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Rivers: When inspection of election materials turned bloody

The quest to obtain the Certified True Copy, (CTC) of the released results of the just concluded governorship election in Rivers State by the governorship…

The quest to obtain the Certified True Copy, (CTC) of the released results of the just concluded governorship election in Rivers State by the governorship candidate of the APC, Pastor Tonye Cole, turned bloody on Monday in Port Harcourt as supporters of the ruling PDP and opposition APC clashed, resulting in many getting injured. 

PDP supporters were said to have invaded the road leading to the INEC office with masquerade and dance troupes singing war songs that scared many residents and passersby away.

On Monday, when the protest started, scores were injured, including one person hit by a stray bullet, during the clash that ensued between supporters of the two leading political parties along Aba Road leading to the headquarters of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Port Harcourt.

The governorship candidate of the APC, Tonye Cole, who had led other officials of the party to the INEC office, reportedly escaped a mob attack as he was whisked away from the scene. He was said to have sustained a slight injury to his back.

Before Cole and his group proceeded to the INEC office, over 1000 members of the PDP were said to have stormed the office as early as 8am asking the commission to allow a joint inspection of election materials by political parties ahead of the election petition tribunal sitting.

The protest paralysed vehicular movement from the Waterlines axis through to the GRA stretch of Aba Road in Port  Harcourt, forcing motorists to divert to other routes to beat the choking traffic.

Some INEC staff were forced to return home because of the protest, while those who came early remained inside the office, with the entrance barricaded by armed operatives.  

Our reporter, who was at the scene of Monday’s melee, reports that while the PDP protests festered, Cole in company of the State APC chairman, Emeka Beke, and other party leaders, showed up at the GRA axis of Aba Road and was proceeding to the INEC office when the protesters sighted him.

On hearing that Cole was at the GRA junction, the protesting youths raced in his direction, hurling stones and water sachets at him.

Security operatives attached to Cole immediately shielded him and whisked him into a vehicle, but the protesters continued throwing water sachets at the vehicle.

Within seconds, soldiers of the 6 Division, Nigerian Army, Port Harcourt, operatives of the Nigeria Police and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps arrived and shot into the air to disperse the protesters.

Cole said he and other members of the APC were assaulted, and some sustained injuries, while on their way to the INEC office to inspect CTC materials.

He alleged that PDP protesters accosted him at the GRA junction and prevented him from proceeding to the INEC office.

The APC governorship candidate alleged that two of his vehicles were damaged by the protesters, pointing out that there was no clash, but that he and his party men were assaulted.

He described the action of the protesters, whom he referred to as thugs, as a deliberate act to stop the party from inspecting INEC documents needed to challenge the March 18 poll at the election petition tribunal.

“There was no clash between members of the APC and PDP.  There was an assault on myself, my party chairman and the woman leader, who were going peacefully to collect documents from INEC.

“We were not allowed to get anywhere near the INEC office. This was a deliberate act to prevent us from going to get fundamental materials critical to our petition.

“All we are interested in is to go to the tribunal. You say you have won, allow us to go to the tribunal to prove that you did not win,” he said. 

The chairman of Ikwerre LGA and one of the leaders of the PDP protesters, Dr Samuel Nwanosike, said INEC should give all political parties equal opportunities to inspect the electoral materials.

He said: “We are putting other political parties on notice. Rivers people have decided to keep watch in this INEC headquarters.

“We are aware that results have been uploaded on IReV. We are aware that the certified true copies of all the polling unit result sheets are in INEC.

“Like they did in 2019 when policemen were writing a different result sheets to smuggle into INEC offices. Never again will it happen. We will not leave this place. We will be here every day until the right thing is done.

“It must be a joint inspection because a man who is coming to equity must come with clean hands.

“Inspection must be done jointly so that we watch each other. We have won the election and the world has seen it and we will defend it with our blood.”

Reacting to the incident, the INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner, Dr Johnson Alalibo Sinikiem, said application for certified true copies of documents and access for inspection of election materials are the legitimate entitlement of candidates and parties to election petitions.

He said the issuance of CTC  was governed by processes and procedures which include payment of requisite fees, making copies/photocopies of relevant documents and certification by the authorised official of the commission. 

He said, “The commission has received nearly 50 of these applications since the conclusion of the presidential, National Assembly, governorship and state assembly elections and a good number of these applications have been processed in accordance with the date of receipt of such applications and payment of certification fees. This process is still ongoing.

“The commission has also advised all applicants to visit our local government offices where these documents are domiciled for inspection while we work out modalities for inspection of other documents domiciled at the state office. But they insisted that the huge volumes of documents like ballot papers be brought to the state office. 

“The management of INEC in Rivers State, therefore, wishes to assure all applicants and the general public that the commission is committed to discharging its constitutional and lawful duties without preferences or bias, and do request the co-operation and understanding of all parties and the general public to enable us to serve you better.”

The Rivers State Police Command Public Relations Officer, SP Grace Iringe Koko, was yet to comment on the matter. 

A Port Harcourt-based political analyst, Cyprian Okechukwu, said every political party has the right to ask for CTC of election results.

He said that issue of collection of CTC of election results would not have escalated into violence if the politicians involved were not suspicious of themselves.

“What led to this crisis is the suspicion among the political class. The quest by the APC governorship candidate to get the true certified copy for the election results is more than what the eye can see.

“The governorship candidate may have had privileged information on what transpired at INEC and wanted to get the materials himself.

“There is rumour that INEC is still uploading results in IReV even when election has been concluded. So he might have had privileged information on this and decided to nip the plot in the bud,” he said.

 

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