There has been uneasy tension and apprehension in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital, and its neighbouring local government areas as the major political parties- the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressive Congress (APC)- battle for the soul of oil rich state.
Concerns about violence and massive deployment of security personnel created an atmosphere of siege that enveloped the state ahead of today’s governorship election.
The upsurge of violence in the build-up to the election heightened tension across the state, particularly in Nembe, Brass and Southern Ijaw areas.
The two major parties have the most popular candidates and the most followership and observers believe the election is between PDP’s Senator Douye Diri and APC’s Chief David Lyon.
Kogi has also been in apprehensive mood in the last 72 hours preparatory to the election, as fear of violence pervaded the state.
Even though the Ministry of Education had directed all public and private schools to proceed on a public holiday by yesterday, most of the schools had closed down on their own since Wednesday.
Residents of Lokoja, the state capital, were seen travelling in droves to Kogi Central, Kogi East, and Kogi West senatorial districts, where they registered to exercise their franchise.
Most of the major streets experienced very low traffic, except for vehicles conveying security operatives to their various duty posts for the election.
A little kid (name withheld), who is in Primary Three, told The Guardian that on Thursday, he dressed to go to school only to discover that other schools were not opened.
He said he had told his mother to leave the state, as helicopters hovering over Lokoja had been scaring him.
He also complained of gunshot sounds, which wake him up from sleep every night, saying, “it is so terrifying.”
A resident of Gaduma, Hajia Salamatu, was seen moving with her family to Adankola area, where she said her polling unit is situated.
Sequel to today’s epic proxy battle between two familiar foes in Bayelsa, in the persons of Governor Seriake Dickson, who wants to return Diri and Minister of State for Petroleum, Timipre Sylva, who is backing Lyon for the Creek Haven Government House, there have been spates of violent clashes between supporters of both camps at campaign rallies.
The apprehensive mood in the state, caused by the mayhem that took place in Nembe, where over 10 persons reportedly lost their lives, with several others injured or missing, is further heightened by the heavy security presence.
Apart from the over 32, 000 policemen posted to join their colleagues based in the state, men and officers of the Nigeria Army, Nigeria Navy, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) were also seen at strategic points.
There were fears that if not well managed, the election might end up like a war, as both parties were battle-ready to outdo each other in the election.
Unconfirmed reports said both camps might have recruited some former militants who were and are possibly putting together arms and ammunitions to prosecute the election.
Amid the tense situation, over 31, 000 Police personnel have been deployed for the election, including one Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG), 20 Police Service Commission (PSC) officials, 15 Commissioners of Police and three Assistant Commissioners of Police.
The state capital appears to be under siege due to the heavy presence of both police and soldiers.
A resident lamented that the situation had created a siege mentality as though the state was preparing for war.
To contain any eventuality, the state Police Command had put in place a robust deployment of personnel to ensure a peaceful conduct of the polls, warning all political parties and their supporters to desist from engaging in any act of violence capable of disrupting the exercise.
A statement by the Command’s spokesman, Asimin Butswat, further advised them to abide by the peace accord they earlier signed and to cooperate with security agencies, adding: “Security agencies have been ordered to enforce the restriction of movement of boats and all river craft activities in the state waterways from 12 midnight of November 15 to 7:00 pm on November 17.
“Movement of persons, motor vehicles, tricycles, and motorcycles will be restricted from 12:00 midnight of November 15 till the end of the voting exercise. The electorate are advised to come out and exercise their franchise by casting their votes for candidates of their choice,” the statement added.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) began distribution of sensitive materials to various Registration Area Centres (RACs) ahead of the poll as earlier as 7:00am yesterday.
Its officers, party agents, both national and international observers, were spotted very early yesterday at the Yenagoa branch of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to monitor the exercise.
The Resident Electoral Commission (REC), Mr. Monday Udoh, told journalists that INEC was 100 per cent ready to conduct a credible election for the people, saying: “The electorate should be civil, peaceful, conduct themselves well and listen to instructions, especially from the security personnel.”
In Kogi, the REC, Professor James Apam, said he had since overcome the issue of accusations, adding: “I am doing my work and so far, it is fine, we are doing what we are supposed to do. We have trained people; we have sent sensitive materials yesterday to the RACs. We have even moved the excess staff from Lokoja.”
On challenges from the flashpoint zones, he said: “We even have some of our colleagues who came from other states moving round. We have posted them to some of those local governments.”
He insisted that there was no pressure from any quarters.
On hard-to-reach areas, such as Ibaji and those areas that need flying boats for deployment of materials, Apam said the Nigeria Navy was helping out with their boats to back the INEC boat to move staff and materials to those places.
He expressed the hope that the election would be hitch-free based on INECs preparations.
On the alarm raised by the INEC national chairman over the volatile nature of Kogi and Bayelsa States in terms of security and fear pervading the state, INEC National Commissioner in charge of Niger, Kogi and Nasarawa states, Muhammed Haruna, said: “You know usually, the problem is when results start coming in, that is when problem starts, but we hope this time, as everybody has prayed, it would be a different ball game.”
On the claims that INEC was being arm-twisted, he said: “You will always have such accusations, there was a story that I and the governor met somewhere when I have never met the governor, except twice during the stakeholders meeting when we shook hands.
“There was a story that we had already finished everything and the smart card readers were in Hilton Hotel in Abuja. You will hear all manner of things.”
He admonished the electorate to come out en masse and vote, saying: “There are, of course, apprehensions. The tension is there, it is palpable, but if people come out in large numbers, even those who want to perpetrate violence would be afraid.
“It is only when a few people turn up that there would be a problem, so people should come out in their large numbers and vote for whom they want to vote to rule the States.”