Mr. Daniel Baraladei Igali is the current Commissioner for Youths and Sports in Bayelsa State. In this interview with our correspondent in Yenagoa, the state capital, he speaks on how he was able to avert a looming violent crisis which could have led to bloodshed at Azikoro community in Yenagoa local government area of the state over youth elections.
Why was the youth election at Azikoro slated for October 24, 2020 put off?
There were series of compliments, both written and verbal. So, we had no option than to postpone the election. More of the complaints had to do with the setting up of the electoral committee.
We found out that things were not rightly done. Of course, you know that every youth organization in this state is under the canopy of the ministry of youths and sports.
So, in order to avoid crisis, we called a stop to the election and we invited the youths to come to the office. On Tuesday, they all came and we arrived at quite a number of resolutions. First of all, the paramount ruler felt slighted that an ELECO was constituted and there were a number of irregularities and he had put off the ELECO but they went on with the ELECO, saying that the paramount ruler does not have powers to stop their election. So, the first resolution was that the ELECO and the youth president should apologize to the paramount ruler because we were looking at a peaceful process. Secondly, from what we heard, if not for our intervention, the election would have held whether there would have been bloodshed or not. Because we were the people responsible for the postponement of the election, we said until such a time that another ELECO would be formed and election conducted, the youth president remains in office. The status quo remains. We won’t be fair to him if we ask him to leave office when election has not been conducted. If election is conducted, whether he wins or not is immaterial. He would have handed over to whoever that won. But he would have been in office till the election is conducted. Then, we dissolved the ELECO because most of the complaints came from the ELECO. We then gave them a week for a new ELECO to be set up. On October 4, we went to the community to monitor the formation of a new ELECO. I sat down there as they conducted the ELECO. It was so rowdy that we had to ask all of them to go out.
There are eight families in Azikoro. So, we asked each family to bring one representative on a piece of paper through the window. There were three Chiefs that were mandated by the paramount ruler to come and oversee the exercise. They were the ones collecting the names from the families through the window. I insisted that Nengi James, my staff, should keep the papers on which the names of the representatives of the families were written. There was something I observed that day. When the names were coming in, they said we should just take them and continue but I insisted that the names must be announced. Normally, after an election, results should be announced. I don’t know why they wanted us to leave without announcing the names.
Who were the “they”?
The chiefs that were there wanted us to leave the names unannounced and bring them the following day for inauguration. But I insisted. The moment we announced the names, there was uproar. The youths protested that the names that were announced were not the names they were giving us. They said some of the names had been changed between the window and where we were seated. So, we left. The next day, there were about five petitions over the ELECO. Luckily, we had the names that they were given us and the names that the chiefs had written that were announced. So, l asked Nengi James to bring the names. When he brought the names, it was only five names and they were supposed to be eight. Then l asked, ‘where are the remaining three?’ He said those were the only names that were given. Then, l said but you were there. So, we now cross-checked the names that we had and found out that three names never came and two did not tally with the names that were written. It was obvious that even those names that we didn’t have were not the real names that were given by the families. On that note, we annulled the ELECO and asked the youths to come the following Saturday to the Azikoro open field for them to constitute a fresh ELECO. Because we felt that it was from what happened through the window that this thing was orchestrated. So, we directed that all the families should come to the field because the field is large enough to contain everybody. We wanted the families to come and give us the names of their representatives in the open field so we don’t have problems. So, we went there but very few people were there. They refused to come. Only the youth president and a few of his people were there. All the other aspirants, none of them was there. So, we put it off because they never came. So, for all intents and purposes, the status quo remains until we are able to resolve it. The next thing we heard was that the paramount ruler has banned the youth president from participating in the youth activities and went on to inaugurate the ELECO we said did not stand a chance because it was not properly constituted and said they were going to have an election on Saturday. At the close of work on Friday, they brought a letter that they were going to have an election on Saturday. I called the paramount ruler and told him the things I observed and told him that the ELECO can’t stand. I reminded him of the resolutions that we had and asked him why he would ban somebody if he wanted peace.
What was the response of the traditional ruler?
He said part of the resolution reached was for the youth president to apologise to him and that the youth president never did. So, we called the youth president, admonished him and told him to go and apologize to the traditional ruler which he apparently did. The way forward now is; you know we have a very unstable system arising from the anti-SARS protests. The senatorial bye-elections were put off as a result of that. So, the direction from government is that there should be no elections for now. It is not only in Azikoro but the whole Bayelsa, until the situation is settled. The moment the air is free for election to take place, we will call all the groups together and we will start with the election of the ELECO that we will supervise and then, we will give them a date for their election. The ministry does not conduct election but we will ensure that the right person that the people want emerges. That’s going to be the next step for us.
What is your advice to the youths of Azikoro community?
We just witnessed two youth elections in the past two weeks. One at Yenizue-gene in Yenagoa and if you see the peaceful nature of these elections, you will even ask why we bothered ourselves to go. They could have as well finished the elections by themselves and bring results to us for announcement. Candidates were sitting together. After the elections and results were announced, they started hugging each other. There was not an atom of violence. The Yenagoa Federated Assembly also had their elections at Okutukutu and it was the same. So, l don’t know why Azikoro community thinks mere youth election should be so rowdy. My advice to them is that they should take a leaf from what we have observed in other communities. If Azikoro boils, it is their community that boils. If one person is injured, it is their community that has injured someone. If one person dies, it is Azikoro that has lost someone. They should come together, understand themselves and hold a peaceful election for the safety and welfare of Azikoro community, first and foremost, before you can talk of Bayelsa as a whole. That’s my advice for them.
You seem to be closer to the youths than your predecessors, is it because of your sporting background?
l am a bit of a youth, still. I think my personality is such and I have lived in Azikoro for eight years when I was in the state Assembly. Personally, l wouldn’t want Azikoro to boil. I would want them to have a free election. I am really concerned because Azikoro is not a community that sees millions of naira. It is not an oil producing community. These are things you hear in oil producing communities where the youth president and the CDC chairman go home with millions of naira every month.