civil society groups showed up, organising press conferences and protests either in support of the AAC or the PDP.
The Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC) and the Coalition of Governorship Candidates and Party Chairmen (CGCPC) played active roles within this period defending Wike and the PDP and Awara and the AAC respectively.
While IPAC led by Precious Baridoo called for the resumption of collation of results and the declaration of the PDP candidate as governor-elect, the CGCPC led by the candidate of the Advanced Peoples Democratic Alliance (APDA), Warigbani Ezekiel, called for the outright cancellation of the process.
The position of the CGCPC was collaborated by the leadership of Action Democratic Party (ADP), the Accord Party and the All Progressives Congress (APC), whose leader in the state, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi adopted the candidature of Awara.
However, the demand for the cancellation of the governorship election, which gathered momentum considering the number of protests and press conferences held to support, crumbled barely 24 hours to the resumption of the INEC National Commissioner incharhe of Bayelsa, Edo and Rivers States, May Agbamuche-Mbu ruled put fresh elections in the state.
Agbamuche-Mbu, who disclosed this while speaking at the stakeholders meeting said: “The main objective of this meeting is to brief you on the schedule of activities and timeline, set by the commission for the conclusion of the Governorship and State House of Assembly elections, and to solicit for your maximum cooperation towards the success of this exercise.
“It is also to generate discussions among the stakeholders, with a view to achieving transparent, peaceful and violence-free conclusion of the elections, within the timeline set by the commission.
“I want to use this opportunity to appeal to the good people of Rivers State, our traditional rulers, market women, youths, leaders and members of political parties in the state, including the candidates in the elections and all other stakeholders to allow peace to reign in the state before, during and after the activities outlined for the conclusion of the elections by the commission.
“We do not have any other state, apart from Rivers State, to call our own. Let us join hands together to make Rivers State even greater. On the part of the commission, I wish to assure you of our commitment to free, fair and credible elections. We intend to keep these promises. May God, in His kindness, grant Rivers State perpetual peace.”
The suspension of the entire process in the state, including the blockade of a stretch of the Aba Road caused a lot of hardship on residents of Port Harcourt. No wonder, the whole city erupted in jubilation when INEC finally declared a winner of the governorship election.
To Wike, he dedicated his reelection victory to the people of Rivers State, saying that he was overwhelmed by the total support and love they displayed during and after the general elections.
The governor, who also dedicated the victory to God, expressed gratitude to the people for standing by the PDP despite the illegal actions of the enemies of democracy.
He said: “I want to thank the people of Rivers State for showing the kind of love we have never seen before. I thank them for showing the kind of support we have never seen before.”
The governor thanked PDP members for their show of courage, despite intimidation by security operatives who illegally wanted to change the will of Rivers people.
He said: “Those who died not because they were criminals, but because they wanted to defend their votes. We dedicate this victory to God those who were killed.
“They protected our votes and they defended us. We pray God to grant their families the strength to bear the losses. We shall continue to support the families.”
Wike stated that he will run an inclusive government, which will accommodate all shades of interest.
The governor said: “We have no other state . You may have mansions elsewhere, but there is no place like home. We must come together and build our state.
“We must make the state move forward. We must not continue to de-market the state. I cannot stay beyond 2023, but Rivers State will continue to be. If you believe you are from Rivers State, end this now.”
He extended a hand of fellowship to his opponents, saying that nobody won or lost, but Rivers people won.
Wike stated that the struggle to stop collation was so vicious that it continued till the end of the collation, saying: “We will not disappoint the PDP. We will not disappoint Rivers people. We shall continue to serve.
“If anybody does anything contrary as a member of the House of Assembly, House of Representatives, Senate, the blood of those who died will visit them. I will never betray PDP.
The governor thanked INEC and the Police for working in line with the tenets of the electoral act.
But, to the AAC governorship candidate, Awara, he would be heading to the State House of Assembly and Governorship Election Petition Tribunal to challenge the declaration of Wike as winner of the March 9 election.
Awara, has said that he would be heading to the State House of Assembly and Governorship Election Petition Tribunal to challenge the declaration of Wike as winner of the March 9 election.
He disclosed that he is already looking forward to an appearance before the Tribunal with his petition to “recover my stolen mandate.” He said that his victory was “stolen” and given to Wike. Though he declined much comments on the development, the AAC governorship candidate said he won the election as early results declared by Collation Officers in about 7 local government areas showed.
The candidate would not speak on how soon he will be approaching the Tribunal expected to sit in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja. However, the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) gives prospective election petitioners 21 days to file petitions before tribunals.
Meanwhile, Prince Tonye Princewill, a chieftain of the APC, described the results of the governorship election held in the state on March 9 as released INEC, as the most violated since 2007.
Princewill, who is the Director of Strategic Communication and Publicity of the Tonye Cole Campaign Organization, recounted how, in the elections in 2007 and 2015, in which he ran as candidate, respectively, figures as votes cast were merely allocated to candidates irrespective of how voters made their choices.
He, however, said that when compared with what happened in 2007 and 2015, the 2019 abuse of the result for the governorship election in Rivers stands as a “blatant one.”
Princewill stated that the level of impunity displayed by the INEC, and other alleged collaborators, however not named, has motivated him to join in seeking justice for Rivers people.
The APC chieftain said: “I have been the victim of written results on three occasions in my political life. First in 2007 when I ran for Governor, second in 2015, when I ran again and the third time is now, when I didn’t even run. Compared to the others, this blatant one has simply motivated me. None of us will rest on this one, not until justice is done.”
Princewill vowed that justice would be done to Rivers people even as he accused the unnamed persons of murdering sleep.
He said: “My message to you is “Fiat justitia ruat caelum (Let justice be done though the heavens fall) and I say it in Latin so the people who took their time to disenfranchise us can also take their time to remember it, especially those in INEC. You have just murdered sleep and asked us to go to hell. We have heard you. You too will hear from us soon.”