Last week, the media was agog with reports of the disruption of the election of the Ijaw National Congress, INC, in Yenagoa, by people that have been described as hoodlums.
INC is a socio-cultural pressure group that represents the Ijaw Nation, the fourth largest ethnic nationality in Nigeria. Its spread cuts across all the South-South states and parts of the West, including Lagos and Ondo states. The INC is the umbrella body and the uniting voice of the Ijaw people. Its affairs are meant to be apolitical.
The leadership of the group is made up of north, west and central zones with a national president that oversees the affairs of all the zones with supports of vice president from each zone as well as other members of the national working committee. Its leadership changes every three years through a democratic process where delegates are nominated from each zone to go for a general election at an agreed venue. The presidency of the group rotates among the three zones. It is the turn of INC central zone comprising Delta and Edo states to produce the next national president.
Unfortunately, the INC has been without leadership for sometime now, due to the demise of its president, Sen. Dokubo who slumped and died in Bayelsa State Government House about three years ago. Since then, the Ijaws have not had elections to get new leaders.
However, the group was able to put its house together and set up an electoral committee to conduct election into the various positions that form the leadership of the Izon ethnic nationality. The electoral committee is led by a no mean personality than Rear Admiral Woyengidinikpete Yanga (Retd) from Kolokuma/Opokuma local government area of Bayelsa state. The setting up of the electoral committee elicited joy among the Izon nation, who hoped that the election, when concluded, would further foster unity among them which is now lacking due to absence of leadership.
The electoral committee was inaugurated sometime in April this year by the Chairman, Bayelsa state Traditional Rulers Council and Amanyanabo of Twon Brass, HRM King Diete Spiff. The committee was mandated to draw an action plan and conduct a free, fair and credible election within three months. The electoral committee, indeed, quickly swong into action and slated June 29, 2019 as date for the election and made Bayelsa state venue of the long expected exercise.
On the day of the elections, while accreditation of delegates was smoothly going on at the Gabriel Okara Cultural Centre in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa state capital, scores of youths who looked troublesome stormed the venue and barricaded the entrance to the cultural centre, boasting that they would stop the process. There was no tangible reason for their action. For hours, they prevented delegates from going and coming out of the accreditation centre. It took the intervention of security operatives who pleaded with the irate youths to leave the centre before accreditation continued.
After the accreditation process, the delegates were now conveyed to the Izon House, venue of the election. Before the election proper, it was observed that a list containing names of some persons contesting for key positions were being circulated to the delegates with the tag "government candidates". Among the list were one name each for presidential candidate, vice presidential candidate, secretary general and other key positions.
As a result of the delay at the accreditation centre, elections were concluded late in the night while collation of results began immediately. As collation of results was on-going with many winners already known through their scores, the environment became tensed. At first, the security lights at the entrance of the venue were switched-off. No reason was given.
Shortly after that, a group of irate youths, again, stormed the gate in a violent fashion and forced their way into the compound. About five minutes later, the lights in the main auditorium where the election results were being collated went-off and the chanting of "Asawana! Wanna!" immediately rend the air. There was pandemonium. Everybody in the hall, including journalists scampered for safety. In the ensuing commotion, the hoodlums who invaded the hall carted away both counted and uncounted ballots, leaving the process of electing Izon national leaders inconclusive.
The situation is not only totally condemnable but it portends Bayelsa as an unsafe state. Indeed, the act is most shameful. It also does not speak well of what Bayelsans should expect at the chairmanship and governorship elections that will hold few weeks and months from now respectively in the state.
We, however, commend the electoral committee led by Yanga for her resolution to be independent amidst perceived intimidation from external bodies. We also thank the delegates for not allowing their consciences to be distorted by pecuniary gains to the detriment of their ethnic unity.
The police and other security agents present at the venue of the election should be made to answer questions on how the hoodlums gained access to the Izon House through the gate they were manning, took election materials and returned through the same gate unperturbed.
We advise state governments of all the states to henceforth steer clear of ethnic elections. They should be totally neutral and provide adequate security and a level playing grounds to ensure peaceful elections rather than playing active roles in the processes of nongovernmental elections.