The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum has expressed deep worry over the turn of events in Rivers State over the gubernatorial and House of Assembly elections held on the 9th of March, 2019 which have now been suspended by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) indefinitely.
The forum in a statement signed by Chief E K Clark -PANDEF Leader, Chief Ayo Adebanjo-for Afenifere Leader, Chief John Nwodo – President General Ohanaeze and Dr. Pogu Bitrus, President -Middle Belt Forum quoted Mr. Festus Okoye, INEC National Commissioner as saying,” :”Initial reports suggest that violence occurred in substantial number of polling units and collation centres; staff have been taken hostage and materials including result sheets have either been seized or destroyed by unauthorized persons.
“In addition, safety of our staff appears to be in jeopardy all over the state and the commission is concerned about the credibility of the process.
“Consequently, at a meeting held Sunday, March 10, the commission has decided to suspend all electoral processes in the state until further notice”.
It however said that the statements actually codified what members of the ruling party led by Minister of Transport, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi had been doing in a state where APC had no official governorship candidate adding that Soldiers, Air Force personnel and thugs had been deployed to terrorize opponents, INEC officials and many citizens in Rivers State in the last few days thereby creating a state of panic and anxiety all over the state.
The forum posited that there had been a spill-over of the Rivers situation to Bayelsa State where Mr. Timpire Sylva of the ruling APC had also been alleged to be terrorizing residents with impunity.
“We call on the President to call Messrs Amaechi and Sylva to order and restore normalcy so that the electoral process in Rivers State in particular can be concluded.
“Indeed, if we are a Republic governed by law, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi and Mr. Timpire Sylva should have been arrested by now for the wanton violence they have instigated.
“There has been peace in the Niger Delta in recent time and it would be sad if the President’s men provoke a situation that will disrupt the peace of the region with serious implications for the whole country”, it said.
While decrying the role security agents had played in Imo where the collation centre was invaded and election materials carted away, it however warned of serious consequences if such crude methods were used to violate the will of the people.
It continued,” The militarization of several areas of the country for the Governorship elections has been a serious blight on our democratic experiment and the President should have seen how voters across the country have now resorted to shunning polling booths for fear of their safety. The sad part is that these soldiers have only played the role of intimidation and not to guarantee safety as we have seen how lack of security forced non-indigenes to stay indoor in Lagos during elections.
“The Chief of Army staff should bury his head in shame as all his assurances of neutrality of the Army has come to naught as his men were involved in undue interference in the electoral process and harassment of opposition elements.
“We have also noted how elections are now being declared inconclusive in many states where the ruling party is having challenges with results. As at last count, this has taken place in Adamawa, Bauchi, Plateau, Kano and Sokoto states. This development is worrisome and is capable of creating serious stress for the system. We must learn from history and not overstretch the system the way the ruling party is doing”.
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