|An APC Supporter killed during the April election in Rivers State|
The Nigerian Army again on Thursday told the Rivers State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Abuja how the April 11, 2015 governorship election was aborted by the snatching of electoral materials and sporadic shootings in four local government areas in the state.
Four officers who appeared before the tribunal on Thursday on the strength of the subpoena served on the Chief of Army Staff, Maj. Gen. Tukur Buratai, said they led separate army patrol troops in Abua/Odual, Ikwerre, Gokana and Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni local government areas of the state during the election.
The witnesses were Capt. Sadiq Abubakar (leader of the patrol troops in Abual/Odua); Capt. Fred Bala (leader of the patrol troops in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni), Capt. Isa Al-Makura, (leader of the troops in Ikwerre) and Capt. Jeremiah Salihu (leader of the troops in Gokana).
The subpoena served on the Chief of Army Staff was obtained from the tribunal by the All Progressives Congress and its candidate in the election, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, who are challenging the declaration of Governor Nyesom Wike of the Peoples Democratic Party as the winner of the poll.
The witnesses testified before the Justice Mohammed Ambrosa-led tribunal on Thursday, painting pictures of a tense environment ignited by sporadic shootings with the poll aborted by widespread hijacking of electoral before accreditation of voters could commence in most of the polling units in their areas.
They maintained during a cross-examination by the counsel for the respondents – Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN) for the Independent National Electoral Commission; Mr. Emmanuel Ukala (SAN) for Wike and Mr. Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN) representing the PDP – that there was no evidence of conduct of election in their various areas on April 11.
Earlier on Wednesday, another army officer, Capt. Garba Sani, who led an army patrol in Tai Local Government Area during the election, appeared before the tribunal on the strength of the subpoena served on the Chief of Army Staff, testifying that election did not hold in the entire area on April 11.
With the army officers’ appearance at the tribunal, the petitioners at the end of the Thursday hearing had called 39 witnesses.
The army officers who were led in evidence by their lawyers, Chief Akin Olujinmi (SAN) and Chief Niyi Akintola (SAN), denied the allegations levelled against them by the respondents’ lawyers that they appeared before the tribunal in order to help the APC.
Capt. Al-Makura, who patrolled Ikwerre LGA with 30 soldiers, said he visited all the parts of the area, including Omerelu, Ubima, Apani, Alu, Ozuaha and Isokpo, the local government headquarters, and never noticed anywhere where voting took place on the election day.
He said, “In Ozuaha, roads were barricaded and on sighting our patrol vehicles the hoodlums who mounted the barricade ran into the bush. We received calls and on getting to some polling units, the INEC ad hoc staff told us that some hoodlums beat them, collected electoral materials and ran away.
“I never saw any election taking place in any of the wards.”
Capt. Salihu of Port Harcourt Barracks, who said he patrolled Gokana LGA with 24 soldiers, also said no election took place in the area on April 11.
He said, “In the course of my patrol, I received a call from a primary school in Mogoh. On getting there, there was shooting from across the fence. We responded and the shooters were shooting as they withdrew. We were able to pull out the INEC permanent and ad hoc staff and took them to INEC office.”
Capt. Abubakar of Bori Camp, Port Harcourt, who said he led 20 soldiers in his patrol team in Abua/Odual LGA testified on Thursday that he kept receiving calls regarding hijacking of election materials from various polling units.
He said, though he and his men could not get to the Odual part of the LGA because of the difficult terrain, elections did not hold in all the parts of Abual area which they patrolled.
He said, “I received calls from INEC staff that their electoral materials had been hijacked by hoodlums. We kept receiving such calls and we tried our best to retrieve the materials but we could not.
“We received a distress call from Okana. Close to their town hall, we rescued some indigenes and we took them to police station.”
Captain Bala, who said he had been deployed in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni LGA since January 2015 because of prevalent cult activities in the area, testified that electoral materials were snatched from INEC ad hoc staff shortly after they were disbursed at the INEC office located in the local government headquarters in Omoku on the day before the election.
The witness, who was deployed from 101 Batallion in Giwa Barracks in Maiduguri, Borno State said, “On that same day, we started hearing gunshots in the town. I had to deploy my men to see if we could arrest those who were firing. At Okiri Street to be precise, we picked 13 shells on the ground.
“In the morning of the election, there were still gunshots at the local government headquarters. There was distribution of electoral materials at the INEC office but I can tell you that before they got to their destinations, they were hijacked.”
The hearing continues on Friday (today).