IDEAS Radio 5th April 2019 

Rotimi Sankore.  So, on the Ideas segment today, with Ayo Obe, we are looking at the developments in Rivers State where the last of the gubernatorial elections for the 2019 election cycle is going on, and the collation of results recommenced on the 2nd of April, and INEC says this will run until the 5th, and that if there are any supplementary elections to be held, that will take place on the 13th.  So with Ayo Obe on the IDEAS segment we are looking at the integrity of the process, to try and establish what exactly is happening in Rivers State.  Welcome Ayo.

Ayo Obe: Hello Rotimi.  Well, I have to say that for … unless one is actually on the ground  and quite frankly, even if one is on the ground, I think it’s very very difficult to separate the truth from the fiction from the exaggeration from the fears and from the partisan interests that this election in a way personifies.  It’s the … it’s almost the epitome of what ought not to happen in an election, so far, and the question is whether INEC and the various government agencies, particularly the security forces, are going to be able to redeem themselves by the conclusion of this process.  But at the moment, the integrity of the process is open to a lot of question, and it’s … the questions come from all sides.

RS: Well, let’s look at the big issues first.  I mean, the very first being, the process was halted because there were questions about the integrity of the elections in Rivers State.  Would you say …

AO: Well, well, I wouldn’t …  I mean, apart from issues of attacks by thugs at polling stations and so on, I wouldn’t say that it was because of the … it was specifically halted because of the complaint that the collation centres had been invaded by members of the Armed Forces, the Nigerian Army.  So that was actually what led to the suspension of the collation. And of course, since then, INEC has come out with a report in which it talked of the collation, certain collation centres, not all collation centres, but some collation centres being invaded by members of the Armed Forces and armed gangs.

RS: Well to quote the INEC report, two four, it says quote: “The collation centres were invaded by some soldiers and armed gangs resulting in the intimidation and unlawful arrest of election officials, thereby disrupting the collation process.”

AO: Yes, you see I think that INEC has avoided being specific, because the Nigerian Army put out a reply in which they expressed a great deal of hurt and disappointment that …

RS: Well, they said they felt “betrayed by INEC”, to quote the Army statement.

AO: Yes.  Well, that was what they expressed hurt and disappointment because according to them, INEC had not taken account of the fact that thugs had invaded the collation centres, and also the claim that the Governor himself, accompanied by members of his own security detail, had also gone to the collation centres.  You know it’s a standing situation that politicians who are involved in elections must not go with armed security details to … So that, so they … that was their position, and they … and so that it’s – the reason why I say that the arguments come from all sides it’s not clear then, whether the police were there, were the police there as the Police, or were the police there as the security … the security detail attached to the Governor?  Where did the armed gangs come from, and in response to whom was the Army going to the collation centres?

RS: Okay, so INEC says they didn’t invite the Army, and complains that, they complain about the “unlawful arrest of election officials that disrupted the collation process”.  That unlawful arrest being referred to the soldiers.

AO: Oh, I didn’t understand it like that.  I felt that they were being a bit careful about talking about unlawful arrest.

RS: No, no, they said … yes, because the armed thugs didn’t arrest the election officials according to the INEC statement, they were arrested by “some soldiers”.  So, they didn’t say “The Army”. They said “some soldiers”.

AO: Yes, I think that this is the … this is why I said that if you’re not on the ground, it’s very difficult to know where the truth of everything lies, because it’s the … the collating election officials should certainly … whether or not there is violence, they should certainly not be the ones  to whom, against whom any arrest is directed. If there are armed thugs, even if INEC didn’t invite the Army to come in, the Army coming in would be to deal with the armed thugs, not to deal … 

RS: Not to arrest the election officials

AO: … with the INEC officials.  Exactly.

RS: So, and that’s why INEC, well they haven’t issued a written statement, but they are a bit … 

AO: Well, I don’t think that INEC would be … I mean I appreciate that the Army has made its own statement, but I think that it would be unrealistic and in fact it would not be conducive for, to the … even to the peace of the electoral process, let alone the integrity, for INEC to now start responding to the Armed Forces and …

RS: Yes, so that’s the point I was going to make, that INEC has not done a written rejoinder to Army, specifically the 6th Division of the Nigerian Army, because the Army statement did not come from the Defence Headquarters; it came from the 6th Division of the Nigeria Army, and their spokesperson said they observed with “dismay and a sense of betrayal”, the statement made by INEC.  But since INEC underlined that they suspended collation because some soldiers arrested INEC officials, is that a suggestion that members of the Armed Forces undermined the integrity of the process by stopping the INEC officials from completing their task?

AO: I think this is actually the problem, and that’s why I said that if the Army was responding, or even soldiers were responding to the violence …

RS: An invitation …

AO: … violence, then the people who were violent would be the ones who would be arrested whether the INEC felt it was lawful of not.  But, what you have is a situation where the national leadership of the security agencies have a stance of impartiality and so on. But the truth is that within Rivers State there are some people striking out on their own, or taking action not necessarily with the authorisation, or the official authorisation of their superiors, but nonetheless appearing in the garb of their security agency and then taking action.  And when election results, the collation is suspended because the people who are doing the collating are taken away, then that is going to obviously affect the coherence of the electoral process.

RS: So in terms of big picture, a lot of commentators and observers have said that the crisis in Rivers essentially boils down to a conflict between the sitting Governor and … Governor Wike, and the Transport Minister … 

AO: The former Governor Rotimi Amaechi.

RS: … who is also the former Governor.  The … In Rivers State APC does not have a candidate.

AO: Yes.

RS:  So most people would wonder: Well, so what’s the interest of the APC?

AO: Well, I think that one should, one can go with the official stance of the APC which was declared by the Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, where he says that: “We don’t have a candidate and neither are we supporting the candidate of the African Action Congress.”  Which … but the fact is that within the state there’s no doubt that the APC members have decided to throw their weight behind the AAC candidate, and therefore, while the party at this official level may have a level of deniability … 

RS: That is the APC?

AO:  The APC, the activities going in the state mean that the APC in the state is very much invested in the candidate who is opposing the PDP candidate, which is the Governor.  

RS: OK.

AO: And that is because, I mean it goes back to the situation in 2014 frankly, or even before then, when the then Governor Rotimi Amaechi who was a PDP member, and was chairman of the Governors’ Forum, had a falling out which for one reason or the other led to his eventual decamping to the APC, and thereafter a candidate of the APC ran.  And normally Rivers State is a solidly PDP state, even though, we who … if you look at national elections, you will always say that the numbers coming in national elections are always coming in to … from the creeks and all sorts of curious places, to boost the total for the PDP side or in the … or its predecessor parties, if I can call them that.  But at the state level it’s more important than just offering some extra numbers, because it goes to the control of the state, and as you know, Rivers State is one of the three big, the three tripods if we look at them in terms of numbers, Lagos, Kano being the others.

RS: Yes, I was going to ask this question, that: Can this conflict just be said to be between Amaechi and Wike?  Or is it also because Rivers State, some people would argue, is the economic and commercial hub of the South South, and therefore whoever is in control of affairs in Rivers State not only controls a considerable amount of resources, but has a considerable amount of influence in the South South?

AO: Yes, I mean definitely the contest may look as if it is confined to just Amaechi and Wike  and that’s because Amaechi is now the main figure from the ruling APC at the federal level.

RS: The DG of the presidential campaign, no less!

AO: Exactly.  But at the state level  they don’t have a contest, but nonetheless, they want, the APC wants to have influence.  And quite frankly, APC opened its flank and left itself in a situation where it was not able to field candidates.  And that in itself showed that the influence of the Federal Government on the Independent National Electoral Commission was not as great as some had imagined it to be.  Certainly the APC had not been able to persuade INEC to okay whatever candidate it put forward for the election, for the contest. But the point is that after that break with the PDP it now became clear that it would no longer be just a smooth ride to  power for the Peoples’ Democratic Party, and right from 2014, there had been a lot of violence between the two parties, between supporters of the two parties in Rivers State, and in fact there was, after the 2015 elections which were won by the PDP in the state, but Governor Rotimi Amaechi of the APC was still in power at that time, he established a  Commission of Inquiry, in which I participated which was chaired by Professor Chidi Odinkalu, and that detailed and noted the large number deaths, election-related deaths that had occurred in the state, and made recommendations about what should be done if this kind of violence was not to be repeated in future. Various recommendations, but certainly the importance of bringing to book every person who was found to have offended, and this was not done.  And of course immediately after, or shortly after the report was submitted, the new PDP government of Governor Nyesom Wike took over and immediately binned the report. So that by the time Rivers State was to have fresh elections, even in 2017, the contest between the two was very much on the ground, trying, APC trying to get a foothold in the state, and in fact, at that time the former Governor,, Rotimi Amaechi complained that the Commissioner of Police in the State was in the pocket of the Governor, or was … on the … and therefore, that  if you saw the Army it was because they were needed to counteract the behaviour of the police.

RS: So, on a final note, can we then say that one of the issues or factors that has compromised or undermined the integrity of the process in Rivers, is the use of the Police or … 

AO: … the Army

RS: … and/or soldiers by both sides such that even INEC officials are being arrested by one side, and the collation process being suspended until such a time that a truce apparently has been arranged and they are now recommencing …

AO: Well, yes, I mean I think we can say definitely, obviously the integrity and as I said, the coherence of the process has been badly affected.  But I think also that we have to recognise that the … that there’s a possibility now for all parties to redeem themselves; the INEC, the Police, members of the Armed Forces who really are not supposed to have any role in the election process unless they are invited, but also for the people who have been taking up arms to disrupt voting and snatching ballot boxes and so on and so forth.  So it’s a test, but so far, in terms of Integrity, it’s been the poster boy for much that is wrong in the Nigerian electoral system.

RS: Thank you Ayo Obe for that wonderful discussion on what’s happening in Rivers.

AO: You’re welcome Rotimi.  I just want to urge our listeners to please check us out on our website at www.ideasradio.ng and also to please follow us on Twitter.

RS: Thank you.

AO: See you next week!