Charles Okoye, Head of election monitoring in Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Rivers State Office appeared before the Rivers State Governorship election tribunal on Saturday 12th September, 2015 on the strength of a subpoena served on him by the tribunal. Charles said as head of monitoring in Rivers State office of INEC he was the most competent person to speak on what transpired in Rivers State on election day. He simply described the Governorship and House of Assembly election purportedly held on 11th and 12th April in Rivers State as militant terrorism and a charade. Mr. Okoye said his office staff were split into three teams plus observers and monitored elections in 19 of the 23 LGAs of the state.
He said his team monitored the elections with three National Commissioners of INEC and that his team covered 19 out of 23 LGAs of Rivers State. The Head of INEC election monitoring in his words told the tribunal that “during the elections monitoring exercise, what we observed was that the election was a warfare, it was simply militant terrorism and a sham, a kangaroo. It made mockery of democracy” Charles Okoye said.
He narrated how violence crippled the elections and made it impossible for voters to cast their votes.
“Heavy gun shots were fired by militants-youths in many LGAs, killings, intimidation, maiming and snatching electoral materials without any challenge by security officials in the state”. A classical case according to Charles Okoye is the case of Degema LGA, the Electoral Officer received several distress calls that confirmed that there were no elections in 16 wards out of 17 wards in the LGA as materials have been snatched by militant youths from the area.
The Head of the INEC monitoring department said as a result of the violent activities of the militant youths across the state during the election, there was disruption of election in many units, wards, and LGAs and inspite of the election being rescheduled in some wards and LGAs, the election could not succeed as planned because voters were afraid of violence and attacks and stayed away in many LGAs. He told the tribunal that in Abonnema, headquarters of Akukutoru LGA, in most of the polling units in the LGA where the presiding officers are not willing to submit to the directive of agents of a particular party, thugs and hoodlums in company of armed men snatched away the materials and took them to the houses of party chieftains where results were cooked and submitted to INEC. This was not limited to Akukutoru LGA, Asaritoru LGA witnessed similar violence in the election like that of Akukutoru LGA. Shootings by the militants took control of Asaritoru LGA with their boys. An INEC Registration Area Centre was burnt in KNC Buguma and some private houses were razed down as a result of the activities of the militants. Election materials were forcefully taken away to houses of party chieftains in the area and results produced to favour a particular party. The entire LGA was a militant zone without any challenge from the security agencies. After the burning of KNC RAC centre and carting away of materials in Abalama another RAC centre, it became impossible to hold election.
“In Abua/Odual LGA, materials for the election were hijacked and carted away by party agents assisted by armed youths to the homes of party chieftains in the area” Charles said while testifying at the tribunal. The election results were produced and cooked for persons who sponsored the violence. In virtually all the polling units and wards in the area, party thugs carted away result sheets to hidden destination for the falsification of election results. “My team could not visit Odual but reports we received from observer teams confirmed that no form of elections too place there” said Charles. Under cross examination he said he will be embarrassed if anybody can produce results for Abua/Odual LGA.
Narrating his observation in Ahoada East LGA, he said there were sporadic gunshots which scared away voters from polling units and materials carted away to falsify election results for a particular party. Voters were intimidated in areas where our monitors were physically present. It is obvious that there was no intention to hold credible elections in Ahoada East LGA. In many units we visited there were no result sheets and no card reader.
Gokana LGA according to Mr. Okoye was simply a theatre of war as rival cult groups had a field day. In Khana LGA, the situation was more critical than that of Gokana its sister LGA, the EO complained at about 2.30pm that she could not locate any ward that election materials was not been snatched and carted away by party thugs and militants youths operating in the LGA. For two days the result of this LGA could not come to the state collation centre. Eventually in an unexplainable manner results surfaced on Monday, two days after the elections. He said his team encountered a lot of shootings in Zaakpon in Khana LGA.
In Ogu/Bolo LGA, the entrance gate of the LGA was blocked by the men who mounted barricade. “The mobile police men in our escort went to see the army men at a distance to allow us go into the LGA. The army men told them that the order is from above that no one should be allowed to go in and out of the LGA until election was over” said Mr. Okoye. Eventually we were given permission to enter the LGA. We visited the EO who explained that as a result of the failure of the card reader she directed INEC officials to accredit by manual method contrary to the directive of the commission on this issue. We visited two polling units and everywhere was quiet. In one of the units, out of the 360 voters that collected their PVC in the unit, over 300 persons have voted and no person was seen around the polling except INEC officials and PDP party agents. No other party has agent in this area throughout the LGA. We asked about the party agents and the answer we got was even more shocking; all other party agents went to eat, Okoye narrated.
Obio/Akpor LGA the story was not different from what obtained in most of the LGAs in the state. In Ward 19 units 27, 28, 29 no result sheets at the polling units when we visited the area. In Ward 6 with 22 polling units no result sheet was delivered by the SPO to the units and when we reached the EO on phone over the issue he said that he is trying to reach the SPO to know why the situation was so, but the phone was switched off and could not be reached. This appears to be the pattern in the whole of Obio/Akpor LGA said Mr. Okoye.
In Ward 12 and 13, their electoral materials were carted away by party thugs and hoodlums to unknown destinations.
In Ward 15, units 25, 26, 27 there were no INEC officials seen in the units. No materials and only the police were seen hanging around with voters that visited the area to perform their civil duty.
There were shootings, snatching of electoral materials throughout the duration of the election. The entire LGA was ravaged by militant who operated as party thugs. The election in the LGA did not reflect the verdict of the people, as results were cooked to favour a particular party whose candidate is from the area. Some areas in Obio/Akpor was scheduled to hold elections the next day but on Sunday the scene was worse than what happened on Saturday the previous day as people simply stayed away.
In Ward 12 of Ikwerre LGA, most of the polling units materials were snatched away and vandalised by thugs. At Ward 8, materials were hijacked by hoodlums to unknown destination. At Ward 7, the SPO reported being beaten and all the materials for the ward carted away by hoodlums. The security operatives could not protect the personnel and materials for the election in Ikwerre LGA. This is despite the fact that the outgoing Governor of the state is from this LGA.
In Etche LGA, the EO complained that the materials for Wards 7, 8, 10, 13, 15 and 17 have been snatched away by party thugs at the Super RAC in the LGA. At Ward 6 in the LGA, shooting was going on and somebody was shot dead. The party thugs formed a barricade in the area brandishing guns to prevent people from coming close to the polling units where manipulation of the process was on going. Etche LGA is a classical example of a place where no meaningful election took place.
Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni LGA, one person was shot dead and another wounded in the leg during the election in Ward 6 and Ward 1 respectively. Snatching and carting of materials and result sheets were reported in this LGA. Our monitors who went round the LGA were embarrassed on the level of impunity. Our monitors could not confirm 3 units where elections took place. It was one tale after another said Okoye.
In Oyigbo, Phalga, Ahoada West, Andoni and Bony LGAs, the story is the same. The election in these LGAs were characterised by violence, shooting, snatching and hijacking of materials, cooking up of results. The election was filled with impunity and large scale malpractices, thumb printing of ballot papers. It was a reign of the militant terrorism. Figures were allocated to parties in the election.
Charles Okoye concluded “from our monitoring assignment, election in Rivers State on 11th and 12th April, 2015 was a mockery of democracy, a sham, a charade”.