By Amgbare Ekaunkumo, Yenagoa
Ahead of the November 16 governorship election in Bayelsa State, a call has gone to political parties and other stakeholders involved in the election to ensure that the forthcoming poll is peaceful and violence free.
The National Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu made the call at a stakeholders meeting in Yenagoa convened to discuss issues bothering on peaceful conduct of the poll.
According to Prof. Yakubu, Bayelsa and kogi States are major elections for INEC to conduct this year, saying that is why INEC is breaking from it’s tradition by holding the meeting with stakeholders one month to the election instead of a few days to the election.
He disclosed that 45 political parties are fielding candidates for the governorship election as against 20 political parties that fielded candidates in 2015, adding that the purpose for convening the meeting was to assure of the commission readiness to conduct a free, fair and credible election.
He said, “We want to assure all stakeholders that the commission is committed to a free and fair process. We shall maintain our integrity and I have said over and over and I wouldn’t be tired of repeating myself that INEC is not a political party. We have no candidate in the Bayelsa state election.
“The smart card readers will be deployed as usual but learning from the experience in 2019, we have ample arrangement including getting additional smart card readers from one of the neighboring state to be used for training. All non sensitive materials for the election have been delivered to Bayelsa State. The only material outstanding is the sensitive materials which we normally deliver close to the election.
“However, we have a few areas of concern that I want to share with the stakeholders. Number one is the actions and utterances likely to lead to violence during electioneering campaign, during voting on election day and during collation of results and declaration.
“Let me remind candidates and their supporters that attack on commission officials at the polling units or through the collation processes will this time attract sanctions. We will not tolerate attack on INEC officials to force them make a declaration and once we receive that report that the declaration was made under duress by the officers we have appointed then we will issue the certificate of return.
“We have promised Nigerians that the polling units will be open by 8am. If the officials are way laid then we can’t get to the polling units by 8am and that is why we are appealing to all stakeholders most especially the political actors and their supporters to ensure that you call your supporters to order to enable us deliver the election materials in good time.
“Our third concern is the voters inducement including the phenomenal called vote buying on the election day. This is not a good commentary on our elections. Please let’s respect the will of the people”.
In his address, the Resident Electoral Commissioner, Bayelsa State, Pastor Monday Udom Tom said the Voter Education Department of the commission has been involved in massive sensitization of the electorate particularly those at the grassroots to desist from selling their votes.
He said, “One area that gives me a lot of concern is the issue of void votes. The Voter Education Department is working round the clock to reduce or eliminate this mistake by voters. This is where your responsibility comes in as stakeholders; please enlighten your constituents, members and voters on how to fix their thumb print mark on the ballot paper.
“Still on the issue of sensitization, ADR Directorate has engaged traditional rulers and influential persons in Bayelsa State on mitigation of violence, hate speech and vote buying. The department has also made arrangements to engage the youths and religious leaders of the state.
“On the issue of logistics, he said, “The office is working towards early arrival of man and materials at the polling units. To this end, it has been resolved that materials shall be deployed from the state office to the Registration Areas Centres. Due to the early arrival of the non-sensitive materials, batching has been carried out by the electoral officers for ease of distribution”.
Meanwhile, the stakeholders meeting convened by INEC ended abruptly following a shouting match between chieftains of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The presence of the INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu and Inspector General of Police, Muhammad Adamu represented by the Deputy Inspector General of Police, Abdulmajeed Ali did not deter the party elders from engaging in verbal exchange causing commotion and rowdiness in the hall.
Trouble started when the Chairman of the PDP Bayelsa Elders Forum, Dr. Francis Duokpola, alleged that some persons were chased out of their community and made to live in Yenagoa as Internally-Displaced Persons (IDPs) after the last general elections in the state.
He said: “We are busy talking about 2015 elections and we forgot that we had an election in 2019. The presidential and national assembly elections in the state was one of the worst elections organised by INEC.
“Because of that elections part of a community is living in Internally Displaced Camp( IDP) because they do not belong to a particular Party which INEC has not done anything about it. I am talking of the people of Nembe Bassambiri”
But a stalwart of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Dr. Dennis Otiotio, immediately interjected, shouted Duokpola down and called him a liar.
Other APC leaders in the hall joined Otiotio to refer to Duokpola as a liar alleging that he belonged to partisan elders destroying the state.
Mahmood, who was disappointed at the development, called for vote of thanks and the national anthem to end the programme.